Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom is the mother church of all Eastern Christians of the Byzantine liturgical tradition both

Orthodox and Greek Catholic. Early accounts suggest that the site of this, the grandest church in Christendom, in the first millennium had been the site of a pagan temple appropriated for the service of the new religion. The first church on the site was built by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantius, son of Emperor Constantine, who had liberated the Christian faith from centuries of persecution. Constantius' church was consecrated in 360 AD. At first it was known as the Great Church because it was the largest at the time. Later it became known as Holy Wisdom, a name attributed to Christ by theologians of the 4th century. In 404 AD the church was destroyed by mobs set into action when Emperor Arcadius sent Archbishop John Chrysostom into exile for his criticism of the Empress. In 415 AD Emperor Theodosius II rebuilt the church. It too fell victim to a rampaging mob at the time of Monophysite heretics in 532 AD. The new Emperor Justinian, firm defender of orthodoxy, made short work of the howling heretics and ordered that construction begin on a new basilica such as had never been seen before. The construction work lasted from 532 to 537; the new church was consecrated by Patriarch Menas on December 27, 537.

Architecturally the grand basilica represented a major revolution in church construction in that it featured a huge dome which necessitated the implementation of new ideas in order to support the weight of this dome, a feat which had not been attempted before. The dome which became universal in Byzantine church construction represented the vault of heaven thus constituting a feature quasi-liturgical in function. In the days when there was no steel used in construction, large roofs and domes had to be supported by massive pillars and walls. The dome of Hagia Sophia was supported by four piers (the solid supports from which the arches spring), each measuring about 118 square yards at the base. Four arches swing across linked by four pendentives (the parts of a groined ceiling springing from the pillars). The apices of the arches and the pendentives support the circular base from which rises the dome which is pierced by forty single-arched windows which admit light to the interior.