Hagia Sophia is a church in Constantinople where legend states a priest living in its walls will only resurface when the building is again controlled by Christians - according to the Handbook for Grade School Nuns (Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies, 107).
Hagia Sophia (Greek: "Holy Wisdom") was a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and is now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 AD, and until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted by the Fourth Crusaders to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was later converted into an Ottoman mosque from May 29, 1453, until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on February 1, 1935. Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture.
With the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia became a mosque, and in subsequent years all the interior figure mosaics were obscured under coatings of plaster and painted ornament; most of the Christian symbols elsewhere were obliterated. The four slender minarets, which rise so strikingly at the outer corners of the structure, were added; the crescent supplanted the cross on the summit of the dome, and the altar and the pulpit were replaced by the customary Muslim furnishings.
Legend says that two priests saying divine liturgy over the crowd disappeared into the cathedral's walls as the first Turkish soldiers entered. According to the legend, the priests will appear again on the day that Constantinople returns to Christian hands.
"Some lucky enough to survive what followed claimed that there had, indeed, been a miracle at the very moment when the doors were broken down. A pair of priests, resolutely conducting Mass even as the screams rang out, grasped the most precious objects on the altar and simply melted into the southern wall. For centuries after, believers would maintain that on the day that Constantinople became a Christian city once again, the priests would reappear and resume the service at precisely the point where it was broken off."
Author/historian David Read writes that the legend of the disappearing priests is probably the best known of the stories to come out of the siege of Constantinople in 1453. Sir Steven Runciman mentions it in The Fall of Constantinople 1453 (1965), and his notes point to the chronicles of Georgios Phrantzes, Michael Critobulus and Leonard of Chios as sources for the legend.
- The Sultan is supposed to have ordered his masons to break open the wall into which the priest or priests had disappeared, but they could not break it down. Neither did the Byzantine masons, whom the Sultan had thereupon summoned, have any success either.
- In another legend, the altar of the Hagia Sophia was supposed to have been rescued and placed aboard a ship to be taken for safe-keeping, but the vessel sank in a storm and now the altar lies at the bottom of the Sea of Marmora. Even if storms should be raging all around, it is always calm above the altar, and heavenly music can be heard and the perfume of holy incense can be smelled by fishermen and divers who venture near. When Constantinople is Christian again, the altar shall rise to the surface and return of its own accord to the city.
- Another legend from the siege has a priest who, frying some fish by a stream, threw them back, half-cooked, into the water when the Turks were about to capture the city. Still alive today the fish, according to legend, are supposed to allow themselves to be re-caught, cooked and eaten when Constantinople is a Christian city once again.
Another legend says the last emperor, Constantine XI, was not really killed during the siege, but was saved by a miracle, turned by an angel into a block of stone. When the time is right, he will come back to life and retake the city at the head of a vast army, wreaking terrible vengeance upon the Turks.