Shemon VII Ishoyahb

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The country of the Church of the East: detail from a map of 1721

Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb (Syriac: ܫܡܥܘܢ ܫܒܝܥܝܐ ܝܫܘܥܝܗܒ‎) was Patriarch of the Church of the East from 1539 to 1558. His reign was widely unpopular, and discontent with his leadership led to the schism of 1552, in which his opponents rebelled and appointed the monk Shimun Yohannan Sulaqa as a rival patriarch. Sulaqa's subsequent consecration by Pope Julius III saw a permanent split in the Church of the East and the birth of the Chaldean Catholic Church. His body is buried in the monastery of Rabban Hormizd near Alqosh.

Guardian of the throne and metropolitan of Mosul[edit]

Shemʿon Ishoʿyahb was the younger brother of the patriarch Shemʿon VI (1504–38). Throughout his brother's reign Shemʿon was his designated successor or natar kursya ('guardian of the throne'). He is first mentioned as natar kursya in a manuscript colophon of 1504, at the very beginning of his brother's reign. In October 1538, two months after the death of Shemʿon VI on 5 August 1538, he is mentioned as metropolitan of Mosul. It is not clear whether he became metropolitan of Mosul before or after his brother's death.[1]


Shemʿon Ishoʿyahb succeeded his brother as patriarch either at the end of 1538 or, more probably, early in 1539. He is first mentioned as patriarch in a manuscript colophon of 1539. He took the name Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb. At this period the patriarchal succession in the Church of the East was hereditary, normally from uncle to nephew or from brother to brother. This practice, which had been introduced in the middle of the fifteenth century by the patriarch Shemʿon IV Basidi (died 1497), eventually resulted in a shortage of eligible heirs and in 1552 provoked a schism in the Church. Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb caused great offence at the beginning of his reign by designating his twelve-year-old nephew Hnanishoʿ as his successor, presumably because no older relatives were available. Several years later, probably because Hnanishoʿ had died in the interim, he transferred the succession to his fifteen-year-old brother Eliya, the future patriarch Eliya VI (1558–91). His opponents further accused him of crimes such as selling ecclesiastical positions, allowing the practice of concubinage, and general intemperance.[2]

Schism of 1552[edit]

Main article: Schism of 1552

In 1552 a section of the Church of the East, angered by Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb's misbehaviour, revolted against his authority. The prime movers in the rebellion were unnamed bishops of Erbil, Salmas and Adarbaigan, and they were supported by 'many' priests and monks from Baghdad, Kirkuk, Gazarta, Nisibis, Mardin, Amid, Hesna d'Kifa and Seert. These were urban centres where there was little respect for the principle of hereditary succession to the patriarchate.[3]

The rebels elected Yohannan Sulaqa, the superior of the monastery of Rabban Hormizd near Alqosh, in opposition to Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb, but were unable to consecrate him as no bishop of metropolitan rank was available, as canonically required. Franciscan missionaries were already at work among the Nestorians, and they persuaded Sulaqa's supporters to legitimize their position by seeking Sulaqa's consecration by Pope Julius III (1550–5). Sulaqa went to Rome, where he made a satisfactory Catholic profession of faith and presented a letter, drafted by his supporters in Mosul, which set out his claims to be recognized as patriarch. This letter, which has survived in the Vatican archives, grossly distorted the truth. The rebels claimed that the Nestorian patriarch Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb had died in 1551 and had been succeeded illegitimately by 'Shemʿon VIII Denha' (1551–8), a non-existent patriarch invented purely for the purpose of bolstering the legitimacy of Sulaqa's election. The Vatican was taken in by this fraud, and recognised Sulaqa as the founding patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in April 1553, thereby creating a permanent schism in the Church of the East.[4]

The Vatican only discovered that Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb was still alive two years later. On 12 January 1555, shortly after Shimun VIII Yohannan Sulaqa's murder, the Franciscan friar Ambrose Buttigeg wrote to Julius III with the news that 'Shemʿon Bar Mama' was still alive:

Your holiness will be shocked to learn that, contrary to what your holiness, the most reverend cardinals, and the rest of you were told, the old patriarch never died at all, and has recently murdered the said Simon Sulaqa.[5]

Sulaqa was consecrated 'patriarch of Mosul' in Rome in April 1553 and returned to Mesopotamia towards the end of the same year. In December 1553 he obtained documents from the Turkish authorities recognising him as an independent 'Chaldean' patriarch, and in 1554, during a stay of five months in Amid, consecrated five metropolitan bishops (for the dioceses of Gazarta, Hesna d'Kifa, Amid, Mardin and Seert). Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb responded by consecrating two more underage members of the patriarchal family as metropolitans for Nisibis and Gazarta. He also won over the governor of ʿAmadiya, who invited Sulaqa to ʿAmadiya, imprisoned him for four months, and put him to death in January 1555.[6]

Shemon's death and succession[edit]

Shemʿon VII Ishoʿyahb died on Wednesday, 1 November 1558, and was succeeded as patriarch by his nephew and natar kursya (designated successor) Eliya VI (1558–91). His body was buried in the monastery of Rabban Hormizd near Alqosh, where his tomb can still be seen, alongside those of several other patriarchs of the Shemʿon line. His epitaph, published by Vosté in 1930, contains a conventional Nestorian profession of faith.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilmshurst, EOCE, 193–4
  2. ^ Wilmshurst, EOCE, 21–2
  3. ^ Wilmshurst, EOCE, 348–9
  4. ^ Wilmshurst, EOCE, 21–2
  5. ^ Beltrami, 149
  6. ^ Wilmshurst, EOCE, 22


  • Assemani, J. A., De Catholicis seu Patriarchis Chaldaeorum et Nestorianorum (Rome, 1775)
  • Beltrami, 'La Chiesa Caldea nel secolo dell'Unione', Oriens Christianus, 29 (1933)
  • Habbi, J., 'Signification de l'union chaldéenne de Mar Sulaqa avec Rome en 1553', L'Orient Syrien 11 (1966), 99-132 and 199-230
  • Vosté, J. M., 'Les inscriptions de Rabban Hormizd et de N.D. des Semences', Le Muséon, 43 (1930), 263–316
  • Vosté, J. M., 'Mar Iohannan Soulaqa: premier patriarche des chaldéens, martyr de l’union avec Rome', Angelicum, 8 (1931), 187–234
  • Wilmshurst, D. J., The Ecclesiastical Organisation of the Church of the East, 1318–1913 (Louvain, 2000)

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Shemʿon VI
Catholicos-Patriarch of the East
Succeeded by
Eliya VII