A MAGNIFICENT TEMPLE AT THE HEART OF ISTANBUL: ST. ANTOINE CHURCHThe first architectural marks of Christianity in Istanbul started to be seen after Constantine I, the founder of the Eastern Roman Empire that would later come to be known as the Byzantium, adopted Christianity as the official religion of the empire. The Hagia Sofia, which is used as a museum today, had been one of the biggest churches in the world for about a thousand years, from its construction in 537 to 1453, when Mehmet the Conqueror converted it into a mosque after conquering Istanbul.
Today, the biggest church in Istanbul that is active is the St. Antoine Church, rising on the left-hand side just after Galatasaray towards the Tunel direction. The Franciscan priests, who settled in Istanbul in the time of the short-lived Latin Empire (1204-1261), constructed a church in the early 1230s around Galata in the name of their founder, Saint Francis of Assisi. The church, which was known as the Latin Hagia Sofia at the time it was built, was re-constructed after it had been damaged in the fires of 1639 and 1660.
Converted to mosque after the great fire of 1696 that demolished its surrounding, the church was rebuilt in Pera, with the name St. Antoine (born in Portugal, Saint Anthony was one of the most known disciples of Saint Francis). The construction of the church at its current site started in 1906, after it had been teared down due its location, through which the new tram route would pass.
Opened in 1912, the St. Antoine Church was designed by Eduardo de Nari and Istanbul-born Levantine architect Giulio Mongeri. The church, which bears Italian neo-Gothic style, sits on a plan shaped like a Latin cross. The interior height of the church, whose outside walls were built with red brick, is 23 m.
Hosting the most crowded Christian community in Istanbul as of now, the St. Antoine Church is run by Italian priests. The first church service in Turkey directed by a Pope was in 1967, when Pope Paul VI visited the St. Antoine Church. Also, Pope John XXIII, preached in the church in the ten-year period while he served as the ambassador of Vatican to Turkey before he was elected Pope.
The church services in the St. Antoine Church, which is one of the symbols of the İstiklal Avenue, is performed in English, Italian, Polish and Turkish.