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06 May 2018 Istanbul, Turkey: Chora Church. The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora is a medieval Byzantine Greek Orthodox church. Frescos inside. Ceiling mosaics. The Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.Shutterstock

ISTANBUL (LifeSiteNews) — The Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) has criticized the Turkish government for turning a historic Orthodox church into a mosque.

In early May, the ancient Chora Church in Istanbul, now called “Kariye Mosque,” was officially reopened for Islamic prayer after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed an order in 2020 that changed the status of the building from a museum to an Islamic prayer house.

“This is a step further in diluting the historical roots of the Christian presence in the country, and it is a regrettable decision that will make religious coexistence more difficult. With this action, any initiative regarding interreligious dialogue promoted by the country’s authorities will inevitably lose credibility,” Fr. Manuel Barrios Prieto, secretary general of COMECE said in a statement.

In its press release, COMECE recalls that Chora Church was originally built in the fourth century and “is an emblem of Eastern Christianity and a living memory of the historical presence of Christians in the country.”

“The temple is part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage and functioned as a museum for decades,” COMECE added.

The Chora Church was commissioned by Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century as part of a monastery complex situated outside the walls of Constantinople (now Istanbul). Large parts of the church were rebuilt in the 11th and 14th centuries. Around 50 years after Constantinople had fallen to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the church was turned into a mosque for the first time, and its historic frescoes and mosaics of holy images were covered up. In 1945, the building was turned into a museum by the Turkish government before being re-designated as a mosque in 2020. The church contains some of the most exceptional surviving Byzantine mosaics and frescos.

This is the second historic Byzantine church that President Erdogan turned into a mosque after it had become a museum under a more secular Turkish government. In 2020, the Turkish leader turned the world-famous formerly Catholic cathedral Hagia Sophia into an Islamic temple after the building was used as a museum between 1935 and 2020, drawing criticism from Christians around the world.


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