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E01787: Greek inscriptions mentioning a church and a monastery of 'Saint Barapsabbas', and just possibly a church built with the aid of unnamed *Archangels or *Apostles. Found at Mu'Allaḳ near Chalkis (north Syria). Dated 606/607.

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posted on 2016-08-07, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
Inscription 1:

Stone lintel, broken into two parts. H. 0.72 m (inscription: 0.67 m). Fragment A: max. W. at top 1.17 m; max W. at bottom 0.39 m. Fragment B: max. W. at top 0.68 m; max. W. at bottom 0.38 m. Letter height: first three lines: c. 0.095 m; other lines 0.045-0.07 m (in low-relief). Height of the letters ΧΜΓ: 0.15 m Decorated with a carving of a cross within a circle, above the inscription, in the middle.

Found by the Princeton Archaeological Expedition to Syria at the south doorway of the West Church at Mu'Allaḳ. First published from his own copy by William Prentice in 1908. Photographed by Charles-Léonce Brossé. Republished with a drawing (based on the photograph) by René Mouterde and Louis Jalabert in 1939.

+     ΧΜΓ           +            [ΧΜΓ]      +
+ αὕτη ἡ πύλη τοῦ Κυρίου, δίκαι[οι εἰσελ]εύσ[ο]νται ἐν αὐτῇ.
[ἐπ]ὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσ[ω μου τὴν ἐκ]κλησίαν, καὶ
[αἱ πύλ]αι ᾄδου οὐ μὴ κατισχύσ[ουσιν αὐτῆ]ς. + ἐκτίσθη
[ὁ οἶκος ο]ὗτος τοῦ ἁγ(ίου) Βαραψαββα διὰ [τῶν ἐνδ(όξων) (?) καὶ] λαμπρρ(οτάτων)
[- - -].λων, ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιʹ τοῦ ηιϡʹ [ἔτ(ους), - - -] λατόμου. +

4. Βαραψαββα Mouterde & Jalabert, Βαραψ, ἀββᾶ (?), διὰ Prentice || διὰ [τῶν ἐνδ(όξων) (?) καὶ] λαμπρρ(οτάτων) Mouterde & Jalabert (from the drawing), διὰ [- - -] λαμπρρ(οτάτου) Prentice || 5. [ἀρχαγγ]έλων (?) or [ἀποστ]όλων (?) Mouterde & Jalabert (from the drawing), [- - -]̣ι̣ο̣υ Prentice

'+ This gate (is) the Lord's: (the) righteous shall enter in it. [Upon] this rock I will build [my] church; and [the gates] of hell shall not prevail against [it]. + This [house] of Saint Barapsabbas (?) was built through [the most glorious (illustres/endoxoi) (?) and] the most excellent (clarissimi /lamprotatoi) [- - -]. The 10th indiction, in the 918th [year - - - being the] mason. +' '

Text: IGLS 2, no. 271. Translation: William Prentice; lightly modified.

The inscription commemorates the construction of a church, probably named οἶκος/'house' (as reconstructed by the editors in line 4) or τόπος/'place'. Above the main text there are two ΧΜΓ symbols. The precise meaning of these letters is unclear: they can be expanded as Χριστὸς ὁ ἐκ Μαρίας γεννηθείς/'Christ born of May' or Χριστός, Μιχαήλ, Γαβριήλ/"Christ, Michael, Gabriel' or even cryptographically as ἅγειος ὁ θεός/'God is holy' or θεὸς βοηθός/'God is the helper', etc. The proper commemorative inscription begins with a citation of Psalm 117,20 and a passage from the Gospel according to Matthew (Matthew 16:18). In late antique Syria these texts were considered as commemorative or/and protective formulas, suitable for churches, and frequently displayed above their doorways.

The name of the holy patron of the church (βαραψαββα) is clearly legible in line 4, but nevertheless was differently interpreted by different editors. Prentice read it as 'Baraps, the abbot' (Βαραψ, ἀββᾶ), though he was adviced by Enno Littmann to read here Βαρ{αρ}αββᾶ, the genitive form of Βαραββᾶς, a Greek rendering of the Syriac name Barabbā. Prentice also wondered, whether the name could be Βαραχ/'Barach'. Having examined the photograph, Jalabert and Mouterde ascertained that the sequence of letters was βαραψαββα, which they identified as a Greek transcription of the Syriac name Bar-ḥad-bešabba (literally: 'Son-of-Sunday'/'born-on-Sunday'), of which the Greek equivalent is Κυριακός (Kyriakos). For monasteries dedicated to Bar-ḥad-bešabba in documentary sources, see: IGLS 2, nos. 154 and 155. For an unsuccessful attempt to identify our Bar-ḥad-bešabba/Kyriakos with saints known from calendars and hagiography, see: Halkin 1949, 100, note 2.

