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E04558: Lid of a white marble reliquary with a Syriac inscription labelling relics of *Peter (the Apostle, S00036), *Thomas (the Apostle, S00199), Symeon the Stylite (the Elder, S00343), and of other unnamed martyrs. Once in İstanbul Archaeological Museums. Probably 5th or 6th c.

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posted on 2018-01-04, 00:00 authored by pnowakowski
ܐܝܬ ܒܗܢܐ ܠܠܘܣܩܡܐ ܫܠܝܚ̈ܐ ܫܡܥܘܢ ܟܦܐ
ܘܬܘܡܐ ܫܠܝܚܐ ܘܫܡܥܘܢ ܕܣܛܘܢܗ ܘܣܗܕܐ ܛܘܒܢ̈ܐ

ܠܠܘܣܩܡܐ read ܓܠܘܣܘܡܐ
ܟܦܐ read ܟܐܦܐ

'In this reliquary (glūsqmā) are the Apostles: Shimon Kephas, and Thomas the Apostle, and Symeon of the Pillar, and blessed martyrs.'

Text: Leroy 1966, 17.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Peter the Apostle : S00036 Thomas, the Apostle : S00199 Symeon the Elder, stylite of Qal‘at Sim‘ān, ob. 459 : S00343 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

Saint Name in Source

ܫܡܥܘܢ ܟܦܐ ܬܘܡܐ ܫܡܥܘܢ ܕܣܛܘܢܗ ܣܗܕܐ ܛܘܒܢ̈ܐ

Type of Evidence

Archaeological and architectural - Extant reliquaries and related fixtures Inscriptions - Inscribed objects


  • Syriac

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

Antioch on the Orontes Apamea on the Orontes

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

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora Apamea on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Cult Activities - Relics

Unspecified relic Reliquary – institutionally owned


Elaborately decorated lid of a white marble reliquary from the collection of the İstanbul Archaeological Museum. Provenance unknown (probably Syria). Now lost. The reliquary was apparently shaped as a sarcophagus. The lid has acroteria, and bears carvings of rosettes within circles, surrounded by geometric patterns, on just one of its sloping sides. The undecorated side is higher than the other one. It is possible that the reliquary was originally placed with the rough side against a wall. The inscription is on a band running along the lower rim of the decorated side, where the lid once conjoined the chest of the reliquary. First published by André Grabar in 1964 (the inscription was read and translated into French by Georges Vajda). Further comments, a transcription, and a new French translation were offered by Jules Leroy in 1966. Recently discussed anew by Marie-Christine Comte in her corpus of eastern reliquaries (2012), based on the translation by Leroy.


The reliquary is of an unusually high quality. Another curious feature is its Syriac inscription, while the majority of inscribed reliquaries have inscriptions in Greek. The inscription labels the contents of the chest and terms the reliquary itself glūsqmā, which is a calque of Greek γλωσσόκομον/'case', 'casket', regularly used to denote reliquaries in Syriac texts. Here it is, however, erroneously spelt llūsqmā (see the photograph). In contrast, in Greek inscriptions reliquaries are usually termed λάρναξ (also 'chest', 'casket'). The actual number of figures named in the inscription has been disputed. George Vajda suggested that the inscription labelled relics of four saints: 'Toi (tu as) dans ce coffert les apôtres Simon Pierre et Thomas l'apôtre et Simeon Stylite et le martyr Tobie (?)'/'You have in this casket the Apostles Shimon Peter, and Thomas the Apostle, and Symeon the Stylite, and the martyr Tobias (?)', and this interpretation was followed by Grabar. Jules Leroy rightly noted that Vajda confused the plural adjective ṭūbōne/'blessed' with the name Tobias, and corrected this mistake in his translation which reads as follows: 'Il y a dans ce reliquaire les apôtres Simon Pierre et Thomas l'apôtre et Syméon le Stylite et les bienheureux martyrs'/'In this reliquary are the Apostles Shimon Peter and Thomas the Apostle, and Symeon the Stylite, and the blessed martyrs'. Therefore, Leroy stressed, relics of only three saints were kept in the reliquary. As for the presumed provenance, he still supported Grabar’s idea, that the reliquary was made in the Antiochene. This is because the bishopric of Antioch was believed to have been founded by Peter, while Thomas could here have been here again named 'Apostle' to distinguish him from a homonymous saint venerated in Antioch. A church of Mar Thomas/Tūmā in Antioch is mentioned by a 10th c. author, Agapios of Hierapolis/Manbij. He probably meant Thomas, a 5th c. apokrisiarios of a monastery near Apamea, who died while visiting Antioch and was buried there. As the body wrought miracles, he was translated into a chapel within the city walls. Needless to say, Antioch also had close links with both stylite Symeons. Based on the epithet 'of the pillar' Leroy identifies the Symeon of the reliquary as undoubtedly Symeon the Elder, and finds it an important piece of evidence, as many contemporary small objects bear the image of Symeon the Younger. The closing formula, referring to unnamed martyr resembles, however, Greek inscriptions from reliquaries from Apamea (see E01829; E01832). In 2012 Marie-Christine Comte apparently misread Leroy’s commentary, as she put a coma between the names Shimon and Peter: 'il y a dans ce reliquaire, les apôtres Simon, Pierre et Thomas l'apôtre et Syméon le Stylite et les bienheureux martyrs.' However, Peter is here identified by his Aramaic nickname Kephas which often appears together with his proper name Shimon. The two names are not divided by the conjunction ܘ /wāw as the names of Thomas, Symeon, and the martyrs are, which suggests that they refer to one person. Therefore, we go back to Leroy’s interpretation that the inscription mentions just two Apostles: Shimon Kephas (= Peter), and Thomas, and Symeon the Stylite as the third saint.


Edition: Comte, M.-Ch., Les reliquaires du Proche-Orient et de Chypre à la période protobyzantine, IVe-VIIIe siècles: formes, emplacements, fonctions et cultes (Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 20, Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2012), 101. Leroy, J., "À propos de l'inscription syriaque du reliquaire d'Istanbul", Cahiers archéologiques 16 (1966), 17-22. Grabar, A., "Recherches sur les sources juives de l'art paléochrétien", Cahiers archéologiques 14 (1964), 49-53. Further reading: Abousamra, G., "A reliquary with Syriac inscription", Parole de l'Orient 41 (2015), 23-57. Rahmani, L. Y., "Chip-carving in Palestine", Israel Exploration Journal 38 (1988), 64 note 26 and Plate 13E (mentioned, photograph).

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