There she was, Mary, looking down on us through two sublime prayers from the Koran, in-between. Reverence, resplendence, and a knowingness from two great faiths gazed upon on all who came to see how the sharing of such a majestic place could be, where co-presence created an alternate and transcendent reality.
I learned of the Hagia Sophia while traveling with a friend deep in the Andean mountains of Peru. “It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen,” she told me, a lady who, to date, has been one of the most epic seekers I have ever met. I knew I had to get there.
And so, five years later, here I was, looking up to Mary protecting with Mohammed’s prayers in a space so regal yet so simple.
The building itself impresses and some-what imposes. Built as a church using collections of materials from many different locations (Egyptian quarry stones, Thessalonian green marble slabs, Bosporian black rocks, and Syrian yellow stones), its original construction employed over ten thousand people. A slight rundown of history goes something like this: Originally an Eastern Orthodox cathedral (537–1204) converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral (1204–1261) back to an Eastern Orthodox cathedral (1261–1453) transformed to an Imperial mosque (1453–1931) and finally made its way to becoming one of Istanbul’s most famous museums (1935–present).
The story of this place is a good read, spanning many rulers, many earthquakes, renovations, pillages, conversions, murder and mayhem, and divinity and consecration. It was in the mid 1800s that murals and symbols representing both Christian and Muslim faiths were uncovered, cleaned, or placed up fresh, with the space still officially used as a mosque.
But it is not simply the architecture, materials, or historical presence that bestow such an awe-inspiring character. Instead, this place is known for its peculiar in-between nature, where people can come and feel completely present with two symbols of faiths often split down the center in the modern world. Inside the Hagia Sophia, they are together, holding this space of connection and respect side by side.
If only we could find this space more often, where the most beautiful and dignified aspects come together, each holding its own, yet finding intensity in how they fit together. This creation of such a sacred space is uniquely understood through two combined into one.
These spaces sitting in-between walls of politics, love, hate, faith, and inspiration embolden the possibility of co-existence, creating a truly magnificent place that attracts over 3 million people a year to witness such a powerful co-presence.
Here no one holds import. Instead these colors on walls, these sacred symbols of two faiths often at odds, synchronize and remind us what can be experienced from the grace of the in-between.
Have you ever been to these awe-inspiring spaces in-between?
Image Credit: Natasha Majewski