Tartus, Syria (Anciently, Antaradus)

In ancient times Syria was full of Marian devotion, and of course most Catholics and other Christians in Syria still do love her. St. Ephrem was from Syria, and his poems are still used in the Syriac-using rites. In medieval times, many places in Europe had a devotion to Our Lady of Syria on behalf of the Crusaders and pilgrims to the East.

Antaradus appears prominently in Book 7 of the Pseudo-Clement novel called Recognitiones. It pretends to be the autobiography of Pope Clement I, presenting him as a relative of the emperor who was searching for something to fill his emptiness, thanks to the tragic loss of his mom, brothers, and dad. He ends up traveling around with Barnabas, then Paul, then Peter. Peter ends up going to Antaradus. There, Clement finds out that his mother, who left Rome with the twin elder boys and half the household after being warned in a dream, is surviving by begging in Aradus (now called Arwad, the island across from Antaradus/Tartus) after a tragic shipwreck. Clement brings his mom Mattidia with him and his Christian buddies to a meetup elsewhere, and it turns out that his other buddies who were raised by the Syro-Phoenician woman healed by Christ, are his twin brothers, who washed up elsewhere from the shipwreck. Mattidia gets baptized. Peter gets interrupted at his prayers next day by a heckling old man who insists that prayer to any god is useless, because astrology and fate rule all things. Of course it’s his dad, Faustus! Faustus doesn’t convert until after a lot of lectures and arguments. At this point Simon Magus makes himself annoying and Cornelius the centurion gets him to leave. In revenge, Simon Magus makes Faustus’ face look just like Simon’s own, hoping that the people will lynch Faustus. So Peter sends Faustus to Antioch to go pretend to be Simon Magus in other towns and tell people what was wrong with Simon Magus’ doctrines. Faustus overdoes it and almost gets himself lynched in Antioch instead, but Peter arrives just in time to restore his real face. And they all lived happily ever after, except Simon Magus. (Roman and Greek novels love losing and finding people. Also twins. And mistaken identity.) The best guess is that this was by an Arian guy living in the Mideast around the year 350.

Anyway, the novel notes that Aradus is known for having a pagan temple with giant columns (either of vine-wood or glass), and statues or paintings in it by the famous ancient Greek sculptor Pheidias. In the novel, the Christians do the tourist thing at this pagan temple, which is certainly not the way the really early Christians usually rolled!

There was a famous Crusader cathedral called Our Lady of Tortosa (aka Our Lady of Syria or Our Lady of the East) in Tartus, Syria (ancient Antaradus, Byzantine Constantia, medieval Tortosa). It was built on the site of a Byzantine pilgrimage church called the Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary. Both that and the Crusader church were built around the remnants of an earlier chapel said certainly to be the first Syrian church dedicated to Mary, and legendarily to have been dedicated by St. Peter soon after Mary’s Dormition and Assumption. The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary was already around in Emperor Constantine’s time, and he apparently gave it honor. History records that there was an earthquake in AD 487 that destroyed most of the chapel but left its altar intact. Both the Byzantine basilica and the Crusader church also housed an icon portrait of Mary attributed to St. Luke.

Tortosa was the last place in Syria held by the Crusaders before they were driven out. Our Lady of Tortosa survives today as only a museum, sadly, but that’s better than when it was being used as a mosque. (The Orthodox also have a major Marian pilgrimage site, Saidnaya, a monastery church which is said to have a wonderworking icon portrait of Mary painted by St. Luke. Not the same one. There are a fair number of icons painted by St. Luke.)

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