Research about Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (for my upcoming thriller book)
Built and rebuilt upon countless tragedies, with materials from iconic structures, claimed to have healing and cleansing properties, the Hagia Sophia mystifies the masses to this day.
Religious undercurrent, unshakeable construction, this Byzantine behemoth rose like a phoenix from the ashes of its predecessor. Cloaked in a veil of inexplicable mystery, the Hagia Sophia’s resilience is more than good fortune its supernal.
It began where stories often do, with a wife’s request. Legend has it Sofia was the wife or daughter (maybe both depending on your preferred interpretation) of a wealthy and powerful ruler. Nothing is written of her beauty, but her wealth is well documented. As her final days approached, she realized what she truly desired was a decadent place of worship. Perhaps as a parting bride to appease the bouncer at the pearly gates she demanded with her dying breath that house of God be built with materials from the prophet Suleyman’s palace.
With blank check in hand Constantine I went shopping for the ideal location. We can only infer that his checklist consisted of three constraints:
- Must be built on the remains of a disgraced religion;
- Must be in a place of constant turmoil, religious and otherwise;
- Must have seismic earthquakes.
- Bonus – Big Backyard
In 325 Constantine found the site of his dreams and requisitioned the construction of Sofia Hagia on the grounds of a former pagan temple. Thirty-five years later, his son Constantius II consecrated the building. Everyone lived happily ever after. Except for a few minor hiccups over the next centuries…
A quick fire in 404 during the banishment of St. John Chrysostom left the property in shambles. Not to worry though, Constantine I stepped in for a complete remodel with a brand-new addition courtesy of the Romans. With the riot fires of 404 a distant memory Theodosius II rededicated the church in 415. All was well. Until the Nika insurrection of 532, what better way to show dissatisfaction then setting a holy building on fire? The insurrection certainly couldn’t think of any leaving the church burnt beyond repair. Rulers and rioters alike took stock, realizing the folly of the church’s location and religious temperament. No one could or should ever attempt to rebuild, for it would take the grace of God to ensure its longevity.
We may be simple humans, but we have shown time and time again that we are willing to accept our shortcomings. Fact. We always learn from our mistakes. Which is why the site remained untouched… for just over a month. Emperor Justinian I proclaimed his vision of a church draped in splendor, oozing decadence. In five short years he gazed upon the masterpiece and proclaimed: “O Solomon! I passed you!”
Hagia Sofia 4.0 was magnificent. Second only to the pyramids in height the central dome was a marvel to behold. Large enough to comfortably fit the Statue of Liberty with room to spare, with over four acres of golden murals adorning every wall, it became a symbol of the Byzantine empire. Through siege and raids, and religious renovations most of the core structure remains untouched. With few exceptions this wonder of the world is the same to this day…
A prolific structure of this size and significance has encouraged more than its fair share of mysteries and legends. Two of which involves a satisfying amount of moisture. The ornate fountain that gushes water from the mouths of animals is said to possesses the power of holy ablution.
Long day doing evil?
Take a quick fountain bath…
to cleanse your soul of your unholy actions!
Ornate carvings of animals in groups of twelves spew forth this frothy forgiving liquid. With a sperate rain catching cistern dedicated to the ablution of the priests. The church construction had all but depleted the resources available prior to the construction of the fountain. Yet the fountain itself was covered in silver and gold, an expensive expenditure for the rumored empty coffers. How could they afford such splendor? This was all possible thanks to a gracious donation, by an angel in disguise. Or so the legend goes.
The second wet legend…
Legend of wetness?
Pick your poison!
…requires an understanding of the history of fascinating building materials used in Hagia Sophia. These materials are credited with its persistent resilience.
Rocked by devastating earthquakes millions are fascinated with the structures continued existence. Perhaps we own its unrivaled longevity to none other than Prophet Muhammad. After an earthquake crumbled the original dome in 558 countless individuals were commissioned to rebuild it. They tried to no avail. They decided to turn to the prophet Muhammad. Word had spread of his vision of Hagia Sofia in heaven, provided by a trip to heaven with the angel Gabriel. Desperate for a solution correspondence were sent to the famed Prophet. His reply came with precise parameters of construction along with camels loaded with plaster made from the sands of Mecca and his own saliva.
Others attribute the solid construction to the inclusion of bones of many prophets. Bones are not the only holy presence. The list of holy materials seems to be ever growing.
Doors fashioned from Noah’s Ark don’t even crack the top ten most miraculous materials that made the Hagia Sophia. By far the most fascinating is the weeping column, or perspiring column, or wish column or less appetizingly sweating column. Also known as
Mary’s Eye – a hole in a column caused by the tears of the Virgin Mary after Jesus told her of the suffering he had to endure.
She wept and as the tears hit the column, they caused a permanently wet indentation. Hagia Sophia is the permanent resting place of both tears and column. Said to possess the power to heal sight and fertility, you need only insert your thumb and wish. Her eternal sorrow will bless it and all your personal dreams will come true.
But what if… the most remarkable discovery of Hagia Sophia lay hidden from public eyes for millennia. The beauty of this discovery lies both in the restraint of a conqueror and the skill of craftsman. The Deesis depicts the Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus. The son of God is approached on either side by two significant figures on behalf of humanity. Imploring forgiveness, and restraint. Jesus is clothed in colors representing humanity and divinity, two parts of his whole. In one hand lies the gospel, the other outstretch, offering blessing and forgiveness. The depiction if breathtaking with mosaic patterns capturing the true perfection of the craft. Upon further inspection it becomes clear that this mural is far beyond the talent and skill of the originals that surround the neighboring walls. Perhaps designed as a celebration for the reclamation of the church taken back from conquerors. This work of art spent years behind a wall of plaster. After the siege and eventual domination, the church was converted into a mosque. For which it served for over 500 years. Rather than destroy the breathtaking art, Mehmed II spared the depiction of forgiveness by enclosing it.
Which speaks to the true nature of this structure. Hagia Sophia represents cohesive togetherness, through religious differences, through wars and sieges, through acts of nature, through fire. Whether by miracle materials or divine intervention or architectural ingenuity, Hagia Sophia stands. A beacon.
This location will be used for my thriller book “Sophia von X”… 30k to go!
Next post – ‘Cool destinations for your next novel’, 31/8