Syriac Darmsuq and Arabic Dimashq. City in Syria and the seat at present of the Syr. Orth. Patriarchate. Damascus, situated at the eastern edge of the Syrian Desert at the foot of Mt. Qāsiyūn and watered by the Baradā, has been continuously inhabited at least since the 4th millennium BC and was in 13th–8th centuries BC the seat of an Aramean kingdom. Damascus came under Roman control in 64 BC. Taken by the Arabs in 635, Damascus became the capital of the new empire under the Umayyads. In later periods, Damascus was the most important city in the Bilād al-Shām, an area covering what is today the southern part of Syria, as well as Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. Under Ottoman rule (1516–1918), Damascus was the capital of the province of al-Shām. Damascus is today the capital of the Syrian Arab Republic, with a population of ca. 1.6 million (2.7 million in the conurbation, in 2008).
Damascus already had followers of Christ at the time of the conversion of St. Paul. Early Miaphysite bishops of Damascus were Mammianus (512–518) and Thomas, the latter exiled under Emperor Justin I in 519. The Maronite chronicle of 664 tells us of two Syr. Orth. bishops Theodoros and Sebokht (i.e., Severos Sebokht) losing in a disputation with the Maronites before the first Umayyad caliph Muʿāwiyya I in Damascus in 659. Bp. Ḥenanyo of Damascus was present at the Syr. Orth. Synod of Reshʿayna in 684. We know the names of a more or less continuous series of Syr. Orth. bishops of Damascus from the beginning of the 9th cent. In 1211, we hear of Bp. Yuḥanon of Damascus serving as an envoy from Patr. Yuḥanon XI (1207/15–20) to the Coptic Pope John VI (1189–1216). In the middle of the 15th cent., the Syr. Orth. see of Damascus is found united with that of Jerusalem. Gregory (Cyril) ʿAṭāʾ Allāh, whose activities in India triggered the Coonan Cross Oath of 1653 (see Thomas Christians), was Syr. Orth. Metr. of Damascus and Ḥimṣ before his conversion to Catholicism in 1631. In the latter half of the 17th cent. Damascus was the scene of some lively scribal activity centerd around the school of Bp. Grigorios Yūḥannā b. al-Ghurayr al-Zurbābī (bp. 1668–84), himself copyist and translator into Arabic of Daniel of Ṣalaḥ’s commentary on the Psalms and, together with his son Sergios, of several works of Bar ʿEbroyo. Among the Syr. Orth. bishops of Damascus in the next century was Grigorios Yūḥannā Niʿmat Allāh al-Ṣadadī (1754–82), the translator of the Chronicle of Michael I Rabo into Arabic in 1759.
The Syr. Orth. patriarchate was transferred from Ḥimṣ to Damascus in 1959 under Patr. Ignatius Yaʿqub III (1957–80), who had previously been metr. of Beirut and Damascus since 1950. The Monastery of St. Ephrem in Maʿarrat Ṣaydnāyā (approx. 35 km. north of Damascus), where the Patriarch now usually resides, was opened in 1996.
The Syr. Catholic community in Damascus, which began to gain in numbers towards the end of the 18th cent., has had the future patriarch Shemʿun Zora ( patr. 1814–18) and the scholar Clemens Joseph David (Metr. 1879–90) among its bishops.
The E.-Syr. see of Damascus was erected as a diaspora see in 630. It was made a metropolitan see by Timotheos I at the end of the 8th cent. and is reported to have had Aleppo, Jerusalem, and Egypt as its suffragans in 1007/8. It is last heard of at the end of the 11th cent.
Fifteen churches were left to the Christians in Damascus after the Arab conquest, among them a ‘Jacobite church’ and a ‘church of the ʿIbād’, i.e., E. Syr. By the time Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 1175) wrote his ‘History of Damascus’, the original ‘Jacobite’ church, located in the southwestern part of the city, was in ruins, the two churches of the ʿIbād that he knew of, both to the east of the Umayyad Mosque, had been converted into mosques, and only two churches were in use, that of St. Mary (Maryamiyya, present Rum Orth. cathedral) and that being used by the Syr. Orth., located to the west of Bāb Tūmā. At the latest from the 17th cent. onwards, Mar Behnam is mentioned as the patron of the W. Syr. church in Damascus.
Damascus is today the residence of Syr. Orth., Melk. Orth. and Melk. Catholic patriarchs, as well as of Syr. Catholic and Maron. archbishops and an Armenian Catholic patriarchal vicar. The Melk. Orthodox constitute the largest Christian group in Damascus, followed by the Melk. Catholics. For the Syriacs, the reported numbers of the faithful in the respective dioceses for Damascus are: Syr. Orth. 25,000 (in 2003), Syr. Catholic 8,000 (in 2006), Maron. 12,000 (in 2006). The area around Bāb Tūmā in the northeastern part of the old city has been the traditional Christian Quarter of Damascus. The Syr. Orth. Patriarchate, with the cathedral church of St. George, is located on the southern part of Bāb Tūmā Street. (There is an older Syr. Orth. chapel of St. George further east, on the north-south street leading to the ‘House of Ananias’). The Maron. cathedral (‘Assumption’ Sayyidat al-intiqāl, also St. Antony) is found just to the north of the Syr. Orth. Patriarchate, while the Syr. Catholic cathedral (St. Paul) lies further south, next to the Melk. Catholic Patriarchate, near Bāb Sharqī.
- A. Desreumaux, Répertoire des bibliothèques et des catalogues de manuscrits syriaques (1991), 124–28.
- N. Elisséeff, in EI 2, vol. 2 (1991), 277–91.
- J.-M. Fiey, ‘Les insaisissables nestoriens de Damas’, in After Chalcedon, ed. Laga et al.(OLA 18), 167–80.
- J.-M. Fiey, Pour un Oriens christianus novus, 72, 187–9.
- M. Haji-Athanasiou and K. Shihabi, Monasteries and Churches of Damascus and Countryside (Damascus, 2005). (in Arabic)
- R. Janin, in DHGE , vol. 14, 41–7.
- D. Müller, ‘Damaskus’, in KLCO (2007), 140–1.
- J. Nasrallah, ‘Damas et la Damascène: leurs églises à l’époque Byzantine’, POC 35 (1985), 37–58, 264–76.
- M. Rajji, ‘Jean al-Chami al-Zorbabi Ibn al-Ghoraîr, évêque syrien de Damas (XVIIe s.), traducteur-copiste’, in Mélanges Eugène Tisserant, vol. 3 (SeT 233; 1964), 223–44.
- Wilmshurst, Ecclesiastical organisation, 62–65.
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Hidemi Takahashi, “Damascus,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Damascus.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Takahashi, Hidemi. “Damascus.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Damascus.
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