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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity


from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world


Greek inscription invoking the protection of God for a tower, through the intercession of *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033) and of *All Saints (S01151). Found at Qaṣr el-Mouḥarram near Apamea on the Orontes (central Syria). Dated 551.

Evidence ID

E01885

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)

Χ(ριστ)ὲ Ἰ(ησο)ῦ, γενοῦ ἑμῖν θεὸν ὑπερα̣σ̣πιστὲν καὶ οἶκον καταφυγε͂ς καὶ πύργος ἰσχύ[ος] ἀπὸ προσώπου ἐχθροῦ
καὶ ἔγιρον τὸν οἶκον τοῦτον, φυτεύον ἐν αὐτῷ τὲν δόξαν τοῦ ὀνόματός <σ>ου εἰς τὸν ἐο͂να, εὐχῆς τε͂ς Θεοτόκου Μαρίας

ἐπετέθε δὴ ὁ ἐπι- καὶ πάντον τῶν
κίμενος λίθος ἁγίον σου· ἀμέν.
ἔτους βξωʹ, μη-
νὸς Ἀρτεμισίου,
ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιδʹ. ΧΜΓ

'Christ, Jesus, be Thou to us a protecting God, and a house of refuge, and a strong tower (
pyrgos), from the face of the enemy. And build this house (oikos), planting the glory of your name within it for the ages, through the intercessions of the God-Bearer (Theotokos) Mary and of All your Saints. Amen.'

'This present stone (i.e. lintel]) was set up in the year 862, in the month of Artemisios, 14th indiction. ΧΜΓ'

Text:
IGLS 4, no. 1811. Translation: P. Nowakowski.

Places Named after Saint

Towns, villages, districts and fortresses
Gates, bridges and roads

Non Liturgical Activity

Prayer/supplication/invocation

Source

Basalt lintel, facing south, from the doorway of Tower B in the ruins of the fort at Qaṣr el-Mouḥarram (also named Qaṣr el-Beroūg). H. 0.76 m; W. 3.60 m. Decorated, in the centre, with a carving of a partially defaced cross within a square, with two doves and the letters Α and Ω. This is flanked by two lambs (both defaced) and vine-scroll, and by further crosses with doves and Α and Ω, each within a wreath.

The inscription is in low-relief, divided into three text fields. The execution of the decoration and inscription is of an impressively high quality.

First published by Hans Lucas in 1905, based on a copy by Max von Oppenheim. Revisited and republished by Jean Lassus in the 1930s. The edition by René Mouterde (1955) follows those of these earlier editors.


Discussion

The inscription is an example of the use of the Scriptures to provide safety to military establishments. Line 1 contains quotations from Psalm 30(31),3: γενοῦ μοι εἰς Θεὸν ὑπερασπιστὴν καὶ εἰς οἶκον καταφυγῆς τοῦ σῶσαί με/'be thou to me for a protecting God, and for a house of refuge to save me' and Psalm 60(61),3: πύργος ἰσχύος ἀπὸ προσώπου ἐχθροῦ/'A strong tower from (the face of) the enemy.' Though these psalms use metaphors to describe the protection one can expect from God, here they were interpreted in their literal sense, and used to enhance the safety of a gateway.

In the inscription, the help of God is to be acquired also through the intercession of Mary and All Saints/πάντες ἅγιοι. Especially this second invocation is a matter of great importance, as references to All Saints were not frequent in late antique inscriptions from the East. By the 5th c. saints and martyrs were commonly believed to be efficient and reliable protectors, also of fortresses; not only were related invocations carved on their walls, as in our case, but also sometimes relics were stored within them (for a general overview of this practice, see:
Key Fowden 1999, XY).

This is not the only case where the name of Mary is associated with towers and fortifications (cf. E01886; E01887; E01891; E01895; E01898). This interesting practice probably derives from the metaphorical description of Mary as the Tower of David and the Ivory Tower. The expressions were originally used in the
Song of Solomon and were known in our region, as evidenced, for example, by an inscription from Nawa (see: IGLS 4, no. 1948).

Dating: the inscription, and the setting up of the lintel, are dated to the 862nd year of the Seleucid era, which (together with the indiction year) corresponds to AD 551.


Bibliography

Edition:
Jalabert, L., Mouterde, R., Mondésert, Cl., Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 4: Laodicée, Apamène (BAH 61, Paris: Librairie orientalise Paul Geuthner, 1955), no. 1811 (and Addendum, p. 358).

Lassus, J.,
Inventaire archéologique de la région au nord-est de Hama (Documents d'Études Orientales 4, Damascus: Institut français de Damas, [1935-1936?]), vol. 1: Text, 144, no. 81 and vol. 2: Planches, plate XXXI 1.

Lucas, H., "Griechische und lateinische Inschriften aus Syrien, Mesopotamien und Kleinasien",
Byzantinische Zeitschrift 14 (1905), 36, no. 37, plate IV (from a copy by von Oppenheim).

Further reading:
Jalabert, DACL, col. 1732, no. 21.

Lucas, H., "Citat. bibl.", in: DACL, col. 1733, fig. 2983.

Peña, I.,
Lieux de pèlerinage en Syrie (Milan: Franciscan Printing Press, 2000), 14.

For the use of relics and inscribed invocations of saints to protect fortresses, see:
Key Fowden 1999, XY

Images



Drawing of the inscription. From: Lucas 1905, 36.


Drawing of the inscription. From: Lassus 1935-1936, 145.


Photograph of the inscription. From: Lassus 1935-1936, plate XXXI.


Photograph of the ruins of Tower B. From: Lassus 1935 1936, plate XXX.


















Record Created By

Paweł Nowakowski

Date Last Modified

25/10/2017

Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristΜαρίαCertain
S00518Saints, unnamedCertain
S01151All Saintsπάντες οἱ ἅγιοιCertain


Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Paweł Nowakowski, Cult of Saints, E01885 - http://csla.history.ox.ac.uk/record.php?recid=E01885