Patriarch against converting Hagia Sophia into mosque

Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios has repeated his objection to growing calls in Turkey to convert Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

“If Hagia Sophia were to become a place of worship once more, then it should function as a church because it was built as a church,” Vartholomaios said during a three-day meeting of Orthodox patriarchs and archbishops in Istanbul.

Built as a Christian basilica in the 6th century, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The building was converted into a museum in 1935 on the orders of the country’s secular leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Some analysts say Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, currently embroiled in a sprawling corruption scandal, is mulling the idea of turning it back into a mosque in a bid to rally conservative supporters ahead of presidential elections August.

According to sources, Erdogan plans to dampen reactions to such a move in the West by approving the re-opening of the Greek Orthodox seminary on Halki island off Istanbul.