Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mosques, churches, etc.

Splendid day! We saw the Haghia Sophia, the supreme church of Byzantium, which was designed to be a mirror of the heavens and is often called "the church of holy wisdom"; it is 1,400 years old: it was built in 532 AD, became a mosque in 1453, and since 1935 it's been a museum and testament to glorious architecture and fine mosaic art. Like so many things in Turkey, the church is also a symbol of interculturalism and interconnectedness: the columns come from Egypt; the silver and gold from, among several other places, Delphi; the yellow marble is from Africa, and the gray, red and green marble from the nearby Marmara islands. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world!

This mosaic shows Christ flanked by the Emperor Constantine IX and Empress Zoe.

On Saturday the 21st we walked through impressive Kariye Mosque, which used to be Church of the Chora Monastery and is now beautifully restored so that you can see many of the original and finest Byzantine mosaics and frescoes anywhere in the world. The church dates from late 11th/early 12th century, when the area still looked quite rural (hence "Chora" and "Kariye" meaning country and village). It was commissioned by Maria Doukaina, the mother-in-law of the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos. It was damanged during the Latin occupation (1204-1261). After 1316 the Byzantine statesman and scholar, Theodore Metochites, provided the funds to have it extensively renovated and redecorated. He spent his last years as a monk and was buried in a funerary chapel that was added to the south side during renovation. This snipet of the Anastasisa fresco is located in the parecclesion (a place of burial). The frescoes in that area of the church were painted around 1320. The central figure, what you see in this photo, is Christ, the vanquisher of death, who is dragging Adam and Eve out of their tombs.

The inside of the Haghia Sophia.
Today we also returned to tour the inside of the Blue Mosque. At the Blue Mosque there was an exhibit of manuscripts and art, among them some of Rumi's writing. Mawlānā Jalāl-ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhi was a Persian Muslim poet and theologian who is known to most of us simply as Rūmī. In Persian his name is مولانا جلال الدین محمد رومی; in Turkish it is Mevlânâ Celâleddin Mehmed Rumi; and in Arabic it is جلال الدين الرومي; the shortened "Rūmī" is إبن الرومي. I love how his name looks in these different languages! His name literally means "Majesty of Religion": Jalal means "majesty" and Din means "religion." Rūmī means "the Roman." Rūmī was born in Balkh (which is in present-day Afghanistan) on September 30, 1207 and he died in Turkey on December 17, 1273. Talk about being a traveler! Plus, he was quite the multiculturist, since he wrote in Persian, Arabic and Turkish. The main theme of his works reflects his belief in "Tawhīd," which means "unity"--having seen and lived in diverse places, he must have had a profound understanding of that concept. (Once the Institute is over I might go see his tomb in Konya.) Here is one of my favorite of Rūmī's verses:

Love’s nationality is separate from all other religions,
The lover’s religion and nationality is the Beloved (God).
The lover’s cause is separate from all other causes
Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries.
On Friday the 20th we went to a Sufi ceremony, a practice started by Rumi/the Mevlevi. The men who dance are commonly called whirling dervishes. They believe that concentration can be created by listening to contemplative music and dancing rhythmically. The Mevlevi ceremony starts when the musicians enter with their string instruments. The Sheikh follows, then the dervishes. All wear black robes and tall brown fez conical shape hats that symbolize the container said to hold the soul of Mohammed prior to his incarnation on earth. The Sheikh slowly walks to the red sheepskin and sits on it. The dervishes kneel around him.

As the singer begins a plaintive chant, the dervishes meditate. When the music begins the dervishes stand one by one and begin to more in a circle, bowing to each other, their arms folded across their breasts, as they pass the immobile Shiekh. The dervishes throw off their black cloaks, revealing white vests and robes; their right hands is upturned towards heaven to accept divine blessing, which passes through the heart and is transmitted to the world through the downward pointing left hand.

They look continually at the thumb of the downward had and begin to turn in a miniature representation of the planets and the starts whirling around the sun. While one foot remains firmly on the ground, the other crosses and propels him around and around. As they turn, they dervishes must remember never to step on an imaginary line which stretches outward from the Sheikh. That line symbolizes the equator and its central point is the Pole. They turn effortlessly and the watchers too become transfixed.

Here is a snipet of the thousands of tiles that line the inside of the Blue Mosque.

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