MOSUL, Iraq — In order to get a closer look at the reconstruction of the Syriac Catholic Al-Tahera Church in Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and Nineveh Governor Najm al-Jubouri visited the site of the church, which was destroyed by the Islamic State (ISIS).
“Today we are under the shadow of this ancient church, the House of Peace and Love, which is one of the largest churches in Iraq and the Middle East,” said al-Kadhimi. “We remember what the terrorists who tried to turn it from a house of peace into a cellar of killing and vandalism did.”
“This church will return to its best condition through the reconstruction campaigns that will take place and with great international cooperation,” he added.
“Our Christian people are key partners in this land, and they have actively contributed to the movement to build Iraqi civilizations in every era in the country’s history,” al-Kadhimi said. “I reiterate the call for emigrant Christians and other components to return home.”
“We are proud of you and offer you all the support, and we invite you to return and start the movement of reconstruction and development in your regions, along with all your Iraqi brothers from all components.”
Background Information from Mesopotamia Heritage
The (ancient) al-Tāhirā Syriac-Catholic church of Mosul is mentioned for the first time in a colophon from 1672. Its restoration in 1744, authorized by an Ottoman firman, was no doubt an entirely unexpected opportunity to extensively renovate, almost rebuild, the church and this is apparent in the building’s architectural style. However, the church’s location in the oldest neighborhood of Mosul, and the fact that it is partially buried, suggest that the church’s foundations are probably very ancient, perhaps dating as far back as the 7th century.
The al-Tāhirā Syriac-Catholic church in Mosul goes by several names: Tāhirā of the Syrians for its denominational identity, the interior Tāhirā as opposed to the exterior Tāhirā (Syriac-Orthodox) located in the far north of the old city of Mosul, and finally ancient Tāhirā as opposed to the new Syriac-Catholic al-Tāhirā church.
The (ancient) al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic church is located at 36°20’40.4″N 43°07’57.5″E and 237 meters altitude, in the Qala district, close to the crossroads between the Nabi Guorguis road and the road to Nineveh, in the heart of the old city of Mosul, formerly designated by the Ottoman city walls on the west bank of the Tigris river, opposite ancient Nineveh, and 400 kilometers to the north of Baghdad.
It stands at the center of a square around which there are several Christian buildings: the new al-Tāhirā Syriac-Catholic cathedral, the al-Tāhirā Syriac-Orthodox cathedral, the Armenian Apostolic church and finally the Syriac-Catholic seat of the archdiocese.
History of the (Ancient) al Tāhirā Syriac-Catholic Church in Mosul, Prior to Destruction
“The first historical record of this church is found in a colophon dating back to 1672.”1 The building therefore existed before the Persians launched their offensive and laid siege to the city in 1743, but it is impossible to date its foundation more accurately. Various elements can be used to date the building, including the stones re-used in the iconostasis which could be from the 12th–13th centuries.”2 The location of this church in the most ancient district of Mosul suggests a particularly ancient building, founded towards the 7th century.”3
In addition, “there is an inscription indicating that the church was restored in 1744 following the attack by the Persians.”4 The precise nature of this restoration remains unclear, but the Ottoman firman issued on this occasion may have offered an unexpected opportunity to entirely renovate or even practically rebuild the church. This hypothesis is supported by the building’s architecture, “the overall style of the church is indeed in the Ğalīlīstyle.”5
Further restorations were undertaken, firstly the royal door in 1795, then in 1809 as indicated in an inscription on a pillar of the central nave, and in 1821 when work was done on the outside western door of the church.
What Remains of the (Ancient) al-Tāhirā Syriac-Catholic Church?
Bombarded during the mass raids on old Mosul in 2017, the al-Tāhirā (the ancient) church was severely damaged. The roof collapsed, but the royal door and the side doors to the sanctuary remained standing. Unfortunately, at the end of 2018, careless post-war reconstruction work actually worsened the destruction.
The church is currently undergoing restoration. The Syriac-Catholic bishop of Mosul, Monsignor Petros Mouché, has delegated the project management to the French charity Fraternité en Irak, which has already work on the restoration of the Mar Behnam and Sarah martyrion in the Nineveh plain. This is a project of major interest in terms of heritage conservation.
For the Fraternité en Irak architect Guillaum, “some interesting features remain, including at least two of the three arches between the nave and the choir, as well as a number of sculptures. Overall, I think we can rebuild and preserve most of the interesting heritage features which we should be able to find in the rubble.”6
What Remains of the New Tahira?
The modern al-Tāhirā cathedral, built in the 19th century as an extension to the ancient church was entirely gutted and destroyed during the bombing of Mosul in 2017. At the end of the war only part of the apse was still visible. It would appear that there is nothing of the building to be saved.
1 In Les églises et monastères du Kurdistan irakienà la veille et au lendemain de l’islam. Thesis by Narmen Ali Muhamad Amen. Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, University, 2001. P.270-273.2 Brother Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p., in Les chrétiens de Mossoul et leurs églises pendant la période ottomane de 1516 à 1815, Mossoul, Ninive, 1983. P.112 onwards.
4 In Les églises et monastères du Kurdistan irakienà la veille et au lendemain de l’islam. Thesis by Narmen Ali Muhamad Amen. Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, University, 2001. P.270-273.
5 Brother Jean-Marie Mérigoux, o.p., in Les chrétiens de Mossoul et leurs églises pendant la période ottomane de 1516 à 1815, Mossoul, Ninive, 1983. P.112 onwards.
6 Fraternité en Irak plans to rebuild the ancient al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic church in Mosul.