Secrets of the Hagia Sophia - Healing Powers, Mysterious Mosaics and Holy Relics
The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has a very long history. It has survived earthquakes, religious power struggles, and has been a church (basilica), a mosque and is now a museum. It is known as the Ayasofya in Turkish, and was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos. There were once two more churches that were regarded as “Churches of Divine Wisdom” but the Hagia Sophia is the last that remains.
The ancient monument is also called the Sancta Sophia, but this name is not associated with Saint Sophia as many mistakenly believe. Rather, its name makes reference to its association with “Divine Wisdom” because “Sophia” means wisdom in Greek.
From the time of its construction between 532 and 537 AD, on the orders of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, through to 1453 AD, the Hagia Sophia served as a cathedral for the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, Constantinople, as Istanbul was once called, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks at this time, and the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by order of Sultan Mehmed II.
It remained in use as a mosque until as recently as 1931, when it was closed down for four years to be reopened as a museum in 1935 by the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Inside the Dome (Photo: MiGowa)
Proclaimed by Marlise Simons, writing in the New York Times, to have “changed the history of architecture,” the Hagia Sophia has a truly magnificent dome, and was the largest cathedral in the world for thousands of years. It held this distinction until St Peter’s Basilica in Rome was completed. The Hagia Sophia has provided the architectural inspiration for the Blue Mosque and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, amongst other buildings.
Built over a fault line, the Hagia Sophia has been badly damaged by several earthquakes and it has had to be repaired many times. Quakes in August 553 AD and in December 557 AD caused cracks in the main dome, then another earthquake in May 558 AD totally collapsed the dome, as well as destroying other parts of the church, including the altar. Further damage was caused by quakes in January 869 AD and again in October 989 AD. A very great earthquake in Istanbul in 1894 also destroyed parts of the church.
Miraculous Healing Powers
A well in the center of the main hall is said to have the power of curing heart disease and other illnesses. Sufferers must visit the well three times in a row on Saturdays and drink a glass of its water each time. This tradition lasted up until it was opened as a public museum.
The Hagia Sophia also has a mysterious “Perspiring Column,” “Weeping Column “or “Wishing Column” made of marble that stays moist even in the heat of summer. It is believed that this column has the power to cure illness too.
Weeping Column at the Hagia Sophia (Photo: Chris Brown)
The column has bronze plates on the lower section and a hole in the middle of one of these, and the faithful who seek healing put their thumbs or fingers in the hole then rub the affected area of their bodies. It is said that Emperor Justinian once cured a terrible headache by merely leaning on this column.
The moistness is said to be the tears of the Virgin Mary. Another legend says that the dampness began after St Gregory the Miracle Worker appeared there in 1200.
Deesis Mosaic (Photo: MiGowa)
The Hagia Sophia has several Christian mosaics. One of these known as the Deesis Mosaic, which was created in 1264 AD, is of particular interest because it has been said that an image of Jesus is not of Christ but Apollonius of Tyana.
The late American researcher Robertino Solarion promoted the controversial theory that Apollonius was a philosopher who became the model for Jesus Christ, who was actually a fictional character invented by the Church Fathers. However, the main evidence we have for the beliefs about Apollonius is contained in the writings of Philostratus the Elder.
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The Wandering Philosopher, Apollonius of Tyana (Photo: George M. Groutas)
There are mosaics of seraphim on the pendentives supporting the dome but these have remained hidden for 160 years because they were covered by layers of plaster. When the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque the mosaics were hidden due to a ban on representational images by the Muslim religion. Although the exact age of these mosaics is unclear, they are known to have been created more than 700 years ago.
The Hagia Sophia has had many holy relics housed within it in the course of its history, though these were removed when the church was ransacked at the time of the Fourth Crusade.
2nd Century alabaster urn (Photo: Frank Kovalchek)
Relics have included nails from the True Cross, the shroud of the Virgin Mary and the tombstone of Jesus.
Wood from Noah’s Ark
The wood from which the door known as the Emperor Door is made, is believed to have been taken from Noah’s Ark. In support of this, it is known that Emperor Heraclius went in search of the Ark in the 7 th century.
Dan Brown’s Inferno and the Hagia Sophia
Best-selling author Dan Brown, who wrote The Da Vinci Code, made reference to the Hagia Sophia in his latest novel entitled Inferno.
Information like this has made the Hagia Sophia a place that countless tourists wish to visit and these people, of course, need accommodation if staying in Turkey. There are plenty of hotels available in Istanbul and guided tours of the Hagia Sophia
Visitors to the Hagia Sophia inside the church (Photo: MiGowa)
Are there more secrets underground?
A big mystery is the question of what lies below the Hagia Sophia. Are there any crypts, cellars and underground tunnels that have been kept hidden from the public? And if there are none, why is this when it was common for such underground structures to be built under churches? Crime and mystery writer LP O’Bryan has looked into this in depth in his blog article What Secrets are hidden under Hagia Sophia?
The Hagia Sophia has had many superstitions attached to it, as well as its many mysteries, and it may still yield many new and fascinating discoveries in the years ahead.
Featured image: Hagia Sophia at dusk (Photo: David Spender)