Lines 4-5 contained the names of supervisors of the construction of the church. Unfortunately, they are scarcely legible due to large lacunas. Jalabert and Mouterde, again based on their examination of the photograph, established that the title λαμπρότατος /clarissumus, well preserved at the end of line 4, is in the plural form, and not singular, as emended by Prentice. They also offer a different reading of the letters, visible immediately after the lacuna in line 5, and suggest that we have here a statement that the Archangels or the Apostles aided the construction of the building. Though such statements are not unparalleled in eastern inscriptions, we must note that the epithet lamprotatos was not used for Archangels and Apostles, and points rather to the participation of an official, as had been suggested by Prentice.

The inscription is dated according to the Seleucid era. Its year 918 corresponds to AD 606/607.

Inscription 2:

A fragmentary inscription, copied by a local from the village of Rasm al-Nafal in the area of Chalkis, and sent to Sébastien Ronzevalle. Exact provenance unknown: possibly Mu'Allaḳ.

First published by René Mouterde and Louis Jalabert in 1939. There is no description.

μοναστηρίου τοῦ ἁγίου
Βαραψ[αββα - - -]

'Of the monastery of Saint Barapsabba (?) [- - -]'

Text: IGLS 2, no. 272.

Based on the fragment of the name of the patron of the monastery, given in line 2, the editors suggested that the stone came from the same sanctuary mentioned in Inscription 1, above. In his monograph on the patriarchate of Antioch (p. 166), Robert Devreesse supposed that the convent from Inscription 2 was founded by a certain Barapsabbas, who later became its holy patron, but that the church from Inscription 1 was dedicated to the Archangels (probably Michael and Gabriel). This is, of course, unsupported by the evidence of our sources, as Inscription 1 clearly names the church as 'of Saint Barapsabba', and the word 'archangels' is just a tentative completion.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Archangels (unspecified) : S00191 Apostles (unspecified) : S00084 Barapsabbas (Bar-ḥad-bešabba/Kyriakos?), a monastic founder of Mu'Allaḳ : S00912

Saint Name in Source


Image Caption 1

Drawing. From: IGLS 2, 153.

Image Caption 2

Drawing. From: Prentice 1908, 264.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Chalkis Mu'Allaḳ

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Chalkis Thabbora Thabbora Mu'Allaḳ Thabbora Thabbora

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Places Named after Saint

  • Monastery

Cult Activities - Miracles

Saint aiding or preventing the construction of a cult building

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - abbots Officials


Edition: Mouterde, R., Jalabert, L., Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 2: Chalcidique et Antiochène: nos 257-698 (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1939), nos. 271-272. Prentice, W.K. (ed.), Greek and Latin inscriptions (Publications of an American archaeological expedition to Syria in 1899-1900 3, New York: Century 1908), 263-264, no. 332. Further reading: Devreesse, R., Le Patriarcat d'Antioche depuis la paix de l'Église jusqu'a la conquête arabe (Paris: J. Gabalda et cie, 1945), 166, notes 11-15. Halkin, F., "Inscriptions grecques relatives à l'hagiographie, II, Les deux Phénicies et et les deux Syries", Analecta Bollandiana 67 (1949), 100, note 2. Jalabert, L., Mouterde, R., Les inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 3/2: Antioche (suite). Antiochène: nos. 989-1242 (BAH 51, Paris: P. Geuthner, 1953), 683 (addendum). For a description of the find-spot, see: Butler, H.C. (ed.), Syria, Publications of the Princeton University Archaeological Expeditions to Syria in 1904-1905 and 1909, division II: Ancient Architecture in Syria, part B: North Syria (Leyden: E.J. Brill, 1920), 305-307. Mouterde, R., Poidebard, A., Le limes de Chalcis: organisation de la steppe en haute Syrie romaine: documents aériens et épigraphiques (Paris: P. Geuthner 1945), 189-190.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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