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Saint Zay'ā the Blessed
Blessed and Handsome
Born Thursday of Christ’s Ascension, 26 May (Old Style) 309 AD
Died Wednesday, 7 January (Old Style) 431 AD
Mātā d-‘Umrā d-Mār Zay'ā, Jilu (present-day Çevrecik, Hakkâri province, Turkey)
Venerated in Assyrian Church of the East, Ancient Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church
Major shrine Sts. Zay'ā and Tāwor Cathedral, Mātā d-‘Umrā d-Mār Zay'ā, Jilu
Feast September 13
Patronage Jilu, travellers; protects against hail, famine, plague, anger, illness, disease and the Angel of Death.

Saint Zay'ā (Syriac: ܡܪܝ ܙܝܐ‎), was a travelling mystic, holy man and healer who made his way from Palestine to the mountains of northern Mesopotamia and Assyria spreading Christianity with his disciple St. Tāwor. The Church of the East honours both St. Zay'ā and St. Tāwor for their missionary efforts in northern Iraq and the region of Upper Dāsen (modern Hakkâri province, Turkey) during the late 4th and early 5th centuries. He is also the patron saint of travellers and the Jilu district, where he is buried, and is invoked for protection from hail, famine, plague, anger, illness, disease and the Angel of Death. St. Zay'ā is often depicted in miniatures from manuscripts of the Book of Protection as an equestrian saint, spear in hand, and attacking the Angel of Death.

Tradition and legend[edit]

Early life[edit]

Tradition holds that St. Zay'ā preached the Gospel in Jerusalem and the districts of Mosul, Aqrah, Amadiya, Tkhuma, Baz, and Jilu. He is also said to have visited Baghdad. The legend reports that St. Zay'ā was born into a Christian family in Palestine. In all probability he spoke both Greek and Aramaic, like almost all of his contemporaries in that area, especially Aramaic, considering he preached to Aramaic-speaking Assyrians in northern Iraq. According to the legend, St. Zay'ā was a son of Simon (Shimun) the merchant and his wife Helena. His two older brothers were knights in the Byzantine army.

It is written that his birth was announced to his father by the Angel Gabriel in a dream, as was his name Zay'ā, which derives from the verb to shudder in fear – because not only did the earth shake at the time of his birth, but he is also said to make demons, and the evil and ruthless shudder in fear. According to the legend Simon was 120 and Helena was 93 years of age at the time of the Saint’s birth. At age three Zayya was taken by his father to a teacher named Jonathan who taught him to read and recite the Holy Scriptures. After two years of study, he decided he had learnt enough and began to study the scriptures on his own at home.

Sojourn in Jerusalem, Discipleship of Tāwor[edit]

At age six St. Zay'ā decided to go to Jerusalem with a man named Shamlī, who also happened to be going there at the time. The Saint requested to accompany him as his pupil. In Jerusalem St. Zay'ā was ordained as a priest by the local bishop and after three days he was taken into the wilderness by an angel, where he was nourished for 12 years by a mountain goat which the angel provided him. The legend recounts that Tāwor, son of King Pāras, was hunting in the wilderness and as he drew his bow and arrow to shoot at the mountain goat which had nourished St. Zay'ā, but he stopped him. Tāwor brought St. Zay'ā to his father in the city where they dwelt, and he converted them from the worship of the goddess Artemis to Christianity.

Tāwor then left his throne, wife and children, to become the Saint’s disciple, learning more about his new religion. According to the legend, in Tāwor’s absence, his enemies the Amalekites sacked and laid waste to his city and land and took his wife and children captive. In reaction to this he and St. Zay'ā went to retrieve them, and it is said that the angel of the lord slew 5,000 Amalekite warriors before Tāwor took his family and possessions and returned them to their home. Twenty days later Saints Zay'ā and Tāwor departed for Mosul.

Travels in Mesopotamia and Assyria[edit]

In Mosul St. Zay'ā is said to have resurrected 200 people from the dead, as well as performed other miracles, and converted many people to Christianity. From there the Saints travelled to the village of Shosh in the Aqrah District, where St. Zay'ā is said to have cleaved a dragon in two with his staff to stop the villagers from worshipping it and sacrificing their children to it. After that they settled for 40 years in the mountains of Gāhrā (Gurzān), where they are said to have healed 500 mute, blind and crippled people. From there they descended into the district of Sapnā (Amadiya), where they performed miracles and healed the sick at Murdnī (Bamarni), 'Aqdish and Komāné. At the latter place St. Zay'ā also halted a plague that had been killing its inhabitants and at Murdnī St. Zay'ā was reunited with Shamlī, now a local bishop, who he had accompanied to Jerusalem in his childhood.

