+ αὐλὶ τῆς ἁγίας Μαρία[ς].
Σώπατρε· ἔτος βψʹ η[..]
'+ Hall (aula) of the Holy Mary. (Built by?) Sopatros. In the year 702 [- - -].'
Text: IGLS 4, no. 1825.
Saint NameMary, Mother of Christ : S00033
Saint Name in SourceΜαρία
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Archaeological and architectural - Cult buildings (churches, mausolea)
Evidence not before390
Evidence not after391
Activity not before390
Activity not after391
Place of Evidence - RegionSyria with Phoenicia
Syria with Phoenicia
Syria with Phoenicia
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcApamea on the Orontes
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Apamea on the Orontes
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - independent (church)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsBequests, donations, gifts and offerings
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesOther lay individuals/ people
SourceStone lintel, probably found in situ, over the entrance to a church reportedly dedicated to Mary in modern times. Broken and lost at the right-hand end. Preserved dimensions: H. 0.50 m; W. 1.60 m; letter height 0.08 m. Decorated with a carving of a cross within a circle, with the letters Α and Ω, and flanked by two peacocks.
First recorded by Jean Lassus in the 1930s and published by him with the aid of Enno Littman. Republished by René Mouterde in 1955, based on Lassus' edition.
DiscussionThe highlight of this text is certainly its early date for the explicit dedication of the sanctuary to Mary, as churches dedicated to saints were still infrequent in the 4th c. East. Ignacio Peña notes that this is also the earliest attested sanctuary of the cult of Mary in the Near East (for a somewhat earlier sanctuary of unnamed martyrs, see: E00714). Unfortunately, as there is no photograph of the lintel, we cannot verify the key letters of the inscription, and must trust the editor that the reading of the dating formula is correct. We must, however, bear in mind that in two other cases churches, dedicated to *Sergios (E01650) and *George (E00839), allegedly in the 4th c. appear to be in fact mid-6th c. structures, with the erroneous dating the result of misread dating formulas or wrongly identified local eras.
The date in our text, given in line 2, is almost certainly computed according to the Seleucid era (year 702), which corresponds to AD 390/391. In favour of an early date is the fact that Mary is named here ἡ ἁγία Μαρία/'the Holy Mary', and not Θεοτόκος/'the God-Bearer', an epithet which spread rapidly after the council of Ephesos 431.
The sanctuary is named αὐλή/'aula', which resembles the phrasing of early 4th c. inscriptions from Rome, naming Christian sanctuaries (see: Trout 2015, 263, note 13).
The name of the founder, Sopatros, is probably given in line 2 in the vocative form (instead of nominative), probably under the influence of the Syriac language (as noted by Littmann).
Jalabert, L., Mouterde, R., Mondésert, Cl., Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 4: Laodicée, Apamène (BAH 61, Paris: Librairie orientalise Paul Geuthner, 1955), no. 1825.
Lassus, J., Inventaire archéologique de la région au nord-est de Hama (Documents d'Études Orientales 4, Damascus: Institut français de Damas, [1935-1936?]), vol. 1: Text, 163, no. 93, fig. 166.
Lassus, J., "Syrie", DACL, col. 1936.
Peña, I., Lieux de pèlerinage en Syrie (Milan: Franciscan Printing Press, 2000), 11.
For the term 'aula', see:
Trout, D.E., "Vergil and Ovid at the tomb of Agnes: Constantina, epigraphy, and the genesis of Christian poetry", [in:] J. Bodel, N. Dimitrova (eds.), Ancient documents and their contexts: First North American Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy (Brill studies in Greek and Roman epigraphy 5, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2015), 268, note 13.