Who would have thought that a book about arcane symbols and the eternal conflicts inherent in all religions (male vs. female, black vs. white, good vs. evil etc) would become an international bestseller' Yet, with its unique mix of mystery, myth and mysticism, Dan Brown's 'The Da Vinci Code' has become a global popular sensation.
But readers in Turkey were left wondering how it was that Dan Brown overlooked Istanbul's Haghia Sophia, especially since one of the codes in the book is the word 'Sophia'. Surely, in some 2000 years, the guardians of the sacred trusts of Christianity had some impact on this important edifice. What codes are hidden in the ancient mosaics now covered by frescoes' Archaeologist and Art Historian Dr. Şengül Aydıngün, long-time curator of Haghia Sophia, shared with us her prodigious knowledge of the structure and its history. With her was Reyhan Somuncuoğlu, a painter with a particular interest in symbols and codes. One Wednesday afternoon, we met in the cool, dim galleries of Haghia Sophia.
Solomon, I have surpassed you!
Haghia Sophia is the third great church to be built on this site. However, it is the first to bear the name of Haghia Sophia, meaning 'Holy Wisdom'. The prior two churches were called Megale Ekklesia (Great Church). When Constantius constructed the first Megale Ekklesia in 360, he sent his mother Helena to Jerusalem where she excavated the Temple of Solomon. She found the Cross, Crown of Thorns and Jesus's clothes and brought them to Megale Ekklesia. The cross was plated with gold and displayed on the Million stone located 20m from Haghia Sophia.
Legend has it that the plans for Haghia Sophia came to Emperor Justinian in a dream which he then imparted to his head architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. At the dedication of Haghia Sophia, Justinian is said to have exclaimed, 'Solomon, I have surpassed you!' referring to the splendours of the Temple of Solomon. For 800 years after its construction in 537, Haghia Sophia was the most important and largest structure in the world.
While the primary aim of Crusades was to rescue the Temple of Solomon from the Muslims, the 1203 Crusades bypassed Jerusalem, heading for Constantinople instead. They besieged the city for months, ransacking it when it finally fell. The Crusaders took the treasures of the city, including the cross and many other untold sacred relics.
The lily and the sword
When Constantine convened the first Council of Nicaea (Iznik) in 325, the council incorporated pagan beliefs into the Christian faith and wrote the New Testament as we know it. Female divinities were discarded and women were equated with the devil. Dissenters to this line of thought' particularly artists' hid their beliefs behind symbols in their works.
The galleries of Haghia Sophia are filled with just such hidden imagery. Many of these relate to the Mother Goddess who has taken different forms and been known by different names throughout history. For example, pinecones and valonia are ancient symbols of female fruitfulness. They also serve as symbols of the Greek goddess Artemis and the Roman goddess Venus, while representing the tree of life in Christian iconography. The lily is frequently referred to in 'The Da Vinci Code' as a symbol of light and hope. In Haghia Sophia, the lily both symbolises the Virgin Mary and alludes to the goddesses Artemis and Aphrodite. The lily stands for purity and innocence and is said to have sprung forth from a tear that Eve shed when she was banished from the Garden of Eden. The four-leaf clover is also found in Haghia Sophia, as is the lily and sword, which represents the union of male and female. The spider web is another symbol of the Mother Goddess as it serves as a trap for the devil. Entwined snakes stand for Adam and Eve and the good and evil. The fact that Mary is seated on a throne is a reference to the cult of the Mother Goddess. Tarot signs can be seen above the throne. In the tradition of classical art, the Archangel Gabriel has the face of a woman and wears a crown. He is also portrayed beside Jesus, as are the two angels in Haghia Sophia. The mosaic artists were followers of Bishop Arius who believed in the humanity of Christ. Perhaps this was their way of depicting Mary Magdalene.
Mosaics by oil lamp
Haghia Sophia's mosaics were plastered over by the Ottomans as Islam proscribes figurative art. However, in 1847, Sultan Abdülmecid commissioned a Swiss architect, Giuseppe Fossati, to restore the church. The plaster was removed and legend has it that Abdülmecid was so impressed with the mosaics. Abdülmecid ordered Fossati to document the mosaics and then cover them with frescoes, which served as much to protect as to disguise them. Fossati's favourite motif was the lily. His documents are kept in an archive in Italy.
The first prefabricated building
Haghia Sophia was constructed in 5 years, 10 months and 24 days, just in time for Christmas mass. It is made entirely of marble, stone and brick. The 16 marble columns in the main chamber came from Ephesus and the 4 porphyry columns from Egypt. Indeed, Haghia Sophia could be called the first prefabricated building.
Above and beyond the imagery hidden in its architecture and mosaics, Haghia Sophia itself serves as a symbol of the timeless power of art and, of course, wisdom.
* If you look carefully at the floor of the large hall at the entrance to Haghia Sophia, you will see crosses in the four corners. These mark the projection of the dome.
* Masonic symbols can also be seen in the marble slabs on the floor.
* It has been said that the pattern created by the veins in the marble on the wall to the right of the mimbar (pulpit) on the ground floor bears a resemblance to the devil. Therefore, some people believe that the devil is imprisoned within the walls of Haghia Sophia.
* The depiction of Jesus Christ in Haghia Sophia is widely acknowledged to be the most beautiful in the world.
* The fragments located outside the church to the left of the main entrance are the ruins of the foundation of the monumental entrance to the second church. The lambs represent the 12 Apostles.
By The Gate Magazine
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The Haghia Sophia Code
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