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Archaeologists find trove of Early Christian relics in damaged Mosul church

J-P Mauro - published on 07/28/22 - updated on 07/28/22

Find out how the discovery supports the historical connection of Christianity with Iraq.

Archaeologists excavating a Mosul church damaged by ISIS during its occupation have unearthed about a dozen relics of early Christian saints. The discovery acknowledges the historical connection between Christians and Iraq, while serving as a reminder of the many other artifacts that were destroyed by extremists in recent years. 

PIME Asia News reports that about a dozen artifacts were drawn from Mar Thoma church, which fell into ruin during the Battle of Mosul in 2016. These included relics of early saints and parchment manuscripts that belonged to saints. The relics were housed within stone containers that were inscribed with saint’s names.

Relics

According to Christian Post, there were six stone reliquaries in total, one of which was inscribed with the name of St. Simon the Zealot, one of the 12 apostles of Christ from the 1st century. Other containers bore the names of St. Theodore, Mor Gabriel, and St. Simeon. 

St. Theodore was a 3rd-century Roman soldier who was martyred for his Christian conversion. St. Simeon the Wise is believed to be the one who welcomed the infant Jesus into Jerusalem’s temple when he was presented 40 days after his birth. Mor Gabriel is a more recent figure compared to the previous entries; he served in the 6th century as bishop of the Southern Turkish region. 

A report from International Christian Concern (ICC), a watchdog group, noted that relics from St. John the Apostle were also discovered. They wrote of the archaeological finds

“The discovery of the hidden relics at this church is another encouraging development in the broad effort to restore and protect Christian cultural heritage in Iraq after the damage done by the Islamic State,” The ICC wrote.

Restoration

The restoration work is part of an effort driven by the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas. The “Restoration of the Mar Toma Syriac Orthodox Church” campaign began in 2021 and is funded with $328,100, which largely came from the French organization l’Oeuvre d’Orient. 

The restoration project was expected to conclude in 2022, but with the discovery of these historical relics, it is possible that it will spill into 2023. The ICC said of the current work: 

“Perhaps workers will uncover more undiscovered pieces of history as they sort through the archeological remains of Christianity’s long history in Iraq.”

UNESCO

While various restoration projects have begun throughout Mosul, none are larger than UNESCO’s “Reviving the Spirit of Mosul” campaign, which has allocated over $100 million towards restoration projects. 

UNESCO estimates that about 80% of Mosul was destroyed during the Battle of Mosul. The organization commented on some of the troubles they have encountered which have made their work all the more difficult and time consuming: 

“We had to start with rubble removal and demining. In several places there were still explosive materials and devices in the ground. It was a complex task. In addition, we discovered there was in fact very little documentation of the monuments. So deep research was needed. Then we had to prepare the architectural design for the interventions.”

Tags:
ArchaeologyChristians in the Middle East
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