Thursday, 5 December 2013

How do we name Hagia Sophia?

Today on Atlantis, the list of the American Theological Library Association, John Thompson of Pennsylvania posted this cataloguing conundrum. My reply to John on Atlantis follows his well-worded presentation.

Hi, everyone. I have a question about the authority record for Hagia Sophia Church. I sent this query to the ATLA Tech discussion list and didn’t hear a response, so I’m sending it to all of you.

I have just been cataloging the book OCLC bib 780398207, "Tasting Heaven on Earth: Worship in Sixth Century Constantinople." After adding the authorized form of the church, Ayasofya Müzesi, to the record, I discovered that that the “see from” references aren’t adequate.  I have submitted an error report through OCLC Connexion, but am interested to see if anyone else on this list has any input on this. I have pasted below the message I sent along with the error report that I sent to OCLC. I have not heard any response.

Anyone have any thoughts about this?

John Thompson
Waynesburg University
Waynesburg, PA 15370


This authority record [for Ayasofya Müzesi]  apparently applies to the ancient church "Hagia Sophia" which was converted into a mosque after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. If you examine this record, however, only one of the "see from" references refers to the church, and it is in Italian (Chiesa di S. Sofia a Costantinopoli).

As is evident in the 670 fields, however, there are an number of works that are about the pre-1453 church only. One recent example is OCLC bib 780398207, "Tasting heaven on Earth: Worship in Sixth Century Constantinople."

The best way to deal with this would be to have a separate authority record for the church. Although the church and mosque (and now the museum) occupied the same building, they are, it could be argued, completely different identities.

If this is not possible, it seems ESSENTIAL to provide 410 references from some corresponding "church" entities. Here is what I would recommend.

Saint Sophia (Church : Istanbul, Turkey)
Hagia Sophia (Church : Istanbul, Turkey)
Hagia Sofia (Church : Istanbul, Turkey)
and so forth.

This is very important because if a library user enters a search here that includes the word "church" (and the building is much better known as a church than it is as a mosque) the search might come up with no results, depending on the automated system.  

Here is the data as it stands in the authority record, with subfield codes removed for the purpose of clarity.

Authorized form of name
110 2   Ayasofya Müzesi

“See from” references
410 2   Haghia-Sophia (Mosque : Istanbul, Turkey)
410 1   Istanbul.  Ayasofya Müzesi
410 2   Hagia Sophia (Mosque : Istanbul, Turkey)
410 2   Museum of St. Sophia
410 2   Saint Sophia (Mosque : Istanbul, Turkey)
410 2   St. Sophia (Mosque : Istanbul, Turkey)
410 1   Turkey.  Maarif Vekâleti.   Ayasofya Müzesi
410 2   Chiesa di S. Sofia a Costantinopoli
410 2   Ayasofya (Museum)
410 2   S. Sofia (Mosque : Istanbul, Turkey)
410 2   Santa Sofia (Mosque : Istanbul, Turkey)
410 2   Sainte Sophie (Mosque : Istanbul, Turkey)

Books used in establishment of authorized form.
670     Eyice, S. Ayasofya, 1984.
670     Michelēs, P.A. L'esthétique d'Haghia-Sophia, 1963.
670     Antōniadēs, M.A. Ekphrasis tēs Hagias Sophias, 1983: v. 1, added t.p. (Sainte Sophie de Constantinople)
670     Bonfiglioli, G. S. Sofia di Costantinopoli, 1974.

And here is my response on Atlantis:

Well we all know what happened in 1453. Some of us also know what happened in 1935, when the Turkish government converted the mosque of Holy Wisdom (Ayasofya) into a museum: Ayasofya Müzesi. LC is bound by convention to apply the current name of the building as an authority.

That said, I agree with John Thompson. The references are, to all effects and purposes, non-existent. Arguments for having church references include these:
1.     The literature treating Holy Wisdom as a church is massive, indeed the whole of church history talks and thinks of the place as a church, whether before or after the Fall of Constantinople.
2.     Architecturally, Holy Wisdom was built as a church and its influence on church architecture (not to mention mosque architecture) to this day is extensive.
3.     Its place in the collective imagination of Christianity is beyond measure. It is impossible, in Christian terms, to separate the surviving building with the fact that it was built as a church and to see it, in eternity, as a church.
As said earlier, LC is time-bound. It is locked into its own principles, which is why John Thompson’s recommendations

Saint Sophia (Church : Istanbul, Turkey)
Hagia Sophia (Church : Istanbul, Turkey)
Hagia Sofia (Church : Istanbul, Turkey)
and so forth.

while excellent, will come up against the in-house practices that are wary of precedent-setting. That said, there is every reason to have his recommendations used as references. I personally agree that it should have separate church name authorities, in fact it’s long overdue given the books even in our Library on this subject.

Before proceeding though, we need to confirm too if Holy Wisdom was a cathedral. Certainly it was a church, but am I right in saying it was also the seat, literally the cathedra, of the Patriarch of Constantinople? An historian may be able to untangle the Byzantine net on this question. Anyone with an appreciation of where the Bishop of Rome actually sits, and sat, will see why I raise this question. Is it ‘Saint Sophia (Church : Istanbul, Turkey)’ or ‘Saint Sophia (Cathedral : Istanbul, Turkey)’?

Postscript: My favourite reductio ad absurdum with LC is a heading for a book on relations between the Russians and the Rome of the East in the Middle Ages. Because the book was published before 1991, and because of the rule that we use the current name of a country, the heading went: ‘Soviet Union – Relations – Byzantine Empire’.


  1. This answer on Atlantis came from Jacob Longshore:
    Hi Philip,

    Just to confirm: yes, the Hagia Sophia was the patriarch's seat in Constantinople - not just a brilliant feat of architecture. I'm teaching a course in medieval history, and we covered that bit not long ago.


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