Niʿmatullāh, Ignatius (ca. 1515? – ca. 1587?) [Syr. Orth.]

Scholar, astronomer, maph. (1555–7) and patr. (1557–1576). Born in Mardin to Maqdasī Yuḥanon Nūr al-Dīn, he joined Dayr al-Zaʿfarān ca. 1535. Niʿmatullāh mastered the sciences and the arts, especially astronomy, medicine, philosophy, and painting. Upon becoming a patr. , he adopted the honorific name Ignatius. During his patriarchate, he visited Syria in 1562 and united the patriarchate of Ṭur ʿAbdin with his own in 1572, a union that lasted until 1584. He abdicated, or was forced to abdicate, in March 1576 under peculiar circumstances. Dolabani (Patriarchen, 206) narrates that the governor of Amid, a close friend of Niʿmatullāh, announced to the local Muslim notables who wished to execute the patr. that Niʿmatullāh had adopted Islam. Niʿmatullāh gave no denial fearing execution and had to abdicate. Shortly after his abdication, he escaped in disguise and fled to the west. He arrived in Rome, coming from Venice, sometime between the end of 1576 and early 1578 carrying a recommendation from the patr. of Aquileia. He was received in audience by Pope Gregory on 30  Jan. 1578.

Impressing others by his knowledge in medicine and mathematics, Niʿmatullāh was invited to join the papal commission on calendar reform. He wrote an extensive criticism of the Compendium, the reform proposal which was sent by Pope Gregory to all Catholic princes, in which he pointed out: 1. the anticipation of the equinox cannot be one day in 134 years; 2. the sun anticipates one day in 132 years according to observations in the East; 3. leaving out 10 leap days every 40 years should be rejected; 4. turn-of-the-century adjustments are irregular; 5. the moon gains one day every 276  years, not 304; 6. the Compendium’s method of computing the 14th day of the lunation results in celebrating Easter before Passover; and 7. Easter may be celebrated a month later for the same reason. Niʿmatullāh also added to the list of authorities cited in the Compendium, Chapter 23 of the Didascalia Apostolorum and the acts of the Council of Nicaea. On 14 Sept. 1580, Niʿmatullāh signed the final report of the commission with his colleagues; his signature, in Syriac and Arabic, was interpreted by the translator Leonardo Abel. Niʿmatullāh was probably involved in producing an Arabic edition in Garshuni of the papal decree on the new calendar with its rules sometime around or after 1583. Niʿmatullāh’s criticism of the Compendium in Garshuni is preserved at the Laurentiana Library, Florence; a Latin translation was made at the time by L. Abel and is preserved in the Vatican Archives, dated 12 March 1580.

Niʿmatullāh attempted to persuade the Syr. Orth. and Coptic churches to accept the new ‘Gregorian calendar’, but did not succeed. In 1583, his interpreter, Abel, was sent as a legate of the Pope to Syria with a letter from Niʿmatullāh to his successor Patr. Dawid Shah. Abel did not manage to meet with the patr. , but reported that, fearing the Turks, the patr. refused to accept the calendar unless all other nations did so first.

Niʿmatullāh made a painting of the Virgin Mary and sent it, it is said, with a small piece of the Holy Cross as a gift to the patr. of Antioch and his successors; they are still preserved in the Church of the Virgin in Diyarbakır. Niʿmatullāh also wrote a brief description of the European kingdoms, especially Italy.


  • Barsoum, Scattered pearls, 513.
  • Dolabani, Patriarchen, 205–7.
  • G.  Levi Della Vida, Documenti intorno alle relazioni delle Chiese orientali con la S. Sede durante il pontificato di Gregorio XIII (SeT 143; 1948).
  • A.  Ziggelaar, ‘The Papal Bull of 1582 promulgating a reform of the calendar’, in Gregorian Reform of the Calendar, ed. G.  Coyne et al. (1983), 201–39.

| Niʿmatullāh, Ignatius |


Front Matter A (73) B (53) C (26) D (36) E (27) F (5) G (30) H (22) I (31) J (15) K (11) L (12) M (56) N (19) O (3) P (28) Q (11) R (8) S (71) T (39) U (1) V (5) W (3) X (1) Y (41) Z (4) Back Matter
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