In 1917, with Anglo-French Expeditionary Forces set to dissembark in Gallipoli, Pope Benedict XV announced his intention to consecrate the City of Constantinople.
Race to the Gates of Constantinople
by Ed, Scott Palter & Jeff ProvineThe near certainty of a multi-faith backlash was good cause for hesitatation by the would-be occupying powers. Their former ally, Tsarist Russia had defeated the Ottoman Empire in the war of 1877 and then occupied Turkish Territory including of course their ultimate prize, the capital city. Naturally, the Western Powers resisted this outcome, but under a grand bargain with British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, British overlordship of the Mediterranean had been guaranteed with Greece effectively becoming an Imperial Client State.
The Russians only had three decades to enjoy their new hegemony, and the rebuilding of the Hagia Sophia was still a work in progress by the time of the assassination in Sarajevo. Now, with the Tsar overthrown, Anglo-French naval forces were ordered into the Dardanelles to occupy the city and prevent the emergence of an independent Turkish nation. Looking further into the future, the Western Allies envisaged post-war protectorates that would enable them to dominate the Middle East in much the same demarcated manner as Colonial Africa. However, there was a religious dimension to the dispute which could be traced back to the sacking of the city by the Fourth Crusade. During the last days of Byzantium, Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos had famously declared "Better the Sultan's turban than the Cardinal's hat!". Almost five centuries later, the British, French and Vatican appeared to be on the verge of a new power play over the glittering new future of the "Third Rome".