Holy Wisdom Emptied
I entered the domed museum, Hagia Sophia, hoping to be inspired of its namesake, ‘Holy Wisdom.’ It was originally a Christian church built in Constantinople before the city was renamed Istanbul.
Holy Wisdom was the largest church in the world and its circle of windows were meant to symbolize unity. But this grand worship space overflowing with its diversity of people looked vacant to me. A naive reaction could have glamorized an appearance of peaceful harmony among Islam and Christianity now sharing the same hollow space. However, its surface carried a meaningless veneer of wax.
The evidence was preserved of ideas imposed and rejected in turn.
Seeking holy wisdom, I searched for the ambo where the silver-tongued St. John Chrysostom, that Greek Doctor of the Church, had preached the word of God. From afar, I noticed it outside where it was unprotected from the winds of change and nature. A guard blocked access into the unmarked area of discarded relics removed from Hagia Sophia by the government.
Now, the inside of the church dome above the tourists’ heads was filled with scaffolding to prop the emptied structure.
Half a dozen double-storied sayings of Mohammad hung on disks in mid-air. They had been made from wet hides stretched larger than the building doors and then dried until they were too stiff to be cut by the weapons of that time. A government guide explained that the intention was in defiance to any other occupants. The church was precious to the Christians who had originally raised it in the past. As a popular attraction, the edifice would matter in the future to a later secular state. These interim religious icons were preserved hides designed to last until the end of time. They could only be destroyed by burning the valuable building. My own mind was on fire in contention with the meaning I was seeking in this place.
My lifted eyes noticed the worldly marks of those who had been seeking conversion. There was a latter-day Christian cross painted over an Islamic matted surface that coated a hidden Medieval Christian mosaic. The experts said the mosaic camouflaged an iconoclast’s destructive mortar that had defaced an earlier Christian fresco. All these layers of dispute concurrently resided on a side chapel’s ceiling within this officially non-religious museum. These coverings were disguises that did not erase the differences that prevailed.
The longest line in this place named Holy Wisdom was to experience a popular superstition of no religion. Each visitor seeking wisdom’s good fortune twisted a thumb in a hole in a marble support post. Each corrosive turn had worn down a dent that might have been kicked by an Emperor’s horse. This superficial myth of futile luck made its own eroding mark. The marble had been donated from every Christian nation to establish these first columns that sheltered their united faith. The government guide moved on, while empty hands still reached for some postmodern wisdom.
Secularism maintained by the auspices of the state was the latest claim of wisdom to cast its pall within this shaken dome that was built to its purpose. The environment was distorted beyond the visible buckling of the arches and load-bearing floors surrounding the once-sacred dominion. The compass for Islam was off-center to the central Catholic altar, so even the former worship areas were physically displaced. But there were no carpets or pews because government edict had voided either form of reverence.
Stained glass windows of unity reflected a confusion of skin colors across the barren waxed floors. Holy Wisdom was not clear in the reflections of this secular world.
MistyRose™ poetry is published in 4 hard-cover anthology books at the US Library of Congress and in academic journals. She is the only accepted “Spoken Word Artist” in Oklahoma on Poets & Writer’s Directory http://www.pw.org/content/mistyrose_ok. She was the Featured Guest Poet in Houston in 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdxb0bvlqMg. Other published poems: https://www.facebook.com/mistyrose.ok?sk=notes_my_notes
Photo Credit: “The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul” by Hugh Llewelyn, Flickr.com