According to the legend, the Saints then travelled north to Arbūsh, where they performed more miracles, and then to Baz where they desired to build a church. Since they found the inhabitants of Bāz unsuitable, they proceeded to the kingdom of Jīlām-Jīlū, which at that time was ruled by King Bālaq, son of King Zūraq. They went to the king to request land and construction workers to build their church, performing more miracles at his court and in the land. St. Zay'ā is also said to have fasted and prayed for three days to rid the district of the plague, turning the Angel of Death away from its inhabitants in order to bring them back to Christ.

According to the legend, the church Saints Zay'ā and Tāwor built required a team of four thousand workers for its construction, who carved and dragged twenty large blocks of stone to the building site each day. It is said that thirty oxen and fifty lambs were slaughtered on a daily basis to feed them. The church was built in exactly five months and three days, from 1 May to 3 November 427 AD. The Saints used the church they built as a base for the consolidation of Christianity and the preaching of the Gospel in the Jilu District. It was also there that many miracles were performed and the sick were brought to them to be healed. It is said that St. Zay'ā healed 2,000 sick people and raised 203 from the dead in his lifetime.

Death and remains[edit]

According to the Saint’s Vita, two years and nine months after the construction of their church, Tāwor became ill for three days and died on 1 September 430 AD, aged 90 years. He was buried in the outer nave of the church. St. Zay'ā mourned his beloved friend and disciple for three months. He himself then died on Wednesday 7 January (Old Style) 431 AD after suffering an illness that lasted only one day. He was aged 121 years at the time of his passing and his burial took place in the inner nave of the church he and his disciple had built in the village that later took its name Mātā d-‘Umrā d-Mār Zay'ā (i.e. the village of the church of St. Zay'ā) in the Jilu District.

In the summer of 1915, during the Assyrian Genocide, the church was abandoned. The saint’s remains were never removed from their resting place there. The church still stands today, although it lies within an area that has unfortunately today become a battleground between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels of the PKK.

The acts of Saints Zay'ā and Tāwor are recorded in the Vita of St. Zay'ā the Blessed and of St. Tāwor his Disciple, which has been published in the Classical Syriac original (1890 and 1990), as well as translations in Arabic (1960), Assyrian Neo-Aramaic (1960 and 1990), English and Russian. The source of the original text was a manuscript kept in the saints’ church in Jilu.


According to the calendar of the Church of the East, the birth of St. Zay'ā is celebrated on May 26, and a three-day rogation (fast) precedes the commemoration of his death on the first Wednesday of January.

Traditionally, the Assyrians of Jilu celebrate the Feast (Syriac: Shahrā) of St. Zay'ā on September 13 every year on the Feast of the Cross. The reason given for this is that the Saint’s other festivals fell on dates when the weather was too cold for pilgrims to be able to travel to the main shrine for the celebration. Often, the Jilu District was snowed in for six months of the year. Holding the Saint’s Feast day on September 13, when the weather was more agreeable, not only meant that they could take advantage of the brighter light of moon at night, it also meant that those Jīlū men who planned on travelling before the first snows could pray for a safe and successful journey and make their vows to the Saint before departing.

Other feasts to the Saint are also celebrated by the Assyrians of Arbūsh (Tell-'Arbush) and Halmon (Tell-Jum'ah) in the Khabur district of Syria, as well as by Assyrians from the Amadiya district of Iraq, and some Assyrians from the Urmia region of Iran.

A prayer commonly attributed to St. Zay'ā is:

This prayer appears in a shorter form in the Saint's Vita, and also in different versions of the Book of Protection, from which amulets and talismans were copied.


  • Sts. Zay'ā and Tāwor Cathedral (Abandoned - Assyrian Church of the East), Mātā d-‘Umrā d-Mār Zay'ā, Jilu (present-day Çevrecik, Hakkari province, Turkey)
St Zaia Cathedral, in Sydney.
  • St. Zaia Cathedral (Assyrian Church of the East), Modesto, CA
  • St. Zaia Church (Assyrian Church of the East), London, ON
  • St. Ziah Church (Assyrian Church of the East - Chaldean Syrian Church), Palakkad (Palghat), Thrissur District, Kerala

External links[edit]

See also[edit]