Israeli Airstrike Damages Historic Church in Gaza
An Israeli airstrike targeting a building adjacent to Gaza’s historic Church of Saint Porphyrius, owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, has caused extensive damage to the church. According to the Patriarchate, the bombed building had ties to the church and collapsed in the explosion following the strike.
In the wake of the recent hostilities in the region, approximately 500 people had sought refuge within the church compound. Tragically, many were injured, and at least 16 lives were lost in the late-night airstrike on October 19.
The Legacy of Saint Porphyrius
- The Church of Saint Porphyrius, situated in the Zaytun Quarter of Gaza’s Old City, holds historical significance.
- Originally consecrated around 425 CE, it houses the tomb of Saint Porphyrius, for whom it is named.
Saint Porphyrius: Christianizing Gaza
- Saint Porphyrius, born in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 347 CE, served as the bishop of Gaza from 395 CE until his passing in 420 CE.
- His life and contributions are chronicled in the hagiography titled “Vita Porphyrii,” authored by Mark the Deacon.
- According to the account, Saint Porphyrius played a pivotal role in Christianizing the once-pagan city of Gaza and oversaw the dismantling of its pagan temples.
- In the late 4th century, Gaza was known for its hostility towards Christians, which necessitated the construction of Christian churches outside the city walls.
- Saint Porphyrius secured approval from the Roman Emperor Arcadius in 402 CE for the demolition of pagan temples, leading to the destruction of eight temples, with the stones repurposed for street paving. With imperial support, Porphyrius successfully Christianized Gaza.
Transformations Over Centuries
- The Church of Saint Porphyrius has undergone various transformations over the centuries.
- Less than five years after Saint Porphyrius’s death, the earliest version of the church was constructed at his burial site.
- Following the Islamic conquest of the Levant in the first half of the 7th century CE, the church was converted into a mosque, where it remained for 500 years.
- In the 12th century, during the Crusader era, the church was reclaimed and rebuilt.
- Subsequently, in 1856, it underwent significant renovations.
- Architecturally, the church bears resemblance to the Great Mosque of Gaza, which was originally the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
A Sanctuary for Diverse Faiths
- While the Church of Saint Porphyrius is of paramount importance to the Christian population in Gaza, which numbers around 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox Christians, it has also served as a sanctuary for Muslims.
- During periods of conflict, both Christian and Muslim families have sought refuge within its walls.
- During the Israeli Defense Forces’ bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip in July 2014, daily prayers were held in the courtyard of the ancient church during the holy month of Ramadan.
- Unfortunately, even then, the site was not spared from the impact of the conflict, with Israeli tank shells causing damage to water tanks and a neighboring house owned by the church.
Category: International / World Current Affairs