May 17, 2017

Commemoration of the Capture of Jerusalem by the Persians in 614 A.D.

Mosaic of the Holy City of Jerusalem

On the 17th of May the Church of Jerusalem commemorated as a liturgical Synaxis in the Church of the Anastasis, or Holy Sepulchre, the terrible catastrophe which befell the Holy City of Jerusalem at the hands of the Persians in the year 614, namely its fall and burning. On this feast a special Service was chanted, of which Stichera and a Canon up until the 7th Ode have survived. Details concerning the capture of Jerusalem by the Persians was recorded in the eye-witness account of the monk named Eustratios, otherwise known as Antiochos Strategos, a monk of Saint Savvas Monastery who survived the massacre there that took place on May 16, 614 by having fled to Jerusalem. Though he wrote in Greek, only Arabic and Georgian translations survive.

The Persian attack of the king of the Persians Shah Khosrau II against Jerusalem began on April 15th. Enemies invaded the city, like wild beasts seeking prey. The walls were breached. Ballistae were used to bring down the walls. According to Antiochos, shortly after the Persian army entered Jerusalem, an "unprecedented looting and sacrilege" took place. In his words "church after church was burned down alongside the innumerable Christian artifacts, which were stolen or damaged by the ensuing arson." The Christians took refuge in places like caves, ditches and churches in order to save their lives. The conquerors did not show pity. No men, no women, no children, no babies, no young people, no elders, no monks, no clergy, were respected. Antiochos Strategos further claimed that captive Christians were gathered near Mamilla reservoir and 20,000 Jews offered to help them escape death if they "become Jews and deny Christ." The Christian captives refused, and the Jews in anger purchased the Christians from the Persians and massacred them on the spot. Antiochos wrote:

"Then the Jews... as of old they bought the Lord from the Jews with silver, so they purchased Christians out of the reservoir; for they gave the Persians silver, and they bought a Christian and slew him like a lamb."

Some versions of Antiochos’ manuscripts record a total Christian death toll as high as 66,509. Other copies report approximately half this number. The greatest number were found at Mamilla with 24,518 corpses; many more than were found anywhere else in the city. Other copies of Strategos's manuscripts report fewer corpses were found at Mamilla, 4,518 or 4,618 corpses.

Then the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Holy Cross were transferred to Persia. But with Khosrau's departure, it seems that the Persian yoke did not continue to be cruel, because Bishop Modestos, who temporarily replaced the Patriarch, managed to build even unnecessarily the Church of the Anastasis and other churches.

Read the account of the Capture of Jerusalem written by Antiochos Strategos here.