The Mar Gorgis Chaldean church in Mosul (reminder)

The Mar Gorgis Chaldean Church is located at 36°20’26.28″N 43°07’30.97″E (adjust) and 235 metres altitude, to the south-west of old Mosul, designated by the Ottoman city walls. It was built right next to the Syriac-Orthodox church Mar Touma. The church was destroyed during the war against ISIS.

The most ancient historic trace of the existence of Mar Gorgis church is a gravestone dating back to 1023.

The ancient Mar Gorgis church has almost completely disappeared as a modern church was built right on top of it in 1931. The plan of the ancient church, drawn up in 1908 by the German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld, is a critical historical and heritage document.

The only part of the ancient church which remained before the war against ISIS was a kind of crypt. Since then everything has disappeared. Mar Gorgis has been completed wiped out of existence.


Pic : The Mar Gorgis church in Mosul in 1975 © In “Monuments chrétiens de Mossoul et de la plaine de Ninive”, Slideshow, 2018, Slide 46, Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p.

Plan monument

Location

The Mar Gorgis Chaldean Church is located at 36°20’26.28″N 43°07’30.97″E (adjust) and 235 metres altitude, to the south-west of old Mosul, designated by the Ottoman city walls, 400 kilometres north of Baghdad. It adjoins the Mar Touma Syriac-Orthodox church and is therefore very close to the Mar Touma Syriac-Catholic church. The Meskinta and Sham’ûn al-Safâ churches (Nestorian and Chaldean) are also very close by.

The churches of Mosul before 1815, with the location of the Mar Gorgis church shown in green
© In "Les chrétiens de Mossoul et leurs églises pendant la période ottomane de 1516 à 1815", Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p. Mossoul-Ninive,1983, p.93 B.

The origins of the Chaldean church

The Chaldean Church is a Catholic church, born in the 16th century, further to a schism that occurred within the Church of the East.  In 1552, several bishops, who had set up in northern Iraq[1], southern Turkey and northern Iran, contested the hereditary succession of the Catholicos of the Church of the East Shimun VIII. They elected in Mosul another Patriarch, Yohannan Sulaqa, abbot of Rabban Hormizd Monastery in Alqosh, who named himself Yohannan/John VIII and went to Rome to profess his Catholic faith. On 20th April 1553, Pope Julius III appointed him Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic church “whose creation was thus officialised[2].

Back in the Ottoman Empire, he set up his patriarchate in Diyarbakır (southeast of modern days Turkey), 400 kilometres northwest from the monastery of Rabban Hormizd. Fighting openly with his rival Shimun VIII, Yohannan Sulaqa was arrested, imprisoned and murdered in 1555.

The foundation of the Catholic Chaldean Church had been preceded a century earlier, in 1445, by a decree of union in Cyprus between Rome and some members of the Church of the East, that Pope Eugene IV already called “Chaldeans”.

Up until the 19th century, this schism was all the more conflictual as a large number of worshippers from the Church of the East chose to remain in communion with Rome. The Catholic Chaldean Church’s see was transferred from Diyarbakır to Mosul in 1830, before the Metropolitan Yohannan VIII Hormizd was elected as Patriarch.

Though they undisputedly counted as the majority among the estimated 1 200 000 Christians in Iraq before the first Gulf war in 1991, the Chaldeans number 750 000 in the last census in 1987, compared to 300 000 Assyrians (Church of the East and former Church of East). The total number of Christian people in Iraq amounted then to 8% of the total population. How many were there in 2018? The data collected by Mesopotamia’s correspondents confirms the demographic collapse reported by the communities visited. There are less than 400,000 Chaldeans in Iraq, living in Baghdad, Kurdistan, the Nineveh plain and Basra. The disasters faced by the Christian communities in Iraq have not ceased since its independence in 1933. There was no respite at the start of the 21st century with the American invasion in 2003 and the terrible sanctions imposed by the UN, along with the violence and persecution perpetrated by Islamicist and organised crime groups, targeting Christian communities since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Today, the Chaldean church is composed of a large diaspora spread across five continents: the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the former USSR, in particular in Russia (Moscow, Rostov-on-Don), Ukraine, Georgia (Tbilissi), Armenia (Yerevan).

