The New International Encyclopædia/Saint Sophia, Church and Mosque of

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The New International Encyclopædia
Saint Sophia, Church and Mosque of
Edition of 1905. See also Hagia Sophia on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SAINT SOPHIA, Church and Mosque of. A celebrated structure at Constantinople. The first church of this name was built by the Emperor Constantine, on the occasion of the translation of the seat of empire to Byzantium, and is so called as being dedicated to the Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom), or the Logos. The building of Constantine was subsequently rebuilt and enlarged by his son Constantius; this second church of Constantius, having been destroyed in 404, was rebuilt by Theodosius the younger in 415; and it lasted unaltered till the battle of the factions of the circus, under Justinian, in 532, in which year it was totally destroyed. The present building is substantially that which was erected by Justinian in expiation of this sacrilege. It was consecrated in 537, and occupied less than seven years in its erection. Ten thousand workmen are said to have been employed upon it. The materials were supplied from every part of the empire, including columns and marbles from pagan monuments. Untold sums were lavished upon its decoration and the sacred furniture with which it was adorned. The church is the masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, and one of the epoch-making buildings of the world. Its architect was Anthemius (q.v.).

The building may be described as a square of 241 feet, forming interiorly a Greek cross, and surrounded in the interior by a woman's choir or gallery, supported by magnificent columns. In the centre rises a dome, supported at the front and back by two great semi-domes, which in their turn rest upon smaller semi-domes, and on the sides by heavy buttresses, the whole presenting a series of unexampled beauty. The height of the dome is 175 feet. The building is approached by a double porch, which is about 100 feet in depth. The whole of the interior was richly decorated with marbles and mosaics. Even in the reign of Justinian, a further reconstruction of the building became necessary, the dome having fallen in in consequence of an earthquake in 558, but this may be said to have been the last important change in the structure within the Christian period of Constantinople.

On the occupation of that city by the Turks in 1453, Saint Sophia was appropriated as a mosque. All its purely Christian fittings and internal structures were swept away. The Christian emblems were either mutilated or covered from view by a coating of plaster. The latter course was adopted throughout the building in the case of mosaic pictures, containing representations of the human figure, which the Koran proscribes as unlawful, and thus the mosaics have in great part escaped destruction. The Sultan Abdul Medjid having ordered a complete restoration of the building, the mosaics were accidentally brought to light, and, with the consent of the Sultan, accurate copies were made of all of these interesting relics of antiquity. The interior of the building at present is restored for Mohammedan worship, the Christian decorations being again carefully covered up. Consult: Salzenburg, Altchristliche Baudenkmäler Konstantinopels (Berlin, 1854); Pulgher, Les anciennes églises byzantines de Constantinople (Vienna, 1878-80); Adamy, Architektonik der altchristlichen Zeit (Hanover, 1884); Lethaby and Swainson, The Church of Sancta Sophia (London, 1894); and Barth, “Konstantinopel,” in Berühmte Kunststatten (Leipzig, 1901).