Sophia (Saint), Church (or Mosque) of
Sophia (Saint), Church (or Mosque) OF
the most notable edifice in Constantinople, built by the emperor Constantine, A.D. 330, and so named in honor of the, divine wisdom (Σοφία). It was one of the first Christian churches permitted after the persecution by Diocletian. Thirteen years afterwards it was enlarged by Constantius, son of Constantine; was burned in 404, rebuilt in 415 by Theodosius II; burned a second time in 532, and in 538 was reconstructed from the foundation by Justinian, and dedicated on Christmas eve, 549. In, 1453, when the Turks entered the city, the people gathered together in this church, but they were seized and massacred the building being saved from destruction by Mohammed II, who conceived the idea of transforming it into a mosque. The whole aspect, both internally and externally, was entirely changed to accommodate the new worship; the pictures and mosaics were covered over, the altar rebuilt in the corner towards Mecca, a minaret was added at one corner, and the form of the church was changed to that of a crescent. Since then other buildings have been added to the original, a sacristy and baptistery being the most prominent. Among the sacred curiosities found in the crypt are, according to tradition, the block of red marble used as the cradle of our Saviour, the cup used by Mary in washing Jesus, both from Bethlehem; also the "sweating column," "shining stone," and "cold window," visited by Moslem pilgrims as miraculoas. The original form of the church was that of a cross enclosed in a square, whose sides measure two hundred and forty-five feet; including the portico, two hundred and sixty-nine feet. Having been enlarged and rebuilt several times, the original form has been lost, and now the exterior of this edifice is singularly heavy. Uncouth and disproportionate in appearance, even the effect of its unusual dimensions is destroyed by its lack of symmetry, it presenting an irregular mass of cupolas, half-domes, shelving roofs, and stunted minarets. Even the great dome, rising in the centre, so celebrated for its architectural beauty, looks low and flat, and from the outside produces nothing of the effect which was its purpose. The west side forms the entrance. The first vestibule was called in ancient times the narthex. The gallery for the women runs around three sides, supported by many magnificent columns borrowed from ancient buildings. The chief object of beauty is the dome, called the "serial dome," on account of its exceeding light weight consisting of pumice-stone bricks from Rhodes. It rises to the height of one hundred and eighty feet, resting on four massive arches. In the corners of this dome are four seraphim in mosaic, and on the arches can still be traced the sketches of madonnas and saints. Most of the ornamentation has been replaced by gigantic specimens of Turkish caligraphy, quotations from the Koran, on circular tablets. On the top of the cupola the verse "God is the light of the heavens and the earth" is illuminated during the festivals. Like all mosques this is closed to Christian visitors except upon special airman, which may be easily obtained, at a small expense, through the interposition of the masters of the principal hotels.