Home » » Articles » Origin of Maphrianate - Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese 4of 5

Origin of the Maphrianate of Tigrit - Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese

Page 4 of 5


Rev. Fr. Dr. Baby Varghese 

PAGE 4 of 5

Decline and Restoration of the See of Tagrit


                   The decline of Tagrit began during the episcopate of Ignatius Mark Bar Qiqi (991-1016). A few years before his consecration, the civil authorities imposed heavy taxes on the rich merchants and most of them left the city for Djezirah and different regions of Syria. Some of them settled down in Melitene[1]. Though Ignatius consecrated fourteen bishops, he was incapable of leading the community during the crisis. Because of his immoral life, the community alienated from him. Soon he became Muslim and spent his last days miserably[2].


                   Metropolitan Athanasius II (1027-1041) succeeded him[3]. In 1031, following the Byzantine invasion, some of the Christians of Edessa left for Tagrit “because they were accustomed to the Arabs both in language and script”[4].


                    The Maphrian Basil IV (1046-1069) was consecrated by the Easterners without the participation of the patriarch, because the see of Antioch was vacant for a while. The Western bishops consecrated the patriarch, without inviting the Metropolitan of Tagrit and the Easterners. This led to a conflict between the East and the West. However, under the initiative of the new Patriarch Mar Johannan (or Theodore), both parties were soon reconciled. They jointly published a written statement according to which ‘the metropolitan of Tagrit’ and the Patriarch shall not be consecrated without the participation of the one or the other[5].


                   The see of Tagrit was vacant for six years (1069-75) and the Patriarch Basil consecrated Johannan Saliba I (1075-1106). According to Bar Hebraeus, Nisibis was added to the East and the agreement that the patriarch and the ‘maphrian’ shall consecrate mutually was renewed[6]. After having visited Mosul and the monastery of Mar Mathai, Johannan Saliba reached Tagrit where the Christians received him with great pomp. The Muslims, out of jealousy, stoned him and the metropolitan had to take refuge in the church of Ahudemmeh. He used all means to establish peace with the Muslims.


                   The Persian governor of Tagrit destroyed the Grand Mosque of the city and the Arabs revolted against him[7]. In order to pacify them, he handed over the Green church to the Muslims. The church of Mar Ahudemmeh was ransacked. During this time, the church of Sergius and Bachus also was destroyed. The army intervened to suppress the conflicts between the Muslims and the Christians. The Christians of Tagrit were scattered over different places and the metropolitan took refuge in the church of Mar Zena in Mosul. Only six families were left in Tagrit and the city remained without bishop for six years (1106-1112).


                   It was during this difficult time that the Patriarch Mar Athanasius consecrated Dionysius Moses (1112-1142). He was the first “maphrian” to execute a profession of faith (omologia) before the patriarch[8]. He went around Mosul, the Monastery of Mar Mathai, Nisibis and Gozarta, and was sent away by his own people. During an ordination service at the Monastery of Mar Mathai, he announced Tagrit as the “metropolis of the East”. The monks became furious and tied to assault him during the service[9]. Finally he decided to go to Tagrit. By divine providence, the new emir of Tagrit, an Armenian named Mugahid ad-Din Bahruz intervened in favour of Dionysius Moses and took him to Baghdad to introduce him to the Caliph. He received a diploma (Sigliun) from the Caliph. Dionysius began to restore the churches and sent letters to the Christians who left the city during the unrest and persuaded them to return. Since the authorities had lifted the poll tax, many Christians returned to the city[10]. Thus Dionysius Moses revived the Christian community as well as the see of Tagrit. Probably it was this revival that earned him the title of “Maphrian”, which henceforth became the official title of ‘the Great Metropolitan of Tagrit”[11].


The title “Maphrian”


                   From the time of Dionysius Moses on wards (17 February 1130), Michel the Syrian uses the title instead of “Metropolitan of Tagrit”[12]. In the list of the bishops consecrated by the Patriarch Basil, Johannan (Saliba) is qualified as “Metropolitan and Maphrian of Tagrit”[13]. Therefore strictly speaking, Dionysius Moses and Johannan Saliba (1075-1106) were the only two maphrians of Tagrit[14].  After Dionysius (112-1142) the maphrians resided in Mosul.



