If I were to ask about the greatest church building in the world, you might think of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome or St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. But for many centuries there was only one answer – the Hagai Sophia in Istanbul (eye’-ah / so-fee’-yah). Emperor Justinian built it in the 500s AD on the site of prior church buildings, and it was designed by the best Greek scientists and mathematicians in the sixth-century world. Walking into the Hagai Sophia today, it’s hard to imagine the impact it would have made on pilgrims nearly 1500 years ago. Marble and stone was imported from all over world. An army of builders worked nonstop for years. And Justinian reportedly exclaimed as he walked into the building: “Now I have outdone Solomon!”
For a thousand years, it was the greatest dome in the world. But on the very day that the Ottoman’s took Constantinople in 1453, the Hagai Sophia was turned into a mosque (hence the minarets), which it remained until 1934, when it was turned into a state museum.
Three things impressed me a great deal. First, the immense size of the interior and dome, which was breathtaking, especially considering its antiquity. It’s large enough to contain Notre-Dame and tall enough to enclose the Statue of Liberty. Second, an ancient mosaic of Christ in which he was making gesture of blessing using three fingers to signify the Holy Trinity. Third, two huge urns used to provide drinking water for the worshippers. These urns were in existence in the time of Christ. They date to pre-New Testament days, and were evidently made elsewhere in Turkey (in Pergamum to be exact), carved out of single blocks of marble.
Here are some pictures.