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[1] In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire and Persia.

[2] In “Histoire de l’Église de l’Orient”, Raymond le Coz, Éditions du Cerf, 1995, p. 328

Coat of arms of the Chaldean Church.
April 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

Fragments of the Christian history of Mosul

This chapter is largely based on the work of Brother Jean-Marie Mérigoux [1] o.p. who lived in Iraq for 14 years from 1968 to 1983 as part of the Dominican mission for Mesopotamia, Kurdistan and Armenia, based in Mosul. See, two books by Brother   Jean-Marie Mérigoux, in particular: « Va à Ninive ! Un dialogue avec l’Irak », Éditions du Cerf, October 2000; and « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Éditions La Thune, Marseille, July 2015.


Mosul “remains a Christian metropolis,[1]” as attested by its history, and its ancient and modern heritage, which persists despite recent catastrophic events.

Although the first archdiocese is attested to in 554[2], it is also important to take into account the Paleo-Christian apostolic tradition. “Three churches are proud to be founded on houses where apostles are said to have stayed. The Sham’ûn al-Safa’ church, [built during the Atabeg period in the 12th – 13th centuries] is said to be built where Saint Peter stayed during his visit to Babylonia and the Mar Theodoros church is connected to the visit of the apostle Bartholomew.  As for the apostle Saint Thomas, the house where he was shown hospitality on his journey to India, became a church.[3]” The church in question is the Syriac-Orthodox church Mar Touma.

The first church attested to in Nineveh (modern-day Mosul-East) dates back to the year 570. It is mentioned in the “Chronicle of Seert”.  It is the Isha’ya church. This confirms a pre-existing Christian community. In the 7th century the Syriac-Orthodox Mar Touma church was also known of.  From the 7th century onwards, the Mar Gabriel monastery was the seat of one of the Church of the East’s most important schools of theology and liturgy.  The al-Tāhirā Chaldean church was built on the site of this monastery in the 18th century.[4]

Over the centuries, through successive councils and conflicts, a multitude of churches of different denominations, including the Armenian and Latin churches, were formed.

Of these various fragments of history, the Muslim conquest must be cited as one of the most important. Mosul fell in 641 and the Christian members of its population became dhimmis, with (limited) rights and (stringent) obligations based on their religious identity. This status remained in force up until the 19th century and was abolished in the Ottoman Empire in 1855. Despite this abolition, Christians (and Jews) still remain defined by their dhimmi status which governs denominational relations in public life and attitudes in almost all Muslim countries. It is still legally enforced (in Iran).

In the 7th and 13th centuries, at the height of the Seljuq period, the Atabeg dynasties imposed their rule throughout Iraqi Mesopotamia and made Mosul a centre of power. At this time, Syriac-Orthodox Christians persecuted in Tikrit fled to the Nineveh plain and Mosul, where they established their community and founded the Mar Ahûdêmmêh (Hûdéni) church. “At the end of the 20th century due to below-ground flooding throughout the neighbourhood, the Mar Hûdéni church located well below ground level was flooded and had to be abandoned. A new church was built right on top of the old one. Thankfully, the royal door in the Atabeg style, described by Father Fiey as a “jewel of 13th century Christian sculpture”, was transported to the new church and given pride of place.”[5]

Following on from the Atabeg, the Mongol Houlagou Khan, took Mosul but spared the city from destruction and from the massacres committed in Baghdad in 1258, thanks to the “cunning governor of the city, Lû’lû, of Armenian origin.[6]The following century was nonetheless a tragic one. “Christian persecutions peaked under Tamerlan, whose armies ravaged the Middle East in the first years of the 14th century and exterminated the Christian populations. No other eastern Christian church underwent anything close to this type of eradication, the community in Iraq is well placed to claim the first prize in martyrdom.”[7]

In 1516, Mosul fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks for the first time, but it was not until the following century that they established a dominant presence in Iraqi Mesopotamia that was to last for four centuries after the conquest of Baghdad in 1638 by the sultan Murad IV.

