Chapel of Saint Paul
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Chapel of Saint Paul
The Chapel of Saint Paul (Arabic: كنيسة القديس بولس) is a modern stone chapel in Damascus that incorporates materials from the Bab Kisan, the ancient city gate through which Paul was lowered out of a window in Acts 9:25.
It seems reasonable that the Bab Kisan was the gate through which Paul escaped. This southeastern district of the city was not only very close to the start of the Roman road that St. Paul would have taken, but was also the part where, from the earliest times, the Christians used to live. Early Christian tradition identified a window beside the Kisan Gate, as the window from which St. Paul was lowered.
The present name of the gate honors a slave who became famous during the Muslim Conquest, after being liberated by the Caliph Muawiyah I. The gate has been sealed and then reopened and restored several times. The blocks at the base of the gate are Roman, while the style of the arch is clearly typical of the Mameluke period.
The Arabic historian, Ibn Asakir, says that the mosque situated in Darb el-Baia was formerly the church of the Jews, and was converted into a mosque called Ibn Shahrazouri. This, then, was one of the 15 churches in which the Caliph Omar allowed the Christians to gather and worship. A few years later, Ibn Kathir provides us with more information: the mosque restored by Sef ed-Din Boghaäis to be found inside the Bab Kisan and originally it was a church. It was seized in the year 1122 and converted into a mosque.
From the 13th century onwards, pilgrims and travellers have left many accounts in which the window of St. Paul's escape is located beside the Bab Kisan. However, none of these Christian accounts mentions the mosque. The first account we have is that of an anonymous Englishman (1244) who calls the gate Porta Santi Pauli. The Franciscan, Bonifacio di Ragusa, situates the Porta Santi Pauli in the place that the tradition identifies with the escape of the Apostle, that is to say near the Bab Kisan. After him, all the reports confirm the existence of a window beside the Bab Kisan, which was venerated as the place of St. Paul's escape.
The mosque of Bab Kisan mentioned by the Arabic writers was restored in 1387, and from that time onwards there is no further record of it. In 1885, old and ruined, it was purchased together with the surrounding area by the Melkite Patriarch Gregory Joseph. On this land a chapel was erected, whose walls incorporate traces of the ancient gate and a small section of the wall. It was inaugurated in 1939.
In The Bible
After his baptism on the Street Called Straight in Damascus, St. Paul began the tireless Christian preaching that would characterize the rest of his life, which led to a narrow escape from Damascus (Acts 9:20-25):
At once he began to preach in the [Damascus] synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
Paul himself later says that it was through a window that he escaped from certain death (2 Cor 11:32-33).
What to see
To visit the Chapel of St. Paul, go out the Eastern Gate (Bab Sharqi) from Straight Street and keep to the right. A 400-meter stretch of the ancient city wall stops at Bab Kisan, in front of the roundabout on the motorway to the airport.
The sober and austere design of the chapel blends in well with the antiquity of the walls. Two elegant and modern Chi-Rho monograms adorn the fortified towers that stand on either side of a fictitious window, similar in style to those of a medieval castle. It is not difficult to imagine the scene of the escape: how St. Paul, after being lowered from the wall, fled in haste down the road that leads to Jerusalem.