Pope Francis has said he was “greatly saddened” over the decision to convert the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
Hagia Sophia was built by the Byzantine Christian Emperor Justinian in 537. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was converted into a mosque and the city renamed Istanbul.
But in 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of Turkey, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, before it was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has issued a decree ordering that it be opened for Muslim prayers as of 24 July.
Reacting to the announcement, the pontiff said during the Sunday Angelus: “My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think about Hagia Sophia, and I am greatly saddened.”
The Pope is one of several religious and political leaders worldwide who have criticised the move.