Mosul in the 16th century was a major centre of Christian influence. It was here that the schism of the Church of the East took place, with the election of Yohannan Sulaqa as the first patriarch of the Chaldean church Abbot of Rabban Hormizd Monastery in Alqosh, he took on the name Yohannan/John VIII and went to Rome to profess his Catholic faith. On 20th April 1553, Pope Julius III appointed him Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic church “whose creation was thus officialised[8].” After Diyarbakır (in the south-east of modern-day Turkey) and before Baghdad (in 1950), the seat of the Chaldean church was established in Mosul in 1830, with the election of Jean VIII Hormez as the metropolitan of Mosul.

In 1743, the Christians of Mosul played an active role in defending the city during the 42-day siege laid by the Persian Nâdir Shâh who had already looted and ransacked the plain of Nineveh.  Victorious and grateful, the pasha of Mosul, Husayn Djalîlî “obtained a firman from Constantinople favourable to the churches of Mosul[9]”.  In 1744, the two al Tāhirā churches were built in Mosul, one for the Chaldeans, one for the Syriac-Catholics.  The churches damaged by bombs were also restored.

The 17th century marked the opening of the Latin missions in Iraqi Mesopotamia. The Capuchin Friars open their first house in Mosul in 1636.  The Dominicans of the Province of Rome arrived in 1750, followed by those from the Province of France in 1859.  Under their impulsion, the large Latin church Our Lady of the Hour, was built “in the Byzantine style, between 1866 and 1873.[10]This is the church to which the empress Eugénie de Montijot, wife of Napoleon III, donated the famous clock which was placed in the first clock tower ever built in Iraq.   For almost three centuries, members of the Dominican mission for Mesopotamia, Kurdistan and Armenia, have been actors, experts and vital witnesses to the history of Christianity in Iraq and the dangers facing Christians in the Middle-East.

A turning point came in 1915-1918 with the genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans in the Ottoman Empire.  Large numbers of survivors came to live in Iraqi Mesopotamia, specifically in Mosul where there were pre-existing Christian communities. During this period, in January 1916 over just two nights, 15,000 Armenian deportees living in Mosul and the surrounding area were exterminated, tied together in groups of ten and thrown into the Tigris river. Already, well before this carnage, on 10th June 1915, the German consul to Mosul, Holstein, telegraphed his Ambassador, reporting telling scenes: “614 Armenians (men, women and children) expulsed from Diarbekyr and transported to Mosul, were all killed en route, as they were transported by raft (on the Tigris).  The kelek arrived empty yesterday. For a few days now the river has been carrying corpses and human limbs (…)” [11]

The fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and associated criminal activity, had a considerable impact on the demographic collapse of Christian communities in Iraq, particularly in Mosul. On 1st August 2004, simultaneous attacks against five churches in Mosul and Baghdad triggered the mass exodus of the Christians of Mosul to protected areas in the Nineveh plain, Iraqi Kurdistan and overseas. The next few years in Mosul were truly harrowing. The targeted kidnapping and murders of Christians exacerbated the exodus. On 6th January 2008, Epiphany, and 9th January, criminal attacks targeted several Christian buildings in Mosul and Kirkuk.

It was in this climate of terror that Monsignor Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul was kidnapped.  “On 13th February 2008, as he welcomed a delegation from Pax Christi, in the church in Karemlash, right next to Mosul, the prelate revealed that he had been threatened by a terrorist group several days previously,  “Your life or five hundred thousand dollars,” the terrorists told him.  “My life is not worth that!” he replied.  One month later, on 13th March, Monsignor Rahho was found dead at the entrance to the city.”[12]

From June 2014 to July 2017, Mosul fell into the hands of ISIS fighters.  The houses of the 10,000 or so Christians still living in the city were marked with the sign Nazrani (Nazarean, i.e. disciples of Jesus). They were ordered to convert to Islam, pay the djizia (the tax on dhimmi) or die. They fled the city hastily and en masse but had to abandon their Christian heritage which was extensively looted, vandalised and desecrated. The battle of Mosul and the bombing by the international coalition which pulverised the ISIS fighters in a deluge of fire, reduced some of Mosul’s largest Christian (and Muslim) buildings to dust.