Maphrianate in Mosul


                   Following the death of Dionysius Moses, the Patriarch Athanasius VII Bar Ketreh consecrated Ignatius Lazar (1142-1164) a native of Melitene. Since Tagrit was in decline, the new Maphrian wanted to transfer the see to Mosul[15]. The Christians of Tagrit complained to the Patriarch Athanasius and they could delay the transfer for a few years. Finally in 1153, a synod met in the monastery of Mar Barsauma decided the unification of Tagrit and Nineveh and the maphrianate was shifted to Nineveh[16]. Henceforth the maphrians took the title “metropolitan of Mosul and Nineveh”.In the same year 1154, Tagrit was completely destroyed by the Caliph  Al-Muqtafi, which justified the decision to transfer the maphrianate from the city. In the next centuries, once in a while the maphrians paid brief visits to Tagrit. Gradually Tagrit faded out of the history of the Syrian Orthodox Church.


                   Ignatius Lazar was succeeded by John IV (1164-1188), who lived in Mosul. In a manuscript of 1175, he is qualified as “the Maphrian of Tagrit and Nineveh”[17]. According to Bar Hebraeus, when John was consecrated, he was called “Catholicos of Tagrit, Mosul and Nineveh”[18] (or ‘maphrian’ according to two manuscripts). The Tagritans were unhappy that the ‘Nineveh’ was added and threatened that they will not accept him. However, he was warmly welcomed at the Monastery of Mar Mathai. Finally the Tagritans also accepted him[19].  


                   When the Patriarch Athanasius Qetreh died (in 1166), Maphrian John, along with some of the bishops, went to the monastery of Bar Sauma and the Patriarch Michel the Syrian was elected. In spite of the protests of the Westerners, the Maphrian presided over the consecration[20]. During the reign of Michel the Syrian, the relations between the East and the West became worse. The monks of Mar Mathai and four Eastern bishops and leading laymen of Nineveh and the Tagritans living in  Mosul elected Karim Bar Masih, a monk of Mar Mathai as the next Maphrian. Some dissidents wrote to the Patriarch Michel raising false accusations against Bar Masih and following their request, the patriarch consecrated his nephew Yakub, under the name Gregorios Yakub (1189-1215). The ruler of Mosul refused him entry and Gregory had to stay in the Nestorian Monastery of Michael (near Mosul) and then left for Singar and Haran.


                   The four Eastern bishops consecrated Bar Masih (1189-1203) as their Maphrian at the Monastery of Mar Mathai. Both Maphrians and their parties bribed the authorities to get recognition. Bar Masish ruled for about a year and in 1190 (Feb.8), the Sultan of Mosul deposed and imprisoned him. Gregory Yakub came to Mosul and assumed the office. Mean while Bar Masih was released form prison and was brought to Tagrit and was defrocked and publicly humiliated[21]. Though his followers offered bribes for his restoration, Gregory could prevent it by paying more.  Bar Masih’s death in 1203, did not bring peaceful time for Gregory (died in 1214).


                   During the Maphrianate of Gregory Yakub I (1189-1215), who stayed occasionally in Tagrit (which was an independent city), the army of the Caliph captured the city and the Christians fled[22]. In the days of the Maphrian Ignatius David (1215-1222), the Christian houses were once again looted and heavy taxes were imposed on Christians. The Maphrian himself – who was on a visit to the city – was imprisoned along with the leading members of his community[23].


                   In 1258, the armies of Hulegu invaded Tagrit and the Muslims of the city were massacred. Christians took refuge in the Church of Mar Ahudemmeh (‘the Green Church”). They were asked to come out in groups of Twenty and all were massacred, except the old and the priests[24]. By the end of the 14th century Christianity completely disappeared from Tagrit.


