Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reopened an iconic Byzantine church in Istanbul as a mosque on Monday, four years after his government had designated it an Islamic house of worship.

Despite criticism from Christians around the world, Turkey formally converted The Church of St. Saviour in Chora — also known as Chora Church and Kariye in Turkish — into a mosque after it had turned Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia into a Muslim prayer space.

“May it bring good fortune,” Erdogan said of the conversion during the televised event.

LISTEN: A History of Istanbul’s Chora Church

Chora Church has stood for 17 centuries and is famous for its mosaics and frescoes depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary.

Last week, Religion Unplugged’s Roberta Ahmanson interviewed Alexei Lidov, noted art historian and Byzantinist, on the past and future of Chora Church as a result of Erdogan’s actions.

a mural painting on the ceiling of the church. It shows Jesus in the centre and figures reaching out to him from both sidesThe historic church is famous for its artwork, including this fresco of the "anastasis" (rebirth) of Christ. (Till Niermann, via Wikimedia Commons)

The inside features some of the finest surviving Byzantine mosaics and frescoes, which were left in plain sight during Muslim worship throughout much of the Ottoman era. In the 16th century, it was converted into a mosque.

Like in the case of Hagia Sophia, the artwork inside Chora will be draped with sheets during Muslim prayers.

Chora, which is listed as a U.N. World Heritage Site, was restored before it became a museum in 1945. The church’s conversion into a mosque — a process that took four years — was delayed as the structure underwent further restoration.

“This mosque, which was converted into a museum, underwent renovation and restoration efforts, supported by our institutions,” Erdogan said. “Today, by the grace of God, it is once again being dedicated to prayer and will welcome the faithful in Constantinople.”

Clemente Lisi is the executive editor of Religion Unplugged. He previously served as deputy head of news at the New York Daily News and a longtime reporter at The New York Post. Follow him on X @ClementeLisi.