Town in the Qalamun mountains, Syria, ca. 95 km. northeast of Damascus and less than 20 km. north of Nabk (see Dayr Mār Mūsā al-Ḥabashī), often mentioned as a caravan station between Ḥimṣ and Damascus. Qara’s Christian history can be traced back to the 5th cent. (mentioned as Chonachara or Chonochara). In the Christological controversies of the 5th and 6th cent. it was on the side of the Chalcedonians. After a long period during which the sources are silent, Qara reemerges around 1100, still as a center of Melkite Christianity. Bp. Michael of Qara is attested for the second half of the 12th cent., and he himself has left us a list of some of his predecessors (Schmidt, 27–9). The Muslim authors Ibn Jubayr (who visited Qara in July 1184) and Yāqūt (1225) report that in their day Qara was entirely Christian. In 1266, however, Sultan Baybars, in his offensive against the Crusaders and Mongols, expelled or killed the Christians of Qara, which then became a Muslim town. It was able to regain some of its Christian population in the following decades and to recreate its episcopal see, no later than ca. 1400. In the first half of the 15th cent. Bp. Makarios built a scriptorium in Dayr Mar Yaʿqub, in which a number of Syriac and Arabic mss. were produced, mostly by bps. and priests belonging to some influential families. In the 17th cent., due to the ongoing islamization of the Qalamun region, the episcopal see of Qara lost its independence and was joined together with Ṣaydnāyā. The Monastery of Mar Yaʿqub, which had lost some of its earlier prestige, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1759 and remained in ruins. In the 18th cent., Qara moved into the orbit of the Melkite-Catholic Church, to which most of the small Christian minority of Qara’s population nowadays belong.
Today Qara has two historically important Christian sites, both of which are still in use. One is the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus; the other is Dayr Mar Yaʿqub, just outside the town. The Church of Sergius and Bacchus contains partly preserved wall paintings, some of which have inscriptions in Greek and Syriac Esṭrangela). The upper parts of five scenes are preserved on the north wall of the church: the breastfeeding Virgin, flanked by two equestrian saints, Theodore (left) and Sergius (right); John the Baptist; and (traces of) an unidentified female saint.
Dayr Mar Yaʿqub, dedicated to the E.-Syr. saint Yaʿqub ‘the mutilated’ (‘the dissected’, Syr. mpassqā, Arab. muqaṭṭaʿ, or Lat. Intercisus; cf. Fiey, Saints syriaques, 107–8), is first attested with this name in the 15th cent. (Schmidt, 43). Its main church, however, in all likelihood goes back to the 11th cent. After it had fallen into ruins, in the 18th cent., it was neglected for more than two centuries; several of its wall paintings were transferred to the National Museum of Damascus and to the museum of nearby Dayr ʿAtiya. It was only in the 1990s that, under the leadership of Sœur Agnès-Maria de la Croix, the monastery with its church was rebuilt and became the home of a community of female ascetics, belonging to the jurisdiction of the Melkite-Catholic bp. of Ḥimṣ, Ḥama, Yabrud, and Qara. Within the framework of this rebuilding and restoration project several of the paintings were returned to the monastery. Together with the newly discovered paintings, they were studied in a monograph by Schmidt and Westphalen (2005).
The church of the monastery has a remarkable structure in that it consists of an upper and lower church, sharing the same apse construction. Accordingly, there are two parallel levels of decoration which, moreover, each were decorated twice, first in the 11th cent. and again in the 13th cent. (before 1266). The various iconographic programs can be reconstructed only very imperfectly. Among the earliest paintings, there is a row of enthroned apostles (upper apse) and scenes from the life of Christ (nave of the lower church, probably by a different artist). As for the 13th-cent. layer, there are remnants of a large Deisis composition in the lower apse. In addition, both apses have a row of images of bps. or church fathers. Although heavily damaged, a few still show inscriptions with their names written in Greek and Syriac (Esṭrangela, running from top to bottom). Independent from the paintings, and written on the first layer of plaster, are two carefully written prayers, one in Syriac (Schmidt, 151–2) and one in Greek.
In addition to their significance for art-historical studies and as a witness of the ongoing presence of Christian culture in the Qalamun mountains, the paintings and inscriptions in Qara provide precious information on the use of Syriac among the Melkites.
- Brock and Taylor, Hidden pearl, vol. 2, 217–8.
- M. Immerzeel, Identity puzzles. Medieval Christian art in Syria and Lebanon (OLA 184; 2009), 67–71, 212–15 (Plates 38–43).
- A. Schmidt and S. Westphalen, Christliche Wandmalereien in Syrien. Qara und das Kloster Mar Yakub (SKCO 14; 2005).
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Lucas Van Rompay, “Qara,” 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/Qara.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Van Rompay, Lucas. “Qara.” 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/Qara.
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