Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title Church of Deir Mar Tuma: A Roman Tomb Turned into a Church at Saidnaya (Syria)
Author email
About author Halûk Çetinkaya — Ph. D., associate professor. Istanbul Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University. Silahşörcad. No: 85 Bomonti-Şişli, İstanbul, Turkey.
In the section Eastern Christian Art DOI10.18688/aa177-2-20
Year 2017 Volume 7 Pages 190195
Type of article RAR Index UDK 726.82 726.9 Index BBK 85.113

Located in a rock-cut cemetery from the Roman period, a house-type burial was converted into a church most probably in the 5th century. Upon gaining fame, it attracted monks, hence it became a skete type monastery. Approximately 30 kilometers north of Damascus, there is a small town of Qalamoun. This town is known for its churches. Amongst them the Church of Our Lady and Hagia Sophia have special places. The Church of Our Lady in Arabic is Sida Naya, but as time passed it was corrupted and started to be pronounced as Said Naya. In and around this town, there are several historical monuments, especially from Roman and Early Byzantine periods. The local construction material is sand stone.The subject of this article is a misidentified Roman burial turned into a church. Syria was one of the most important provinces of the East. For that reason, the presence of Roman military, settlements of soldiers withfamilies and their burials are scattered around the country. Depending on the status of the deceased, burials had different types. One of the most common types was known as “house type” which was mostly used bythe upper middle class. Examples of these can be observed in the places such as Ataman, Qreiyyeh, Jmarrin, Feki, Ghariyyeh Sharqiyyeh, Rimet al Lohf, Majdal, Murduk, Nahit, Amrah, Khazimeh. Outside the city of Qalamoun, on the skirts of the hills in the North, approximately 400 m away from the Church of Our Lady,there are burials hewn out of main rock in the form of a chamber and several freestanding sarcophagi. There is a clear indication in at least one burial, the Roman eagle, which stood for a former military member. The highestposition was reserved for a “house type” Roman burial, probably from the 2nd century AD. Upon legalizing Christianity this structure which measures 7.1 × 4.2 m was converted into a church. Because of its large size, it was mistaken by scholars for a pagan temple. In fact, it was a burial given newfunction upon adding an apse in its eastern section. Later, this structure became part of a monastic complex where monks stayed for seclusion. According to tradition, it also housed the grave and the relics of the saint who spent years there, namely Mar Touma. My intention has been to show an art piece created for one reason, but acquiring a new function and value in later times. This work intends to broaden geographical and time scale and show other examples of similar structures, thus creating a database.

Reference Çetinkaya, Halûk. Church of Deir Mar Tuma: A Roman Tomb Turned into a Church at Saidnaya (Syria). Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art: Collection of articles. Vol. 7. Ed. S. V. Mal’tseva, E. Iu. Staniukovich-Denisova, A. V. Zakharova. — St. Petersburg: St. Petersburg Univ. Press, 2017, pp. 190–195. ISSN 2312-2129.
Publication Article language english
  • 1. Bacchi M. A Sacred Space for a Holy Icon: The Shrine of Our Lady of Saydnaya. Ierotopiia. Sozdanie sakral’nikh prostranstv v Vizantii i Drevnei Rusi (Hierotopy. Creation of Sacred Spaces in Byzantium and Mediaeval Russia). Moscow, Progress-Traditsiia Publ., 2006, pp. 373–387.
  • 2. Brouwer H. H. J. Bona Dea the Sources and a Description of the Cult. Leiden, E. J. Brill Publ., 1989. XXVII+ 507 p.
  • 3. Bryce T. Ancient Syria. Oxford university press Publ., 2014. 379 p.
  • 4. Caseau B. The Fate of Rural Temples in Late Antiquity and the Christianisation of the Countryside. Recent Research on the Late Antique Countryside. Leiden; London, Brill Publ., 2004, pp. 105–129.
  • 5. Castellana P.; Di Bennardo A.; Fernandez R. Deir mar Touma di Saidnaya. Cairo, The Franciscan center of Christian Oriental studies Publ., 2007. 258 p (in Italian).
  • 6. Cauvin M. C. Flèches à encoches de Syrie: essai de classification d’interprétation culturelle. Paleorient, 1974, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 311–322 (in French).
  • 7. Colledge M. A. R. Interpretatio Romana: The Semitic Populations of Syria and Mesopotamia. Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire. Oxford, University Press Publ., 1986, pp. 221–230.
  • 8. Dabrowa E. The Roman Army in Syria under Augustus and Tiberius. International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies 20, Leon 2006, vol. 2. Madrid 2009, pp. 997–1005.
  • 9. De Jong L. Becoming a Roman Province: An Analysis of Funerary Practices in Roman Syria in the Context of Empire. Unpublished Ph. D. Dissertation. Stanford university, 2007. 156 p.
  • 10. Eißfeldt O. Phoiniker und Phoinikia. Paulys Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumwissenschaft, vol. 39. Stuttgart, J. B. Metzlersche Verlagsbucchandlung Publ., 1941, pp. 368–369 (in German).
  • 11. Honigmann E. Studien zur Notitia Antiochena. Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 1925, no. 25, pp. 60–88 (in German).
  • 12. Kraeling C. The Christian Building. New York, New Haven, Dura-Europos Publ., 1967. 233 p.
  • 13. Krencker D.; Zschietzschmann W. Römische tempel in Syrien. Berlin; Leipzig, Walter de Gruyter Publ., 1938. 298 p. (in German).
  • 14. Langdon M. K. A Sanctuary of Zeus on Mount Hymettos. Princeton, American School of Classical studies at Athens Publ., 1976. 129 p.
  • 15. Lassus J. Deux églises cruciformes du Hauran. Bulletin d’études orientales, 1931, vol. 1, pp. 30–31 (in French).
  • 16. Millar F. The Roman Near East 31 BC — AD 337. London, Harvard University Press Publ., 2001, pp. 95–110.
  • 17. Nasrallah P. Voyageurs et pèlerins au Qalamoun. Bulletin d’études orientales, 1943–1944, vol. 10, pp. 5–38 (in French).
  • 18. Nasrallah J. Le Qalamoun à l’époque romano-byzantine. Les annales archéologiues de Syrie, 1958–1959, vol. 8–9, pp. 59–80 (in French).
  • 19. Peeters P. La légende de Saidnaya. Analecta Bollandiana, 1906, vol. 25, pp. 138–140 (in French).
  • 20. Pococke R. A Description of the East and Some Other Countries, vol 2, part 1. London, W. Bowyer Publ., 1745. 308 p.
  • 21. Rostovtzeff M. The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire, vol. 1. Oxford, Clarendon Press Publ., 1957. 703 p.
  • 22. Sear F. Roman Architecture. London, Routledge Publ., 2000. 288 p.
  • 23. Sherwin-White A. N. Lucullus, Pompey and the East. The Cambridge Ancient History. Vol 9. The Last Age of the Roman Republic, 146–43 BC. Cambridge University press Publ., 2008, pp. 229–273.
  • 24. Steinsapir A. I. Rural Sanctuaries in Roman Syria: The Dynamics of Architecture in the Sacred Landscape. Unpublished Ph. D. Dissertation. University of California, Los Angeles, 1998. 159 p.