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[1] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Éditions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p.88

[2] In Assyrie chrétienne, vol.II, Jean-Maurice Fiey. Beirut, 1965. P. 115-116. See also “Mossoul chrétienne” by Jean-Maurice Fiey.

[3] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Editions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p. 89

[4] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Editions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p. 92-93

[5] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Editions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p. 94

[6] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Editions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p. 95

[7] [7] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Editions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p. 95

[8] In “Histoire de l’Église de l’Orient”, Raymond le Coz, Éditions du Cerf, 1995, p. 328

[9] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Editions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p. 97

[10] In « Entretien sur l’Orient chrétien », Jean-Marie Mérigoux. Editions La Thune, Marseille, 2015, p. 102

[11] In “L’extermination des déportés arméniens ottomans dans les camps de concentration de Syrie-Mésopotamie”. Special edition of Revue d’Histoire Arménienne Contemporaine, Tome II, 1998. Raymond H.Kevorkian. p.15

[12] In « Chrétiens d’Orient : ombres et lumières », by Pascal Maguesyan, Éditions Thaddée, September 2013, latest edition 2014, p. 260 260

Map of the Dominican Mission to Mesopotamia, Kurdistan and Armenia. Mosul, seat of the mission, is shown in the middle of the map
© Mosul Collection Inventory IV-N22-11-2. Archives from the Saulchoir Library (French Dominican province)
Map of Nineveh and Mosul by the geographer Carsten Niebuhr, 1766
© In "Les chrétiens de Mossoul et leurs églises pendant la période ottomane de 1516 à 1815", Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p. Mossoul-Ninive,1983, p.93 C.
Street scene in Mosul in 1923. Photo Agence Rol
Photo Agence Rol © French National Library, department of prints and photographs, EI-13 (969)
Mosul, after the war.
June 2018 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

History of the Mar Gorgis Chaldean Church in Mosul

Sources and citations in “Les chrétiens de Mossoul et leurs églises pendant la période ottomane de 1516 à 1815 ”, Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p. Mossoul-Ninive,1983, p. 118 to 120 A.


It is important to distinguish the ancient Mar Gorgis church from the modern church built on top of it in 1931.

The archaeologist and Italian art historian, Ugo Monneret de Villard (1881-1954), specialist in Mesopotamian churches, visited the ancient Mar Gorgis church and considered it to predate the Mongolian era (before the 13th century).

The most ancient tangible trace of the existence of the ancient Mar Gorgis church is a gravestone[1], discovered when the new church was raised in 1931. This gravestone dates back to the year 1023 and bears the inscription: “Son of Yohannan (…) who died on Sunday 10 February 413 at the hands of the Arabs.[2] It would appear that there are no sources prior to this trace dating back to the 11th century, although this gravestone implies the church was founded at an earlier date.

Although it does not go back to the martyr of Saint Georges towards 290 – 303, in memory of whom Constantine had a church built in the 4th century the worship of the great martyr of the Christian East spread very early on from Egypt to Mesopotamia. It is therefore highly likely that Mosul had a church dedicated to Mar Gorgis well before the 11th century.

Much later on, various manuscripts mention the Mar Gorgis church in the period between 1652 and 1827. These manuscripts attest to liturgical activities over a sustained period of time in this important Mosulite church.

Property of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East (Nestorian) the Mar Gorgis church passed into the Chaldean church.

