By Niko Hilodakou
From the moment that Constantinople fell to the Ottomans and Mohammad Fattish entered the great Church of Saint Sophia on his white stallion, he remained transfixed for a long time by the icon of Christ in the dome. This is according to Turkish sources. This immense Church of Orthodoxy became the epicenter of different myths and legends which circulate amongst the conquerors eliciting an intense sense of awe for this great accomplishment of Orthodoxy which now is surrounded by four Ottoman minarets.
But during the last few years, certain events centered around Saint Sophia and specifically with the unexpected discovery of an Angel in the summer of 2008 in the dome, has elicited amongst the Turks an intense sense of suspense and fear about the future. In connection with this, all those legends have resurfaced recently and at times have shocked and brought to the Muslims a sense of fear. This fear is that the Orthodox Christian identity will once again rise up in spite of the fact that up until 1934 the Church was used as a Muslim mosque.
In this context of events, last January 20, 2012, the Turkish newspaper Sampach with a large circulation, presented a rather astonishing article about “The Mysteries of Saint Sophia.” It portrayed in a graceful way this climate of fear which has lately gripped the Turks in reference to the hidden things in the Holy Church and about all the things that will happen in the future.
The first significant element taken from that article is the indescribable fear which is revealed by the Turks concerning the hidden crosses, both symbolical and not, which are found on the interior of the Church and are also seen by the ground plan of the Church from above. As such, the Turks express great awe for the so-called “Cross of the Apostle Saint Andrew.” As is well known he is the founder of the Church of Constantinople. According to the newspaper Sampach, a Cross of Saint Andrew is found on the roof of the Church etched in a diagonal form. It is a significant symbol which not only was not lost throughout the ages of the Ottoman occupation but also dominates the area with its symbolic meaning. In addition to this, “The Cross of Justinian” freaks out the Turks. The legends as well refer to a very ancient jewel which is found mystically in Saint Sophia and in fact comes from Egypt and it has great power. Generally speaking, the construction of this “Great Orthodox Architectural Masterpiece”, according to the same Turkish sources, is based on the Christian symbol of the Cross and this reality generates a sense of awe and fear about the future return of Saint Sophia to its traditional occupants, in other words, to Hellenic Orthodox worship.
But in addition to the crosses, the Turks refer to other mysterious and fearful things that are found in the interior of the Church. As is referred to in the legend, it is known that after the Church was turned into a Muslim mosque, the well-known Muslim Mihramp was built. It is the Muslim place of prayer. It is found on the eastern side of the Church in the direction of Mecca. But great interest is found, according to the Turkish legends, to that which in front of the Mihramp. A casket is buried there constructed of bronze gilded with gold. In this casket lays the body of Queen Sophia. Most likely her name is in reference to Saint Sophia. This Queen Sophia and her casket are connected, according to Turkish legend with a commandment that has existed for centuries up to the present day. This commandment directs that no one should ever disturb the casket, not even to touch it. If something like that should happen, then according to the legend it will initiate the rising of Queen Sophia. If this should happen then a frightful noise shall shake the whole structure of the Church initiating eschatological seismic events that will frighten the Turks.
This legend of Queen Sophia continues as follows. According to Turkish references, the casket is protected by four Archangels who are found on the dome of the Church. These Archangels, who the Turks believe exist, are: Tzemprael, Michael, Israfel and Azarael. The Turks say that Tzemprael protects the Byzantine Emperors, Michael protects the Church from hostile attacks, while Tzemprael and Israfel were those who proclaimed the events leading to hostile attacks. Tzemprael and Israfel were the angels that proclaimed the events of the warring efforts of the Byzantine Emperors. And these four Archangels have been assigned after the Fall of Constantinople to protect the casket of Queen Sophia from the danger of someone profane who might try to open it and bring about the Second Coming of Christ.
Another important legend which is referred to by the Muslims is the legend “Of the Hidden Patriarch” which is similar to the Greek legend about the “hidden priest.” As it is referred in Turkish tradition, on the south side of the Church is a narrow passageway. The passageway leads to a very old web covered mysterious door which is referred to in the legend as “The Closed Door.” According to Turkish references, when Mohammed Fattish entered Constantinople, the last Greek Orthodox Patriarch and his whole escort entered through that door which closed behind them. From that moment these people disappeared while the door remained hermetically sealed and no one ever dares to open it. Every year during the Resurrection Service of the Orthodox Christians, according to the Turkish newspaper Sampach, red eggs appear in front of this door. The legend is completed in prophecy, which frightens the Turks, that when the door is opened, Orthodox Christian chanting will be heard in the Church again. This is why the Turks are frightened simply by thinking about opening this mysterious door.
The Turkish newspaper reports about a mysterious underground tunnel that exists in a central location in the interior of the Church. As is reported, there is a double door which leads to a big tunnel. This tunnel, as reported by the Turkish newspaper, leads to Prinkoniso (Princes’ Islands), and as far as the island Proti. The mystery for the Turks is how this tunnel was constructed and what role did it play in the long history of the Church.
Another mystery for the Turks is the imprint of the sole of a large animal, maybe an elephant, which is found on the southwestern section of the dome. And here it is reported that this is in reference to some eschatological stories. According to the Turks this imprint is from the horse of Mohammed the Conqueror. But the question is how the horse was able to step upon a place that is so high on the dome.
Great awe is elicited among the Turks, as referred to by the newspaper Sampach, by the various mosaics which have been uncovered with all their glory during the last ten years in the Church of Saint Sophia. This is in spite of the fact that the Muslim faith considers it a sin to create images of people who are related to religious events. They feel special awe about the mosaic which depicts Jesus with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist on the right and left of Him. The Turks have named them “The Mosaic of the Apocalypse.” And its symbolism opens up to us its eschatological meaning which is very intense with the Muslim Turks.
Specific attention is made about the mosaic which depicts known Byzantine Emperors such as John Komnenos with Jesus Christ and the Emperor Constantine Monomachos with the Empress Zoe. All of these depictions elicit intense awe about this Greek Orthodox Christian majesty and the inner strength which emerge from these mosaics. They have generated different legends about their eschatological symbolism. These symbolisms are related to the Turkish phobias about the reestablishment and authority of the Holy Eastern Roman Empire with the blessing of Jesus Christ.