Pope ‘saddened’ by Turkey’s decision to turn Hagia Sophia back into mosque

Vatican City, Jul 12 (efe-epa).- Pope Francis on Sunday said he was “saddened” by Turkey’s decision to turn the Hagia Sophia, a former Byzantine cathedral and later museum, back into a mosque.

The pope made the remarks during an Angelus prayer that paid tribute to seafarers.

“And the sea takes me a little far away with my thoughts: to Istanbul. I think of Hagia Sophia, and I am very saddened,” he said.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday signed an order reverting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, a status it held during the Ottoman Empire.

The secular government of modern Turkey’s founding father Kemal Atatürk converted the site into a museum as a symbol of religious coexistence in 1934.

Turkey’s top court last week annulled that ruling, paving the way for Erdogan, who had previously voiced his support for turning it into a mosque, to order the change of status.

The Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s most important historical and cultural heritage sites and was built in the sixth century during the Byzantine Empire.

During that period it was the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church before being converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453.

As a Unesco World Heritage site, the United Nations cultural body urged Turkey not to change its status.

Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay in a statement Friday said: “Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue.”

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