Jerusalem Syr. Oreshlem, Urishlem

As the birthplace of Christianity and the main destination of pilgrimage, Jerusalem played an important role for Christians of all Syr. traditions. At times, however, Syr. Christians had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards the ‘earthly’ Jerusalem, to which the idea of the ‘heavenly’ Jerusalem or the eschatological city of Jerusalem often was contrasted as a more productive locus of theological or ascetic reflection.

Along with visitors and pilgrims from all over the Christian world, Syr. Christians started visiting Jerusalem or living there for some time no later than the 4th or early 5th cent. There is ample evidence of pilgrimages to Jerusalem throughout the centuries by both W. and E. Syrians.

At the Council of Chalcedon (451) Jerusalem became an independent patriarchate, but the Syr. Orth. Church and the Ch. of E., who either rejected or ignored this council, continued to see Jerusalem as being under the authority of the patriarchate of Antioch. Efforts to associate the Christians of Jerusalem with the resistance to Chalcedon, in particular in the years when Severus resided as patr. in Antioch (512–518), were largely unsuccessful, and the majority of Christians in Jerusalem and Palestine accepted the Council of Chalcedon. The Syr. churches, therefore, only had a marginal presence in Jerusalem. Due to their non-acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon, Syr. bps. of Jerusalem did not have the patriarchal rank, even though in the later period (from the 16th cent. onwards) the title of patr. was occasionally used by Syr. Orth. bps. In general, bps. of Jerusalem, of both Syr. churches, were metropolitan bps. (even though, with very few exceptions, they did not have suffragan bps.).

For the Syr. Orth. Church, a list appended to the Chronicle of Michael Rabo (App. IV) provides the names of bps. of Jerusalem. For the period until the early 6th cent., the names coincide with those of the bps. of the Imperial Church. For the period between ca. 500 and ca. 800 only a few names are preserved, and it is unclear whether we are dealing with the formal institution of a Jerusalem episcopacy. From the late 8th until the late 12th cent. Michael provides a continuous list of 25 Syr. Orth. bps. of Jerusalem, which is generally seen as reliable. For the subsequent period, from the 12th cent. until the present day, a list of all known bps. is available in Kiraz, 45–7.

For the Ch. of E., a metropolitan bp. ‘of Damascus, Jerusalem, and the coastal area’ is attested from the late 9th cent. onwards. Only a handful of names are known for the subsequent period and the institution disappeared in the modern period.

Several buildings are associated with the Syr. Orth. presence in Jerusalem: first, the Church of Mary Magdalene and Simon the Pharisee, i.e., where the episode recounted in Lk. 7:36–50 was situated (near Herod’s Gate; perhaps going back to the early 9th cent., later expanded with a monastery, and at the end of the 12th cent. converted into the Madrasat al-Qādisiyya); second, the Church of Thomas, near the Armenian Monastery (attested from the 14th cent. onwards; it later became divided between the al-Yaʿqubī Mosque and the Anglican Cathedral); third, Dayr al-ʿAdas in Zion (which following the assassination of Bp. Gregorios Joseph IV in 1537 was turned into a mosque and later, in 1907, was converted into the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Nicodemus); and finally, the Church of the Mother of God, traditionally regarded as the house of the evangelist Mark, known as the Monastery of St. Mark (which may have come into Syr. Orth. possession around 1500) and still in Syr. Orth. possession today. In addition, the Syr. Orth. had a presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (attested since the 12th cent.). Nowadays they use the Chapel of Nicodemus, although the rights are somewhat disputed. Syr. Orth. pilgrims left a number of Syr. inscriptions at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (see Brock, Goldfus, and Kofsky).

As for the Ch. of E., in the 16th and 17th cent. there existed a church ‘of the Nestorians’ dedicated to St. Mary, situated to the north of the Holy Sepulcher. When the E.-Syr. presence in Jerusalem came to an end, in the 18th or possibly in the early 19th cent., the ms. collection belonging to this church passed into the hands of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate (see Chabot, Rücker, and Brock).

Outside of Jerusalem, there is evidence of Syr. Orth. presence in the medieval period in Tiberias, and from the 14th cent. onwards in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The presence of monks from the Ch. of E. is attested in a hermitage near Jericho (Fiey 1983, and Brock and Taylor, Hidden Pearl, vol. 2, 46) and possibly in a monastic complex at Tel Masos, in the northern Negev (Fritz and Maiberger).

