We walked into the Hagia Sophia and it took my breath away. This huge church was built in the 500's. It is massive. It is beautiful. We wandered through the church looking at the mosaics and marveling at the ingenuity of the architects. After some initial gawking we got down to the serious business of touring the church.
I opened my guidebook and started to read. We followed the suggested route, step by step, reading, and then looking. One of the first stops was a small external courtyard. It was only recently added to the tour in 2011. In it, was a huge marble baptistry. Carved out of one solid piece of marble, it was installed in the church in about 550. It was still in an era when many adults were converted to the faith and were immersed in baptismal waters. For nearly 1000 years Hagia Sophia was the the center of the Eastern church. Then the Ottoman empire conquered the area and turned it into a mosque.
The baptistry was in its own building. The building was eventually converted to a tomb. The large marble baptistry was dragged into a courtyard and buried. It remained there, underground for about 500 years. As some renovations were being done it was rediscovered. It is now open to the public. It was amazing. It is the largest immersion baptistry still in existence from the ancient world. At almost the same time, the new baptistry for our church was being delivered. The similarities are amazing. Our new baptistry has four steps going down and four steps coming out on the other side. It is the same in this marble pool. Both have a curved middle to accommodate the people being baptized. I wish they would have let me stand in the one in Turkey. I have already stood in the one in our sanctuary.
Deep down, under all of the trappings of church, is this one truth: Ours is a church built on the idea that individuals can and must choose to follow after Jesus and upon that confession follow him through the waters of the Baptistry. I can't wait for us to get into our refreshed sanctuary and watch people go under.