THE TILES OF THE HAGIA SOFIA
Inside the superb structure that is the Hagia Sofia,
the Byzantine Christian church that burned to ground
in the 4th century,
was rebuilt in all its magnificence in A.D. 603,
tiny gold, silver and brightly colored tiles
form incredible pictures of Savior and Saint, Virgin Mary and Child.
When Constantinople fell to the Moslems,
the Christian populace fled to shelter in the great church,
believing in sanctuary, praying for a miracle to save them.
The Moslems had no more respect for Christ and the Cross
than the Christians had for Allah and His sacred symbol;
under the mighty dome of the Hagia Sofia
they raped and slaughtered cowering Christians
with complete aplomb,
mercilessly exercising their rights as conquerors.
The only miracle
was the decision of Suleiman the Magnificent
to have the tiled portraits of saints and deities
smoothly plastered over, rather than destroyed,
for the Prophet has said that art should not imitate life;
that no animals, no human figures are to be reproduced
in any form.
Rather, beauty is evoked in abstract designs
of flowers, fruits and plants,
the intricate curves of Arabic script.
Suleiman commanded that the resplendent tiles be covered,
rather than torn from the walls and broken,
as a lesser sultan might have insisted.
For hundreds of years the Hagia Sofia was a mosque,
hiding beneath its plain blank walls
a unique treasure that would reappear to the world
after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
SUE LITTLETON: Poems of Istanbul
POETRYREPAIRS 13.02: 019