August 16, 2019

What Happened to the Letter of Christ to King Abgar of Edessa?

George Maniakes sends the letter of Christ to Emperor Romanos Argyros.

In 1032 Emperor Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034) received Christ's famous letter to King Abgar of Edessa from George Maniakes after he captured Edessa. It had been previously kept in Edessa for many centuries as its most precious relic that wondrously kept the city from harm and invasions, with eye-witness testimonies of its presence there as early as the fourth century. In Constantinople it was placed in the imperial palace, until it was stolen on September 12, 1185.

The reign of Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos was characterized by his harsh measures, which included massacring all the Latin inhabitants of the city, allowing the Roman Empire to descend into a terror state. In September 1185, he ordered the execution of all prisoners, exiles, and their families for collusion with the Norman invaders. The aristocrats in turn were infuriated against him, and there were several revolts. He resolved therefore to exterminate the aristocracy, and his plans were nearly successful. While absent from Constantinople, Isaac Angelos was proclaimed his successor, and Andronikos himself was deposed.

When Andronikos arrived in the city, Angelos handed him over to the city mob and for three days he was exposed to their fury and resentment, remaining for that period tied to a post and beaten. His right hand was cut off, his teeth and hair were pulled out, one of his eyes was gouged out, and, among many other sufferings, boiling water was thrown in his face, punishment probably associated with his handsomeness and life of licentiousness. At last he was led to the Hippodrome of Constantinople and hung by his feet between two pillars. Two Latin soldiers competed as to whose sword would penetrate his body more deeply, and he was, according to the representation of his death, torn apart. He died on September 12, 1185.

The mob then entered the imperial palace to pillage it. Niketas Choniates writes: "Looting reached even the temples, situated in the royal palace, and there the decorations from the holy icons were ripped off, and even a holy tabernacle in which, according to word of mouth reaching us today, the letter from God handwritten by Him to Abgar, was also stolen."

Whether or not this was an authentic letter of Christ can be debated, but this is how it came to be lost to us, pillaged by an angry mob.