Constantinople’s Lament

Constantinople’s Lament

My mom still talks about a time when I was a toddler and wanted so badly to see the inside of a church I had spotted on the side of the road. Being an adventurous mom, she pulled over and took me inside. Next thing you know, little Connie Ann is running up and down the aisles from the front to the back, pointing at the cross and shouting gleefully, “Jesus!”

I’ve since learned to control my outbursts (mostly). But I still love, love, love churches. Today I want to talk about my experience visiting one of the world’s greatest, found in the city of my namesake. (Yes, my name is Constance, but when my mom was in a playful mood, she called me Constantinople. And this was before I became a lover of Church history.)

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, August 2010, Evening

Dedicated on my birthday, December 27 (though in 537), the Hagia Sophia is a beautiful masterpiece of Byzantine culture as well as an engineering marvel. The ring of windows at the base of the dome amazed everyone who saw it. “What is holding the dome?” they wondered. It looks as though the dome is suspended on a ring of light.

If you squint, you can see the Theotokos on the wall in the back, behind me head.
Standing where the Empress Irene would sit. If you squint, you can see the Theotokos mosaic in the apse.

Apart from the columns, the marble, the dome, and the windows, this church was filled with the most ornate mosaics in the empire. Beautiful scenes filled every wall and alcove, designed to lift the viewer’s thoughts to the world above.

HagiaSophiaMary
Mary and the Child Jesus with Empress Irene and her son, Emperor Alexander.

Visiting this great wonder of the world was a dream come true, though it was also marked with sadness. You see, when Constantinople was overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in 1431, they converted our beautiful home into a mosque. The Christian artifacts were removed and the heavenly mosaics were covered in plaster. Islamic art and writings were hung over the images of our Lord and the Saints. The Glory of Christendom was forced to submit to the Muslims, guarded by four minarets.

In 1935, Mustafa Atatürk had the Hagia Sophia converted once again- this time to a museum. In an effort to honor both the Christian and Islamic history of the building, some of the mosaics were once again exposed, though many remain covered to this day.

Deesis
Deesis Mosaic: Jesus flanked by Mary and John the Baptist.

This is our Constantinople, bound by the shackles of time. Being in this place, seeing what it was, and knowing what it has become created such a storm of emotions in my soul. They say you many not pray in the building- but they can say what they want.

What is there to say when one walks where such tragedy has occurred? What once was the beautiful house of God is beaten down and chained by years of wounds and disenchantment. Would anyone believe the glory it used to house? Will it ever again be what it truly is? How many souls are just like this temple, tragically fallen from grace and seemingly without hope? What glorious beauty hides beneath the whitewash of our conquerors? When will we break the shackles and accept who we were meant to be? Do we have the Faith and Hope to live for the One who built us?

I hope so. And yes, it will always be Constantinople to me.

My travel bucket list

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the places I want to go, so I decided to make my travel bucket list. Why? Because life is too short to sit around saying you wish you could do something, someday.

Me at the Acropolis in Athens

In no particular order, here are the places I am going to explore:

1. England: I want to see the sights in London, but then I want to drive around and see the countryside as well. Maybe we could take two or three weeks and make it up to the Scottish Highlands too.

2. Australia: I want to spend a night looking at the stars in the Southern Hemisphere, preferably far from city lights.

3. Florence and Tuscany hill towns: I want to see the art at the Uffizi, then check out Siena, Pisa, and little off-the-beaten-path places.

4. Switzerland: I’ve flown over the Alps during sunrise twice. Now I want to see them up close.

5. Austria: I have always wanted to see Vienna and Salzburg, since I was a young kid, mostly for the history. And, who are we kidding, there’s something about the combined forces of Mozart and the Von Trapp family.

6. Caribbean: Um, can I be there right now? Maybe we’ll make it there on our honeymoon.

7. Africa: I want to see the animals, but I’ll stay away from bush food and death by hyenas. Might take some work to convince James on this one.

8. Patagonia: penguins!!

9. France: to see Le Tour de France, of course! This is actually one of future hubby’s dreams. I’ve already been to Paris, Chatres, and Versailles, but I’ve always wanted to see more of the French countryside. I want to learn French first, though.

10. Spain: I want to see the Prado in Madrid, the Alhambra castle, the Mosque of Cordoba, and flamenco dancing in Seville. Basically, I want to make a day stop to Madrid for the art museum, then spend a week galavanting around Andalucia.

There are a few more places I could add, like medieval towns in Holland, Belgium for the chocolate, Germany for kicks… but I think these are the main ones. Not sure if I’ll ever make it out to Africa, the shots and the toilet situation might be enough to keep me away. BUT… Fiancé and I are already making plans to go to 2 of these places by 2014! Guess which!!