Talk about a “destination wedding!” We’re off to Istanbul — the beautiful city that sits astride the straits of the Bosphorus, controlling navigation into the Black Sea and connecting Asia and Europe. Our son, Will, is having a wedding celebration there. Istanbul was also a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years.
Will, married Irem, a lovely woman from Turkey, about a year ago, here in the USA in a civil service. On August 8 in Istanbul they will have a wedding celebration that will be attended by most of her family, some of ours, and many friends. I am excited to meet Irem’s family and to get to know her native country, Turkey, and Istanbul.
Before the wedding we will visit Ephesus, the city where, traditionally, St. John wrote his gospel of the New Testament. Ephesus also has long been a place of pilgrimage. We’ll then go up to Istanbul which, of course, has a long history first as Byzantium, then Constantinople and since 1453, Istanbul (although the name was only formally adopted in 1930).
Byzantium was founded as a Greek colony on the “European” side of the Bosphorus straits in 657 B.C. Then in 330 A.D., Constantine “refounded” the city as the “New Rome.” After his death it was renamed Constantinople. When the Ottoman Turks conquered it in 1453, they called the city Istanbul.
The major place of Christian pilgrimage in Constantinople was the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, or in Greek, Hagia Sophia. It too has a complicated history that spans millennia — it was built in its current form in 537 A.D. and was not only a place of holy relics and pilgrimage but of controversy and conquerors. After the Ottoman conquest, the building became a mosque. In 1935 the Turkish government declared it to officially be a museum.
This trip will be my “preparation pilgrimage” — travel to historical sites that have been hallowed for hundreds of years by association with saints and relics. But mainly this trip will be a joyous celebration of two families uniting. I hope to experience some of the delight and will, no doubt, experience some of the frustrations that travel to a very different culture brings. We journey with Jesus, whose appearance at a wedding in Cana hallows this one too!