Turkey Converts Byzantine-Era Chora Church into Mosque After Renovations

Farrukh Saif

May 13, 2024

Byzantine-Era Chora Church

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially reopened the iconic Byzantine-era Chora Church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, May 13, 2024, following a four-year renovation process.

This move comes four years after his government designated the historic structure as a mosque, despite international criticism and objections from Christians worldwide.

The Chora Church, also known as the Church of St. Saviour in Chora or Kariye in Turkish, is a 17-century-old monument renowned for its exquisite mosaics and frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary. It is one of Istanbul’s most significant examples of late Byzantine art and architecture.

During the televised inauguration ceremony, Erdogan declared, “May it bring good fortune,” as he formally converted the UNESCO World Heritage Site into a mosque.

The conversion process began in 2020 and was delayed, allowing extensive restoration efforts on the historic structure. Like the iconic Hagia Sophia, which was converted into a mosque in 2020, the artwork inside the Chora Church will be covered with curtains during Muslim prayers.

This decision has drawn criticism from Christian communities and heritage organizations, who argue that it undermines these ancient sites’ cultural and historical significance.

The Chora Church’s conversion into a mosque is seen by many as part of Erdogan’s efforts to rally his conservative and religious support base amid economic challenges in Turkey.

The move has been met with disapproval from neighboring Greece, which has labeled it an insult to the heritage value of another World Heritage Site.

The Chora Church, originally built in the 4th century as part of a monastery complex, underwent several reconstructions throughout its history, with its current form dating back to the 11th-12th centuries.  It served as a mosque during the Ottoman era before being converted into a museum in 1945.

As Turkey continues to reshape its cultural and religious landscape, the conversion of the Chora Church into a mosque has reignited debates surrounding the preservation of historical sites and the balance between religious and cultural heritage.

Farrukh Saif

Farrukh H. Saif, a courageous Christian human rights activist, established the Farrukh Saif Foundation in 2009 to confront religious discrimination, blasphemy laws, and bonded slavery in Pakistan. His dedication to liberating bonded laborers from brick kilns and advocating for blasphemy victims and asylum seekers has garnered international acclaim. Despite encountering threats and fatwas, his impactful work persists in supporting marginalized communities. In 2018, the foundation merged with The Emergency Committee to Save the Persecuted and Enslaved, enhancing its global outreach.

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