Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a presidential decree on Friday turning the historic Holy Saviour in Chora, a medieval Byzantine church in western Constantinople that was a museum, into a mosque.
The move follows the July decision to convert Hagia Sophia to a mosque, a move condemned by the international community.
The change in its status was passed in December 2019 but the decision of the State Council of Turkey had not been implemented, until today.
Chora is one of the most splendid examples of Byzantine art, and still preserves mosaics and frescoes. The interior is covered with Bible scenes and portraits of Jesus and the saints dating back to the fourteenth century.
Mosaic of the Virgin Mother with child, north dome of the inner narthex. Source: Wikimedia commonsBefore converting Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, French historian Fabrice Monnier noted, Turkey had already turned two church-museums back into mosques in recent years, the artistically less notable Hagia Sophia buildings in Iznik, formerly Nicaea, and Trabzon.
Holy Saviour in Chora is different, he told Le Figaro. “Its beautiful mosaics and frescos cover almost all the church’s walls and domes,” he said. “It would be hard to imagine it being returned into a mosque without totally covering them over.”
The Ottoman Turks turned Chora into a mosque half a century after their conquest of Constantinople in 1453, hiding its rich artwork under a layer of plaster because Islam bans iconic images.
After the Second World War, then-secular Turkey changed it into the Kariye Museum and allowed American experts to restore it to its old glory. The unique mosaics and frescos have been on display since 1958.