Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Date Set for the Reopening of the Chora Church as a Mosque

The Monastery of Chora, known today in Turkish as Kariye Camii, was an 11th century Orthodox Christian monastery in Constantinople that was converted by the Ottomans into a mosque in the 16th century. It operated as a museum since 1958, though after the decision of the Turkish Supreme Court in 2019 and a presidential decree on August 21, 2020, it was reconverted into a mosque as was nearby Hagia Sophia before it, despite Istanbul having already 3,113 mosques. However, soon after this decree was issued, the reconverted mosque closed in order to make preparations for its regular use as a house of worship for Muslims, with an undetermined date for its reopening. While the restoration process was continuing, Kariye Camii was kept open to visitors as a museum.

It is now reported that the restoration of the Kariye Camii has been completed and the date of opening for worship has been determined. Furnished with 100 percent wool and with specially designed red carpets laid out, the mosaics and frescoes were preserved during the restoration process, these in turn being designed to be covered during times of worship and uncovered during visiting hours. The Kariye Camii will be opened for worship on Friday, February 23, 2024.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism had previously made a statement about the closure of the frescoes and mosaics in the Kariye Camii to ensure no plaster was used to cover the art, but instead a remote controlled curtain: "What is reflected in the photographs is not plaster, but an automatic curtain system. During prayer hours, the frescoes are closed with curtains within 30 seconds with the push of a button. Then they open again."

Mahir Polat, Deputy Secretary General of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, reacted by saying, "The closure of the Kariye frescoes and mosaics, one of the masterpieces of world art history, is unfortunately of such incompetence that it will kill the character and artistic value of the building."

Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou has called Erdogan’s decision to convert the church to a mosque “an act of symbolic violence dictated by political arrogance.” She further stated that it is an act of “cultural insecurity and religious intolerance, which condemns a treasure trove of Christian art and cultural nobility to obscurity.”