Possible church vestiges under the foundations of the al-Nuri Mosque
A prayer hall was discovered during excavation at the mosque destroyed during the battle between the Islamic State and Iraqi forces. The discovery includes a prayer hall, columns and four rooms for ablutions. The findings date back to before the 12th century. Some experts speculate that they may belong to the Church of the Forty Martyrs.
Mosul (AsiaNews) – Important vestiges have emerged recently during reconstruction work at the al-Nouri mosque, which, along with Our Lady of the Hour Church[*], is one of Mosul’s iconic sites.
A few days ago, during excavation, workers uncovered the foundations of a prayer hall dating back to the 12th century under the mosque.
According to some sources, the foundations could belong to an ancient Christian church, built centuries before the mosque. The latter became famous worldwide because it was here that the leader of the Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaimed the caliphate on 29 June 2014.
The mosque was largely destroyed in 2017, during the offensive by the Iraqi army – supported by the United States – against the Islamic State, which marked IS’s military defeat and the liberation of Iraq’s northern metropolis.
“The foundations of the old prayer hall are more extensive than those of the prayer hall built in the 1940s,” said Khaireddine Nasser, director of the Department of Antiquities and Heritage in Nineveh province.
Four rooms were also discovered under the prayer hall, used for the performance of ablutions, “interconnected and built of stone and plaster” with each room three metres high and 3.5 metres wide, some “six metres underground,” Nasser said.
The discovery allows for "better knowledge of the surface of Al-Nuri Mosque and this ancient prayer hall, but also the ablution basins,” Nasser explained. The discovery “amplifies the importance of this historical and archaeological site".
The excavation is being carried out with support from UNESCO and funding from the United Arab Emirates, and it is set to end in 2023.
The discovery has sparked the interest of historians as well as the local Christian community because the foundations might belong to ancient church, built long before the mosque.
This possibility rests on the discovery of a few columns that suggest a Christian place of worship and some coins dating back to the period when the city was governed by atabegs under Seljuk sovereignty.
For experts it could be the Church of the Forty Martyrs, which takes its name from Saints Behnam, Sarah and 40 other Christians killed for their faith in the 4th century, during the reign of Shapur (Shabuhr) II, Sasanian King of Kings (Shahanshah) of Iran.
The martyrs are particularly venerated by members of the Churches that follow the Syriac tradition.
* Also known as the Clock Church.