As the group walked through the massive plaza surrounding the church, they paused in a small courtyard, peppered with bits and pieces of ancient ruins – lintels, monuments, pieces of old columns littered the grounds. While some of the group sat down upon them to rest, the others marveled at the detailed images carved into stone. In fact, some of these were parts of Theodisius’ original church building, including a long slab of marble with 12 sheep representing the twelve apostles of Christ.
Regrouping the pilgrims walked up an ancient stone walkway and entered the 1,480 year old church which had survived hundreds of earthquakes throughout history. Walking through the narthex, through the Emperor’s Gate (once reserved strictly for entry of the emperor and purported made from the wood of Noah’s Ark) past the tall marble columns, the group found themselves gazing up in wonder, at the large dome. The narrow, closely spaced windows at the base of the dome were edged in gold which shined and shimmered and made it appears as if the dome was floating above the structure.
In the apse of the Church the group gazed up at the oldest mosaic in the church of the Birth-Giver of God sitting upon a bejeweled throne with the Christ Child in her lap. Original iconography was destroyed during the iconoclasm period, and only after its defeat in 843 AD, the mosaics were created throughout the church. Gazing to the left the pilgrims could view the remnants of the mosaic icon of the Archangel Gabriel, with Archangel Michael to the right.
Upon exiting the church the group walked through another set of ancient wooden doors, and quickly turned left to pause at the ancient baptismal pool, where once again they prayed and softly sang.
It was difficult to walk away from such a magnificent and ancient church. Hearts were heavy as the once Orthodox church was now being utilized as a mosque. However, the group was confident that one day it would once again be a church where the faithful would praise and glorify the Holy Trinity.