27 December 537: Hagia Sophia is dedicated

Entering the nave for the dedication ceremony of the new church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople on 27 December 537, Emperor Justinian I, in admiration of a building whose construction he had instigated five years earlier, exclaimed: “Solomon, I have surpassed thee!” Hagia Sophia remains one of the most breathtaking pieces of architecture in the world, but to contemporaries it seemed without equal.


Justinian’s entire reign was dedicated to re-establishing an undivided Roman empire, whose western territories had long been controlled by Germanic tribes. His position in the eastern half was stronger and in its capital, Constantinople, he gave visual expression to his aims through a series of grand public buildings, of which Hagia Sophia was the most lavish.

He appointed two architects, Anthemios of Tralles and Isadorus of Miletus, with instructions to create a building of unparalleled magnificence. The interior was decorated with shimmering mosaics, coloured marble and porphyry. The dome, 160 feet high and 107 feet in width, the largest attempted up to that time, seemed to float in the air unsupported. Hagia Sophia would remain the largest Christian church in the world for centuries after its construction. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

27 December 1512

The Promulgation of the Laws of Burgos governing the behaviour of Spanish settlers in the New World. The new laws forbade the mistreatment of the indigenous population. They also encouraged their conversion to Catholicism.

27 December 1539

Anne of Cleves landed in England, disembarking at Deal and moving on to Dover. She then travelled to Rochester where, on 1 January 1540, Henry VIII visited her privately in disguise.

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27 December 1657

Inhabitants of New Netherland sign the Flushing Remonstrance, in protest at the persecution of Quakers.

27 December 1831

HMS Beagle set sail from Plymouth harbour on what would turn out to be a five-year expedition. Charles Darwin, who had been given a place on board as assistant to the captain, Robert Fitzroy, immediately felt seasick and regretted taking up the offer.

27 December 1940

Shetland writer and folklorist Jessie Margaret Saxby died, aged 98, at her home on Unst, the UK's most northerly island.

27 December 1968

The crew of Apollo 8 (Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders) splash down in the Pacific after a six-day space voyage which saw them become the first humans to orbit the moon.

27 December 2007: Benazir Bhutto is assassinated

The death of Pakistan’s former prime minister triggers violent riots across the country

After eight years in exile, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, returned to her native land in the autumn of 2007, determined to meet the people before a possible power-sharing deal with her old enemy General Pervez Musharraf. On the day of her return, 18 October, her motorcade was attacked by suspected al-Qaeda suicide bombers outside Karachi airport, killing at least 150 people. But Bhutto herself was unhurt, and she vowed not to be deterred – although she did ask for protection to be provided by the foreign security firms Blackwater and ArmorGroup.

Late in the afternoon of 27 December, Bhutto had just addressed a rally of her Pakistan Peoples Party at the Liaquat National Park, Rawalpindi, and was waving to the crowd, when the cheers were interrupted by shots and screams. Even now, exactly what happened remains uncertain. Some witnesses said they saw a gunman firing into Bhutto’s white Land Cruiser as it began to move off; others thought she had been hit by shrapnel as a suicide bomber detonated his vest. Still others suggested that all the bullets had missed Bhutto, and that she fell backwards into her car to avoid the shots, was rocked further backwards by the suicide blast and then fractured her skull on the sunroof catch of the car.

Either way, Bhutto was rushed to hospital, reaching the Rawalpindi General at 5.35pm. By an extraordinary coincidence, the doctor operating on her was the son of the doctor who had operated on another prime ministerial assassination victim, Liaquat Ali Khan – after whom the park had been named – in 1951. The doctor’s father had been unable to save Liaquat; and he, tragically, was unable to save Bhutto.


She was pronounced dead at 6.16pm, triggering riots across Pakistan. Some of her supporters attacked the hospital itself; others attacked police stations, government buildings, shops and offices. Hundreds of banks were destroyed, and the entire national railway system ground to a halt. In all, more than 100 people were killed. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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