07/03/2017, 13.44
IRAQ
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Mosul: The miracle of the church of St. Thomas, spared of Isis bombs

by Jérémy André

It is the oldest church in the city, located two streets from the destroyed al-Nouri mosque. Outside it has only "a few scuff marks", while the interior was devastated during its occupation. St Thomas's relics were saved three years ago when the city fell into the hands of Isis. Courtesy of L'Orient Le-Jour.

Mosul (AsiaNews) - It's a miracle. Mosul's historic center has been torn apart by bullets and mutilated by the Islamic State (Isis or Daesh) explosives. In this surreal landscape, where the interweaving of white stones and black metal reminiscent of Picasso's Guernica, one thick-walled building has only a few scuff marks: St. Thomas is the oldest church in the city, more than 12 centuries old! It has existed since the end of the eighth century, but is considered much older and was founded in the place where the Apostle of the East is believed to have lived while passing through the city. The interior was devastated by the occupants who had made it a military base. But the monument, whose structure dates back to at least the 13th century, survived the battle.

“They are crazy"

The al-Nouri mosque, two streets further north, was not so fortunate. The ISIS terrorists blew it up on Wednesday, June 21, at sunset. Its ruins now form a lunar chaos, bleached by powdered plaster. Only the green dome emerges, balancing on pillars partially damaged by the explosions, and the base of the minaret, 12 meters high, with finely carved geometric bas-reliefs.

Since then, Lieutenant Colonel Mountazar el-Chammari, leader of the Iraqi forces' Mosul battalion for special operations (Isof in English), is furious: "They are crazy," he laments. "They destroyed the Mosque of Prophet Jonah, Prophet Jirjis, Nimroud City, Museum!" The second city of Iraq has lost its symbols, in particular the al-Nouri minaret which, known as al-Hadba (The "hump"). In a bitter victory, their remains were recovered on Thursday, June 29, allowing Iraqi Prime Minister Haïder al-Abadi to declare "the end of the fake Daesh state".

St. Thomas Church is on the way to al-Nouri. On Wednesday, 21, a bit before the explosion that nearly destroyed the mosque, Diwaniya Isof battalion walked up the street dominated by the bell tower. A sniper was in a house in front of the church: "He killed one of ours," says Ahmad Kathem, 23, one of the battalion soldiers. The house was target of an attack. There is nothing left of it.

"Abou Abderrahman al-Australia"

Ahmad forces an iron gate to show the interior of the church. Compared to the surroundings devastated by bombs, the wounds of the Christian building are just mere scratches. The courtyard which Ahmad enters is littered with stones and rubbish, but the columns of the arches surrounding him are intact. On a bas-relief, Saint Thomas touches the wounds of Christ. Their faces are shrouded in a superficial way. Next, a body rotates under a pile of rubbish. In the middle of an adjacent courtyard, a second corpse emanates odor, obese and with a thick black beard, eyes popping out of swollen orbits. His face a blur of gunshot wounds, projecting splashes on the ground around his skull forming a bloody crown. Behind him, barrels and grain bags are all that remains of terrorists' stocks. A room is still full of military clothes and AK-47 chargers.

Inside, a bomb pierced the vault of the main nave. A ray of light falls on the devastated interior. The benches are burnt. Under its arch, the altar is in pieces.

Fortunately, Saint Thomas's relics were taken to St. Matthew's Monastery three years ago, when Mosul had fallen into Daesh's hands. The Isis fighters had drawn black circles on the thick dark marble columns, no doubt in preparation for the destruction of the church. They did not have the time or the way to place their explosives. The walls are covered by graffiti and flags of the organization in the small oval niches. Below one of them, a pink sheet lists the distribution of rations. "Abou Abderrahman al-Australia", a fighter from Australia, marked his passage with a signature in the Latin alphabet.

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