Christianity in Syria: a policy of persecution or deliberate attempts to eliminate it once and for all (final part)

By Milad Korkis Syriac journalist

Omayyad Caliph Alwaleed Ibn Abdul Malik ordered the conversion of the church of St. John the Baptist into a mosque in 86 AH / 705 AD, built it three minarets and removed most of its Christian relics, images and references. Today, the Syrian Ministry of Endowments is carrying out major repair- and renovation works on the Omayyad Mosque, as it is called after the conversion, as well as on the shrine of St. John the Baptist.

The shrine of St. John the Baptist – who is called Yahya in Arabic – is still preserved and save inside the mosque because for Muslims, John the Baptist holds a revered status. What we should fear for is the status and preservation of the inscription engraved in Greek letters on the south gate.

Inside the northeaster part of the mosque is a big marble font with relics. The marble font was used by Christians to baptize their children. There is also an image of Christ’s face with a wreath of thorns on his head which recently appeared on the left side of the other south gate facing the jeweler’s market. There are reports of attempts to remove these writings and images but through intervention by the International Antiquities Authority and significant financial donations this was prevented.

In the courtyard of the Omayyad Mosque there is a spot under a roofed courtyard. When the visitor is standing there in the middle and stamps the ground with his feet he will hear a deep echo. According to archaeologists, this is because this spot was the entrance or exit of a long tunnel connecting the Church of St. John the Baptist (Umayyad Mosque) with the Hanania Church.

The Hanania Church (Anasias) is a small church about a mile away located on the northern side of the eastern door of Damascus. It is at the end of a small road which bears its name. To enter this church, the visitor must descend several steps underground where he will find the end of the tunnel at the western wall. It is blocked with stones for fear of people entering it. Christians were said to have used this tunnel to move between the two churches or as an escape route for fear of persecution.

In the 1960s, during restoration of the Greek Orthodox Church Al-Mariamiah in old Damascus, located between the St. John the Baptist Church and the Hanania Church, parts of the tunnel appeared and it was reported that human bones and skulls dating back to ancient historical times were found inside.

The Christian history of Syria is very long and historically extends to several distinct periods all of which require more than one study or article to be able to shed full light on them. They contain important details that have formed and determined Syrian history and have become an essential part of the Syrian mosaic.

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