Historical observations: the restoration of Aghia Sophia to Christian worship, March 1919 | opinions, columnists



These two documents support the restoration of Aghia Sophia to Christianity, highlighting the importance of this building for this religion. The Turks had other mosques where they could conduct their religious worship in Constantinople. The Hagia Sophia Redemption Committee pointed out that the main religious sites of Islam were located in “Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Damascus” and “the Sharif of Mecca himself raised the standard against the Sultan. ” during the World War One.

Some of the well-known signatories of the Redemption Committee were: Ronald Cantaur (Archbishop of Canterbury 1903-28), Ronald M. Burrows, Principal of King’s College London, member of the Anglo-Hellenic League and an ardent Venizelist, AC Headlam , an Anglican clergyman who served as Regius Professor of Divinity, 1918-23, and JB Bury, an Anglo-Irish historian who specialized in classical history and also wrote three books on ancient Greece covering Alexander the Great, the Greek historians and the Hellenistic Age. These individuals were Philhellenes who supported the Greek cause.

Canon Howell was a member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland whose diocese supported the restitution of Aghia Sophia for Christian worship and avoided making a political comment on the future of Constantinople.

Arnold J. Toynbee, the famous British historian worked in the Intelligence Department of the British Foreign Office during the Great War. He served as a delegate of the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and also reported on the Greco-Turkish War for the Manchester Guardian in 1921-22.

His response to the two documents was to recommend avoiding the reconversion of Aghia Sophia into a Christian church which “would inflame religious sentiment in the Middle East” between Christians and Muslims.

The following documents are produced in full:

1. Samuel Hoare, Chairman of the Hagia Sophia Redemption Committee, to Prime Minister Lloyd George, March 7, 1919, attached brief:

“This building in its antiquity, its structure, which marks the greatest progress ever made in architecture, its marvelous beauty and its extraordinary history, is in some ways the largest church in Christendom.

For nine hundred years it had been the main sanctuary for Christian worship in the Eastern Roman world when Constantinople fell, and the Ottoman Emperor turned it into a mosque as a symbol of Turkish sovereignty over Eastern Christendom. This sovereignty, by general consent, is gone forever.

The bad government and the oppression of centuries culminated during the great war in the massacre of the Christian races so terrible that the conscience of Europe and America was dismayed, and is now awakened to the fact that the Turk, in as bearer of the sword of Islam ‘is a survival of barbarism which can no longer be tolerated. Even the Mohammedan world broke away from Ottoman cruelty and betrayal, and the Sharif of Mecca himself raised the standard against the Sultan.

We urge that while the Suleimaniyeh and other imperial mosques in Constantinople remain in the hands of Islam, justice demands that the Christians of this city, who form the vast majority of its inhabitants, be returned their priceless edifice. It has no particular sacredness for Muslims. Their pilgrimage sanctuary is outside the city. Constantinople is not for them either a holy city like Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Damascus. Its value in their eyes is purely political.

Finally, we argue that the claims of art should not be dismissed. The great Church is now in serious condition, urgently in need of structural repairs, and must inevitably collapse if not placed in competent hands.

The glorious mosaics, a precious heritage among the artistic treasures of the world, must be exposed for the degradation which is necessarily imposed as long as the edifice, built and decorated for one faith, is alienated and consecrated to another.

Some known signatories: Randall Cantaur, Ronald M. Burrows, GK Chesterton, Arthur Evans, Gilbert Murray, H. Wace, Francis W. Pender, Donald Maclean, JB Bury, Hugh Cecil, Samuel Hoare, St. Joe Strachey, CC Wakefield, AC Headlam, Arthur Limpus, A. Selborne.

2. Canon Howell MA, Synod Clerk of the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway resolution sent to Prime Minister Lloyd George, March 8, 1919 At the above Diocese’s annual resolution meeting:

“The Synod of the United Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, while expressing no opinion on the political future of Constantinople, strongly urges the restoration to Christian worship of the former Church of Saint Sophia.”

3. Arnold J. Toynbee Minute:

“To remove Constantinople would deal a heavy blow to the Ottoman state but to the Muslim population of Constantinople which represents 50% of the city’s population. State, that we will be penalized at the expense of their fellow citizens. This will arouse resentment not only among Turks but throughout the Muslim world.

The only argument in favor of reconversion is historical and it is inherently vicious that means settling the future not with reference to the future but to the past.

The reconversion will ignite religious feelings in the Middle East (with all its catastrophic accompaniments) although it should be the subject of the peace conference to authorize it.

In order to satisfy the antiquarian sentiment of a few individuals, we will plant new seeds of massacre in every neighborhood in the Middle East where Muslims and Christians live together.

A beautiful building ceases to be beautiful when it becomes a cause of hatred and bloodshed. If were better leveled to the ground.

I venture to make the following suggestions for the treatment of the building (a) the agent in the strait should take architectural control of it as an architectural monument of Islam and Islamic civilization.



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