Christian Quarter, Damascus
Only about 10% of Syrians might be Christians, but the long and enduring presence of the faith in the country has led to no small division of sects among the believers. Schism after schism has created a dizzying catalogue of faiths, but it can be fun, as well, to explore this diversity’s impact on the Old City. This particular church is Syriac Catholic, which means that it attends to the spiritual needs of a group of Christians whose Church separated from the Roman (read: Constantinople/Rome) church in the 4th and 5th centuries over the nature of Christ, and then, during the 15th to the 17th centuries sought reconciliation with Rome and the Papal Authority in the Vatican. Damascus is the seat of the highest religious authority for this particular sect, which still uses the ancient Syriac language as a liturgical language. I was drawn to this particular church, which features the language on its façade, particularly because it emphasized the tenacity of people in the Levant to retain traditions rooted so deeply in history.
Bab Touma, or Thomas’ Gate, is perhaps one of the more famous of the seven gates that surround the old city of Damascus. It may only be famous in the west because it leads to the Christian area and the pilgrimage sites that would have been most publicized in the West. Today, the gate is little more than ruins (probably ruined even more after a year and a half of civil war), but it is prominently marked for all those who visit to take note and photograph.
Damascus and Syria as a whole may be majority Muslim, but the country does have a sizeable Christian population and, similar to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon and Israel, it played an important part in the development of the early Church and the lives of the apostles. The Mariamite Cathedral of Damascus is a Greek Orthodox church first built in the 3rd century AD, and which was briefly held by Muslims before being returned to the Christian community in the 8th century as compensation for the Umayyad Mosque. The Church has a beautiful series of icons that form part of the iconostasis (the screen that separates the altar from the faithful) and wooden pews that line the main body. This is not the original structure that was constructed in the 3rd century, as the church has been destroyed numerous times and rebuilt. The current structure is the product of renovations in 1953, which addressed damages done during anti-Christian riots in the 1860s. The Mariamite Cathedral is still in use as a house of worship, so please be respectful of the timing of Mass, which is well-attended and occurs nightly.
If you pass from Bab-i Sarki (East door) you can reach to christain people's houses, St.Hananiye church(50.cc) and at outside St. Paul church.