There is no substitute for seeing a country from a local’s perspective – their unique insight will help you find your feet quickly and bypass the tourist traps.
What’s more, pilgrimages to the Holy Land can be a truly life-changing experience, and a chance to make a lasting connection with the culture and people.
Out tours are fully bespoke and will be tailored to suit your needs and budget.
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In the 6th century, Justinian I decided to erect Sancta Sophia at the heart of his empire. Built swiftly in a stunningly short period, the monument emerged as the best Byzantine structure ever known to man. Its holiness and beauty were sure to capture anyone who beheld it in sight. The legacy attached to this erstwhile church and historic monument is uncontended and too extensive to be easily forgotten. With Erdogan choosing to unilaterally turn this center of pilgrimage into a mosque, thus ripping every secular mantle it wore, a part of the religious and historic sanctity the monument held is being shunned. There have been strong opinions raised against this latest development in Turkey. But we must ask ourselves a more critical question at this point; a question that may not be the most pleasing to our ears – have we, by not visiting the holy site of Hagia Sophia, allowed, in some manner, the cloaking of its history? Have we, in neglecting this site of pilgrimage, paved the path towards the new zealotic claim?
Not too long after the monument was turned into a mosque, the ruling party in Turkey released a statement that conveyed that the Christian icons in Hagia Sophia would be covered during prayers. They did add that these would be undraped at all other times for visitors to view. This is no more than a cover-up to please the global discontentment that has rose in the context of Turkey’s ill-thought decision. Pope Francis, during his service at the Vatican, expressed that he was pained and added that his ‘thoughts go to Istanbul’ – his words were received by Turkish leaders with a rather snobbish demeanor lurking around the latter. Omer Selik commented that the worst that Turkey had seen came during the age of papacy. In the bid to re-establish a doctored history, the dictatorial regime in Turkey seems to be leaving no stone unturned. Selik was highly critical about the ‘Latin invasion’ of the 13th century. Through his words, it almost seemed as though he was wishing to claim that Christians around the world had no right to complain about what had happened. This is why it becomes necessary to revisit the question I had posed earlier in this article. Are we not to blame as well?
For long, Christians across the globe had stopped embarking on pilgrimages to Hagia Sophia. In doing so, the site was left empty; empty enough for any passer-by to write new annals on a blank canvas. It is, undoubtedly, the time for us to re-examine how we’ve dealt with this larger issue at hand. Are we to let other sites turn into another Hagia Sophia? Are we to let history be deconstructed and substituted with an unfounded claim charted by self-vested interests? Are we to allow a methodical dismantlement of our holy legacy? I think not.
The conversion of Hagia Sophia teaches us a vital lesson – that neglect comes with certain prices that we have to pay. We’ve given reason enough for the layman to comment that we deserve what has happened. It is time now – we must vow to not let this happen to any other site that we value. The only way that this can be made possible is through a shield of devotional commitment. A site of pilgrimage cannot sustain itself without people paying their visits – we cannot expect it to uphold its legacy on its own. On our watch, if political deviations of this kind unfold, what good have we done as Christians? The legality of our places of worship cannot be shut down in one order.
The fate of the Church of Holy Wisdom must not meet the other Christian pilgrimage sites the world houses across its stretch.
Yitkadesh Shemak Te'teh Malkutak
Kedi Bashmaya Kan Ba'arah
Lahmana Hib Lana Sekum Yom Beyuma
Ushbuk Lana Yebina
Kedi Afanana Shebekna Labina
We'al Te'lina Lensiyona
Illa Beshina Min Bisha