                   Following the death of Gregory Yakub (+ 1214), the Patriarch John Katuba consecrated Ignatius David (1215-1222) as the next Maphrian. After having visited Mosul, Ignatius spent three years in Nineveh and “desired to visit Tagrit, because it was the (former) see of the East”[25]. In a solemn procession he was welcomed by the Christians of Tagrit. Jealous Muslims complained to Baghdad that the Christians had violated the Islamic laws by singing the song used by the people of Jatre to receive the Prophet Mohamed. Maphrian and the Christian leaders were imprisoned. Christians had to pay bribes (20,000 Dinars!) and to use political influence for the release of Mar Ignatius. The Maphrian, then, went to Nineveh and because of the intrigues of a prominent Christian from Bartelli, named Simon, he had to leave for the Monastery of Mar Barsauma. Patriarch John entrusted him the charge of the dioceses of Melitene (in the West) where he stayed for two years. In 1222, when the patriarch died, Ignatius was elected as his successor (= Ignatius II : 1222-52). He was the first Maphrian to become the patriarch of Antioch[26].  Ignatius’ story is an example of the decadence of the Maphrianate and its consequent dependence on the Patriarchate of Antioch. In the following centuries, as we will see, Maphrianate became one of the dioceses under the Patriarchate of Antioch.


                   The most prominent Maphrian of the East was Gregorios Abul Farag Bar Aharon alias Bar Hebraeus (1264-1286). He was consecrated by the Patriarch Johannan Bar Madani. Bar Hebraeus’ time was the golden age of the maphrianate in the whole of its history. The relationships with the Nestorians, Muslims and the Mongol rulers were excellent. In Spring1277, Bar Hebraeus spent three months in Tikrit, which was not visited by a Maphrian for sixty years.


                   The Mongols were favourably disposed toward Christians. Thus, Bar Hebraeus was received by the Mongol ruler Teguder Ahmed (1282-84), and gave him a royal document (sigiliun) confirming his authority over the churches in Azerbaigan, Assyria and Mesopotamia[27]. During his maphrianate, which lasted for twenty years, Bar Hebraeus consecrated twelve bishops. In 1286, he died in Marageh, the Mongol capital in Persia and his mortal remains were later transferred to the Monastery of Mar Mathai[28]. Two years later, Bar Hebraeus brother Barsama Saphi (1288-1308) was consecrated by the Patriarch Mar Philoxenos alias Ignatius V (1283-92). Hence forth, following the demise of a Maphrian, the see of the East usually remained vacant for several years. The next Maphrian Gregorios Mathai (1317-1345) was consecrated after nine years. His successor was consecrated after an interval of twenty years. By this time the dioceses in the East were more or less under the direct administration of the Patriarch and the Maphrian became rather a title of honor conferred to a faithful lieutenant of the Patriarch. Sometimes there were more than one incumbent to the patriarchate and each consecrated his Maphrian in the East. After the 13th century several Maphrians lived in the West.  Maphrian Barsauma Maudanaya (1422-1455) took the name Baselius, and henceforth it became the official name for his successors.


Maphrianate suppressed?


                    Quoting some Syrian Orthodox sources, J.Mounayer and J.M.Fiey write that the Maphrianate was suppressed in 1860 (according to Mounayer in 1863). The sources that J.M.Fiey quotes, claim that in 1860 the Patriarch Ignatius Jacob II convened a synod of 17 bishops at the Monastery of Deir Za’faran (“Monastery of the Yellow Rock”) and decided to suppress the Maphrianate. In the footnote Fr.Fiey writes: “The manuscript has been kept in the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchal Library”[29]. He does not claim that he had seen the original document and quotes two Syrian orthodox sources[30].


                   According to J.Mounayer, the synod was held in 1863 at the Monastery of Mar Kuriake, situated in the village of Zarjal, in the district of Bechiré in the Diarbekir region[31]. Both Mounayer and Fiey have not verified the authenticity of the sources, which give contradictory information regarding the date and the place of the synod.


