[Anglican Communion News Service] Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and four other presidents of the ecumenical Churches Together in England (CTE) group have spoken out against the decision by Turkey to turn the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul into a mosque. Built in A.D. 537 as the Cathedral of the Patriarch of Constantinople, it was the largest Christian church in the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, after the Ottoman conquest, it was turned into a mosque.
The newly formed secular government of what had become the Republic of Turkey turned the building into a museum. It was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Earlier this month, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, took part in the first Friday prayers at the site to mark its transition back to a mosque, a move that had been condemned by bodies including UNESCO and the World Council of Churches.
In a statement issued shortly before President Erdoğan’s presence at the prayer service, five CTE presidents, including Welby, described the move as “lamentable and painful for many people of faith the world over.”