Following the Sayfo a number of Syr. Orth. families settled in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, many of whom emigrated out of the area after the 1948 and 1976 Arab-Israeli wars. Bp. Athanasios Yeshuʿ Samuel played an important role in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. His autobiographical book on this subject contains much information on the Jerusalem community, in particular in the second quarter of the 20th cent. The present-day Syr. Orth bp. of Jerusalem has the title of ‘Patriarchal vicar of the Holy Land and Jordan’. Similarly, the Syr. Cath. and Chaldean Churches are represented in Jerusalem by patriarchal vicars, while the Maronite Church has a patriarchal exarch.

See Fig. 59, 60, and 69.


  • S. P.  Brock, ‘East Syriac pilgrims to Jerusalem in the early Ottoman period’, ARAM 18–19 (2006–7), 189–201.
  • S. P.  Brock, H.  Goldfus, and A.  Kofsky, ‘The Syriac inscriptions at the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem’, ARAM 18–19 (2006–7), 415–38.
  • Brock and Taylor, Hidden Pearl, vol. 2.
  • J.-B.  Chabot, ‘Notice sur les manuscrits syriaques conservés dans la Bibliothèque du Patriarcat grec orthodoxe de Jérusalem’, JA 9.3 (1894), 92–134.
  • F. Y.  Dolabany (ed. G. Y. Ibrahim), Catalogue of Syriac manuscripts in St. Mark’s Monastery (Dairo dMor Marqos) (1994).
  • J.-M.  Fiey, ‘Le pèlerinage des Nestoriens et des Jacobites à Jérusalem’, Cahiers de civilisation médiévale 12 (1969), 113–26.
  • J.-M.  Fiey  ‘Rabban Bûya de Shaqlâwâ et de Jéricho’, POC 33 (1983), 34–8.
  • J.-M.  Fiey   Pour un Oriens christianus novus, 97–8 and 218–22.
  • V.  Fritz and P.  Maiberger, ‘Das nestorianische Kloster’, in Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen auf der Hirbet al-Msas (Tel Masos) 1972–1975, ed. V. Fritz and A. Kempinski (1983), 138–216.
  • Y. K.  Karkenny, The Syrian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land (1976).
  • H.  Kaufhold, ‘Zur Bedeutung Jerusalems für die Syrisch-Orthodoxe Kirche’, in L’idea di Gerusalemme nella spiritualità cristiana del Medioevo (Pontificio Comitato di scienze storiche. Atti e documenti 12; 2003), 132–65.
  • H.  Kaufhold  ‘Der Ehrentitel »Jerusalempilger« (syrisch maqdšāyā, arabisch maqdisī, armenisch mahtesi’, OC 75 (1991), 44–61.
  • G. A.  Kiraz, ʿIqd al-jumān fī akhbār al-Suryān (1988).
  • T. Maier, ‘L’Eglise syrienne orthodoxe de Jerusalem’, POC 54 (2004), 305–12.
  • O. Meinardus, ‘A note on the Nestorians in Jerusalem’, OC 51 (1967), 123–9.
  • J.  Pahlitsch, ‘St Maria Magdalen, St Thomas und St. Markus. Tradition und Geschichte dreier syrisch-orthodoxer Kirchen in Jerusalem’, OC 81 (1997), 82–106.
  • A.  Palmer, ‘The history of the Syrian Orthodox in Jerusalem’, OC 75 (1991), 16–43. (with further references)
  • A.  Palmer, ‘The history of the Syrian Orthodox in Jerusalem. Part  II. Queen Melisende and the Jacobite estates’, OC 76 (1992), 74–94.
  • A. Palmer and G. J. van Gelder, ‘Syriac and Arabic Inscriptions at the Monastery of St. Mark’s in Jerusalem’, OC 78 (1994), 33–61.
  • A.  Rücker, ‘Ein alter Handschriftenkatalog des ehemahligen nestorianischen Klosters in Jerusalem’, OC 3.6 (1931), 90–6.
  • A. Y.  Samuel, Treasure of Qumran. My story of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1968).
  • M.  Tamcke, ‘Abraham of Kashkar’s pilgrimage’, ARAM 18–19 (2006–7), 477–82.
  • H. G. B.  Teule, ‘The perception of the Jerusalem pilgrimage in Syriac monastic circles’, in SymSyr VI, 311–21.

How to Cite This Entry

George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay , “Jerusalem,” 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,

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay , “Jerusalem,” 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),

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Kiraz, George A. and Lucas Van Rompay . “Jerusalem.” 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.

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