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[1] This gravestone is “conserved by the Chaldean patriarcate” according to Narmen Ali Muhamad Amen, in “Les églises et monastères du Kurdistan irakien à la veille et au lendemain de l’islam”, PhD thesis by Narmen Ali Amen, May 2001 Saint Quentin University in Yvelines, p.245

[2] Sunday 10 February 413 in the Hijri Muslim calendar corresponds to Tuesday 15 May 1022 in the Gregorian calendar. Converter http://www.aly-abbara.com/utilitaires/calendrier/calendrier_hijir.html

Cour et cimetière de l'église Mar Guorguis de Mossoul, en 1975
© In "Monuments chrétiens de Mossoul et de la plaine de Ninive", Slideshow, 2018, Slide 46, Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p.

Description (reminder) of the Mar Gorgis Chaldean Church in Mosul

Sources and citations in “Les chrétiens de Mossoul et leurs églises pendant la période ottomane de 1516 à 1815”, Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p. Mossoul-Ninive,1983, p. 118 to 120 A.


The ancient Mar Gorgis church has almost completely disappeared as a modern church was built right on top of it in 1931. The plan of the ancient church, drawn up in 1908 by the German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld, is a critical historical and heritage document. It presents a sacred architecture characteristic of the Assyrian-Chaldean churches. To the south-west the courtyard provides the access to the two side doors, the men’s door and the women’s door via which the church itself is entered. The ancient Mar Gorgis is a double nave church 20 metres long and 9 metres wide, with three bays separated by thick pillars. A royal door opens onto a deep sanctuary with a vast choir covering 16 square metres at the end of which stands the high altar. The north side aisle is 2.5 metres wide, with an alcove containing a martyrion as well as a sacristy at the east end. The baptistry and baptismal font are traditionally situated to the south-east of the church, at the end of a gallery which links to the sanctuary via a side door.

Of the ancient church the only remains were a sort of crypt, the sanctuary and baptistry of which were entirely filled in and the vault of which was pierced by the supports for the new Mar Gorgis. The original pillars were also encumbered by large buttresses.

The women’s door from the ancient church was also preserved. Dated from the 13th century this marble door in the Atabeg style has a lintel composed of seven embedded, sculpted stones. All around the door an inscription is engraved in Syriac Estrangelo, reading: “Here is the door to the house of God, the Holy Spirit lies within, enter here in justice, and receive the Lord on High.” This door was walled in and used to marked out a grave.

There was also a reliquary niche, mounted with a scallop shell, with the following inscription: “This is why God built a house on the Earth; so that all those who wish to meet God may enter there, enter then by these doors with thanks and into his resting place with praise.”

After the war against ISIS nothing remained of the ancient or the modern Mar Gorgis alike.

The Mar Gorgis church in Mosul in 1975
© In "Monuments chrétiens de Mossoul et de la plaine de Ninive", Slideshow, 2018, Slide 46, Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p.
The ancient women’s door to the Mar Gorgis church in Mosul, in 1975. It is possible to make out the lintel of sculpted stones, embedded and adorned with inscriptions in Syriac. The door was walled in and used to frame a funeral monument
© In "Monuments chrétiens de Mossoul et de la plaine de Ninive", Slideshow, 2018, Slide 42, Fr. Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p.

News of the church Mar Guorguis in Mosul

All traces of Mar Guorguis has disappeared. Where the church was, there is a place today.

In May 2019, Mesopotamia’s representative photographed a food distribution to the poor population of Mosul, where once stood the church of Mar Guorguis.

Food distribution on the site of the former church Mar Guorguis Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Inhabitants of Mosul gathered for a food distribution on the site of the old church Mar Guorguis of Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Inhabitants of Mosul gathered for a food distribution on the site of the old church Mar Guorguis of Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Mosul residents gathered for food distribution at the site of the former Mar Guorguis church in Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Inhabitants of Mosul on the site of the old church Mar Guorguis Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
An inhabitant of Mosul, after food distribution on the site of the former church Mar Guorguis Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Iraqi police regulating food distribution on the site of the former church Mar Guorguis Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Distribution of food bags for the inhabitants of Moussoul on the site of the former church Mar Guorguis Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Iraqi police regulating food distribution on the site of the former church Mar Guorguis Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA
Old Mosul neighborhood where stood the church Mar Guorguis Mosul
May 2019 © Pascal Maguesyan / MESOPOTAMIA

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