A discovery of historical and religious value, confirming the Christianity’s connection to Iraq. In six stone containers ancient relics and parchments with references to saints, from Simon to St John. Smuggling of antiquities is back on the agenda, Briton sentenced to 15 years.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – A discovery of great historical, religious and cultural value that confirms – once again – the bond of Christians with Iraq and, more generally, with the Middle Eastern region of which they are the original people and an integral component since the first centuries.
Over the past few days, a dozen or so ancient relics and parchments belonging to some saints have emerged inside a church devastated by the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis), which is now undergoing restoration.
The site of the discovery was the Syrian Orthodox church (in the photos) of Mar Thomas in Mosul, once the economic and commercial capital of the north and in the recent past the stronghold of the Islamic “caliphate” established by Isis. Found inside were six stone containers bearing Aramaic inscriptions of saints and several manuscripts in Syriac and Aramaic languages.
The workers who made the discovery immediately called the leaders of the local Church, starting with the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul Mor Nicodemos Sharaf. Among the relics that emerged was a stone container with an inscription relating to Saint Theodore, a Roman soldier born in the province of Corum, Turkey, in the 3rd century and beheaded for having converted.
The prelate immediately contacted Mor Ignace Ephrem II, the patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church who was in Damascus, with a video call to allow him to share the discovery live. At the conclusion of the excavations, five more reliquaries were collected: of Saint Simon ‘the Zealot’, a first-century apostle; relics of Mor Gabriel bishop of Tur Abdin (593-668); relics of Saint Simeon the Wise (1st century), an elder who welcomed the infant Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem; relics of Saint John, (Yohanan Shliha) apostle of Christ; relics of Saint Gregory Bar Hebraeus (1226-1286) Maphrien (regional primate) of the Syrian Orthodox Church from 1264 to 1286.
The latter was a great writer who compiled various works in the fields of Christian theology, philosophy, history, linguistics as well as being a poet and man of letters. For his contributions to the development of Syrian literature, he was acclaimed as one of the most knowledgeable and versatile writers among the Syrian Orthodox. Parchments written in Syriac, Armenian and Arabic, wrapped and protected in glass bottles, were also discovered in the ruins of the church.
Parallel to this important discovery for the Christian community and for the whole of Iraq, the topic of antiquities theft and smuggling is back on the agenda in the region. In fact, a network specialised in the illegal trade of antiquities with an epicentre in the Middle East has recently emerged, which also involved Jean-Luc Martinez, a former senior manager of the Louvre. The investigation has uncovered a clandestine and illegal trade that has been expanding in the shadow of the Arab Spring uprisings in the past decade and has also financially fuelled the violence of the Islamic State.
The racket includes looted artefacts from archaeological sites (even tombs of great value) that have been turned into ‘open-air supermarkets’ or from countries that are the scene of war or political and social uprisings such as Syria, Iraq and Egypt that lend themselves to looting.
From the countries of origin (which also touch Africa and South America) they move on to transit areas in the Gulf, Israel and Lebanon, and then arrive at their destination in Europe, Russia, Japan and China and, for some time now, even in the richest Gulf nations.
Linked to the scandal involving the former director of the Louvre is the 15-year sentence imposed by a Baghdad court on a British man for attempted smuggling of antiquities. The volume of business is in the hundreds of millions of euros, with a trade that feeds petty criminals and international organised crime, with proven links to drug and arms traffickers, as well as terrorist groups that use the internet to feed channels and contacts.