“Some weeks before, Anna Notaras had wished that the candle of worship within Hagia Sophia might flame up one last time. Although she was herself absent that evening, the sound of voices raised in song came to her ear through the window of her room in the Rose Palace. She lay on her front, listening, silently weeping in joy and despair, while Zenobia gently rubbed balm into her wounded back. For the first time since its Latin desecration, the people had converged on the great church. Greek and Latin, Venetian and Genoese, side by side; united in a last solemn ceremony, a final plea to God.
Stood among beggars and lords in the dark, lamp-lit basilica, John Grant watched with a quiet calm as no ritual was spared, no relic left unparaded. All had come. All, in their finest robes, to the mother church one final time. Ranks of soldiers, merchants and millers, fishermen and sailors, all joining their voices to rise and fall in the harmony of rhythmic chanting. The sound re-echoed from the walls and rose with the incense vapour, up, up, into the curving embrace of the dome.
The gaunt emperor led a solemn procession beneath a banner of the two-headed eagle, joined by the Latin cardinal Isidore and all the local churchmen, absent Gennadius. It seemed at last that here the two halves of the faith were united; the great schism forgotten.
The relic of the true cross was paraded, and soldiers kissed its silver casing, that it might instill divine strength to them for the hours ahead.
Then, having taken the sacraments, the emperor fell to the floor and begged God to forgive all their transgressions. He bowed in all directions and took his leave, followed by Grant and the rest of the army, leaving behind a vigil that would continue through to dawn”.
Chapter 32 of Porphyry & Ash begins with the service conducted on the night of the 28th May 1453 as the depleted Byzantine & Latin defenders prepare to face the final assault. That dawn vigil will of course be ended by Janissary bursting into the great church and within a matter of days it would be converted into a mosque.
As Erdogan seeks to turn Hagia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque, it would be understandable to think that the liturgy John Grant witnessed on the night of the 28th was the last one performed in Hagia Sophia, but this is not so. There is a little known historical footnote to the buildings history as a church. The last Byzantine Rite performed there took place just over a century ago, on the 19th January 1919. This is the story of a bold priest & a bubble in the Turkish control of Constantinople.
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