Author(s): Aşkın KOYUNCU

The building of new churches, synagogues and monasteries was forbidden in accordance with the Sharia law until the promulgation of the Reform Edict of 1856 in the Ottoman Empire. However, the sanctuaries left in the hands of non-Muslims at the time of the conquest were allowed to be repaired or reconstructed in their original forms. But this time, it was necessary to obtain the ilam (judicial decree) of the kadi, fatwa of Shaykh al-Islam and the Sultan’s firman. Besides, the enlargement of the dimensions of the building, as well as using different materials during the restoration was definitely prohibited. Any breach of these rules gave rise to destroy the related parts of the building, not to mention that the newly erected churches had to be demolished completely. Accordingly, there are many examples on such cases in the Ottoman sources. In contrast, it is obvious that a number of new churches, which were certainly built after the conquest, survived even in the cities throughout the Ottoman centuries. Some historians asserted that the Ottoman tolerance and the connivance of the local authorities made it possible as well as bribery. It looks like that the non-Muslims learned how to convince the local authorities and managed to overcome the restrictions of Sharia law, especially in the Balkans. They proved that much could be achieved in practise by means of bribe, baksheesh, false Muslim witnesses and some other tricks and that it was possible to enlarge the existing churches or even to build new ones in the course of time. The example of (re)building of the St. Demetrius Church in Bitola was an open infringement of the Sharia law in 1830, but in this case the main actor was the Grand-Vizier Re?id Mehmed Pasha himself. Although, Bitola was the seat of an Orthodox Greek metropolitan, there was only one small church in the city and it was far from satisfying the needs of the Christian population. Shortly after his arrival to the city, the Grand-vizier gave unusually permission to the rebuilding and enlargement of this small and dilapidated church by violating the Sharia law. He completely ignored the legal procedure for the church reparation and pretended that as if he did not know the Sharia rule that an existing church could be restored or reconstructed only its previous shape with the same dimensions as well. After the construction was started, Re?id Mehmed Pasha tried to get permission from Istanbul. But he failed due to the open violation of the Sharia. Meanwhile, a huge church was built in a very short time in place of the old one. According to the usual procedure, the St. Demetrius Church had to be destroyed to the ground, but it was politically tolerated. In this article, I will examine the reason of the Re?id Mehmed Pasha’s attitude, the construction process of the church and the final decision of Mahmud II in view of the Ottoman documents. Besides, I will try to explain why the St. Demetrius Church was not demolished.


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