                   In the case of Mounayer, information that he gives are not always correct. Thus he says (p.105) that Patriarch Abdallah was elected by a synod that met at Zafaran in 1914. In fact the Patriarch Abdallah was consecrated in 1906. His information regarding the developments in Kerala are often false.


                   In fact the sources that Monayer and Fiey quote, were produced by the Syrian Orthodox Church as part of its efforts to deny the legitimacy of the Catholicate of the Malankara Orthodox Church (established in 1912).[The Malankara Orthodox Church used to claim that the “Maphrianate or Catholicate of Tagrit” was “re-established in India in 1912]. I have no intention to defend the position of the Malankara Orthodox Church. But I want to invite the attention of the scholars to a wrong conclusion that an out-standing historian like Fiey had made, which could be repeated, with out being verified, by the historians of the coming generations.


                   In September 1912, the Patriarch Ignatius Abdul Massih (1895- 1915) consecrated Baselios Paulose I as the first Catholicos in Kerala. It was taken for granted that it was a re-establishment” of the maphrianate or Catholicate of Tagrit. In fact the Malankara Church had no relation with the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch before 1665. The relation became more regular by 1751 (with the arrival of two prelates and three clergy men). By the early decades of the 19th century, the non-Catholics of Kerala  adopted the West Syriac Liturgy and the Serto script. The Patriarch Peter III made a historical visit to Kerala (1875-77) and he consecrated 6 bishops and divided the Syrian Church into seven dioceses. Thus there arose a feeling in the Malankara Church that it was under the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch from the very beginning. Since two Maphrians visited Malabar (Mar Baselios Yalda in 1685 and Baselios Sakralla in 1751) and died here, it was also thought that the Malankara Church was under the Maphrianate. Since the death of the last Maphrian Baselios Bahnam IV (1852-1859), his successor was not consecrated.  In the beginning of the 20th century, request was made to the Patriarch Abdul Massih to “revive” the Maphrianate and to consecrate Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius V (1865-1909) as Maphrian in India. The request was turned down.


                   But the new developments in the Patriarchate forced Abdul Massih to oblige. In 1906, the Turkish Government had withdrawn his Royal Firman (i.e. recognition) and Mar Gregorios Abadallah was elected as his successor. In fact, Mar Abdallah, who was the Syrian Catholic bishop of Homs (1896-1906) had manoeuvred the deposition of his predecessor. The former Patriarch Abdul Massih was invited to Malabar and in 1912 he consecrated the first Catholicos in India. Soon the ruling patrarch Abdallah also visited Malabar and could bring a good number of churches under him. Thus began a division in the Malankara Church which led to a series of litigations that lasted till 1958. The patriarchal party (as the followers of Mar Abdallah were known) challenged the legitimacy of the catholicate in India and fabricated the story that the Maphrianate was suppressed in 1860 (or 1863). But in the litigations they have never raised the story of the suppression, as they have no documents to prove it. Most probably this story was fabricated in the 1920s. The late Catholicos Baselios Augen I (1964-75) who had spent more that a decade in the monastery of Mar Augen in Tur Abdin, said in a personal interview in 1974 that he had never heard of this story during his stay there[32]. 




[1] Michel, III,145; BH. Chr.Syr. (ed. Bedjan), p.197; tr.by Budge, Chronography p.178.

[2] Michel, III, 134-35; B.H. III, 287-89.

[3] B.H.II, 291.

[4] Michel III, 280.

[5] B.H.II, 297-98.

[6] Ibid 303.

[7] Michel III, 214.

[8] B.H.II, 313-15.

[9] Ibid II, 315-17.

[10] B.H. II, 313;  331.

[11] J.M.Fiey, “ Tagrit”, OS VIII (1963), p.324; ID., Jalons pour une histoire de l’église en Iraq, CSCO 310; Sub. 36 (1970), p.141.

[12] Cfr. Michel, III, 231; IV, 612.

[13] Ibid. III, 474. Else where, Michel refers to him as Johannan of Tagrit”, III, 175. So the title in the list of bishops (III, 474) might be a scribal error.

[14] Cfr.J.M.Fiey, op.cit. (supra n.117).