Little Bits of History

Hagia Sophia

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 27, 2010

December 27, 537: The Hagia Sophia, translated as Holy Wisdom, is dedicated by Emperor Justinian in Constantinople, today called Istanbul, Turkey. The Church was first built by Constantine’s son, Emperor Constantius and opened in 360. The building was rectangular with a rounded apse and timbered roof. The emperor donated gold, silver, and religious objects to the construction and decoration efforts. The church was vandalized in 381 and much of the artwork taken.

In 404, John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, was sent into exile. Mobs rioted and destroyed the church. It was rebuilt by 415 in a basilica-style with five naves. Then with the rebellion of Monophysites in 532, the church was again destroyed. Emperor Justinian vowed to rebuilt and make it the most spectacular church in the world. Construction materials were brought from the four corners of the empire.

The new, improved church was rectangular with a huge dome. Construction of the dome used a new technique called pendentives. They used angled supports that allowed for the building of a round dome over a square room. Forty windows were placed around the base of the dome, giving the interior a special, ethereal illumination. The interior was also decorated with mosaics depicting: Jesus and Mary, many portraits including Emperor Justinian, some with Jesus and past emperors, and other saints.

The new architectural technique was not without faults. The methods used for construction caused overall weaknesses in the supporting walls. The church has been damaged often by earthquakes. The building began as a Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Church. During the Latin Occupation from 1204-61, it was a Roman Catholic Church. The Turks invaded in 1453 and turned it into a mosque. Islam does not tolerate pictures of humans and many of the mosaics were destroyed. Others were simply plastered over. In 1935, the building became a museum and was refurbished, revealing once again, the beautiful mosaics.

“Oh, Solomon, I have surpassed thee.” – Emperor Justinian at dedication of Hagia Sophia

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A Church is God between four walls.” – Victor Hugo

“I have no objections to churches so long as they do not interfere with God’s work.” – Brooks Atkinson

Also on this day, in 1703 the Methuen Treaty gave special treatment to port wines from Portugal to thirsty citizens in England.

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