Turkey to Convert Second Iconic Christian Church into Mosque

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The 700-year-old Chora (Kariye) Church, which was repurposed as the Kariye Museum in 1945, will be converted into a mosque and opened for worship, following a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette on Friday, August 21.

The president’s decree states that the administration of the building has been transferred to the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and will be opened for Muslim worship.

The Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, known for its exquisite Byzantine mosaics, was constructed as part of a monastery complex in the fourth century in Roman Constantinople. It is located in what is now Istanbul’s Fatih district.

Some fifty years after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque and the building’s precious fresco paintings and mosaics were covered over with dye and lime. Nearly 500 years later, the building was transformed into a museum by a decree from the Council of Ministers in 1945.

At that time, the secular Turkish republic carried out extensive restoration work on the building and its artwork before turning it into a museum in 1958.

Like the Hagia Sophia, the building has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Last month, President Erdogan announced the opening of the Hagia Sophia to Islamic worship after Turkey’s top administrative court, the Council of State, ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was illegal.

In November 2019, the Council of State ruled similarly that the conversion of the Chora Church into a museum had been unlawful because it violated the Ottoman declaration that the building be used for Muslim worship.

Erdogan’s decisions regarding the fate of Hagia Sophia and Chora are deemed to represent an effort to appeal to Muslim voters after the president’s party, AK, lost the Istanbul mayoral election in 2019.