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Qenneshre, monastery of

The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity
Jack TannousJack Tannous

Qenneshre, monastery of 

Located on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, facing Europus (mod. Jirbās/Jarablus, near the Turkish–Syrian border), Qenneshre was the most important intellectual centre of the Syriac Orthodox (Miaphysite) Church from the 6th to the early 9th century.

Around 530, fleeing imperial persecution of Miaphysites, John Bar Aphtonia led a group of monks from the Monastery of S. Thomas near Seleucia Pieria eastward towards the Euphrates to found Qenneshre, which means ‘Eagles’ Nest’ in Syriac. It seems that Qenneshre, like the Monastery of S. Thomas its founders came from, was dedicated to S. Thomas. John bar Aphthonia himself was bilingual in Greek and Syriac, and wrote in both languages. From the beginning, Qenneshre seems to have been associated with knowledge of Greek and bilingual education in the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Qenneshre soon began to produce bishops; from Julian I (sed. 591–c.596) to Dionysius of Tel Mahre (sed. 818–45), six Miaphysite Patriarchs of Antioch had their origins there. The Vita of Theodota of Amida (d. 698) suggests that for at least part of the 7th century, Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch resided in Qenneshre.

Most of the major intellectual figures of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 7th and 8th centuries were trained at Qenneshre, including Thomas of Harkel, Paul of Edessa, Athanasius of Balad, Jacob of Edessa, and also possibly Severus Sebokht and George, Bishop of the Arab Tribes. These men were bilingual in Greek and Syriac and were responsible for the translation and retranslation of a number of biblical, patristic, and secular texts (notably Aristotle) from Greek into Syriac. It can be argued, in fact, that behind the translation and retranslation of these texts lay a Miaphysite curriculum of study which had its origins at Qenneshre.

In this early medieval period, Qenneshre lay at the centre of a network of Miaphysite monasteries—including Tell ʿAdā and Mar Zakai, among others—which formed the intellectual backbone and leadership of the Syriac Orthodox Church. In its heyday, Qenneshre was the most important centre of Graeco–Syriac translation in the entire Near East. It remains an open question for scholarship whether there was a specific translation technique associated with and taught by and in the monastery.

Qenneshre was sacked and burned down by Arab Muslim marauders c.811 in the chaos that followed the death of Harūn al-Rashīd in 809. It was rebuilt in 820; bishops would come from Qenneshre as late as the 10th century, and Arabic Muslim sources suggest that it was a destination for visitors into the early 10th century. Archaeological work at the site suggests that the site of Qenneshre was inhabited until the first half of the 13th century. Nevertheless, after its destruction in the early 9th century, the monastery never returned to its previous prominence and importance.

The monastery of Qenneshre should not be confused with the Syrian city Qinnasrin (Chalcis).

Jack Tannous


GEDSH s.v. Qenneshre, Monastery of, 345–6 (Tannous).Find this resource:

A. Barsoum, ‘Sīrat al-qiddis Yūḥannā ibn Aftūnīyā’, PatMagDam 4/9 (1937), 265–78.Find this resource:

Excavations: Y. al-Dabte, ‘Iktishāf Dayr Qinnisrīn (Monastery of Qinnisre)’, Mahd al-Ḥaḍarāt 2 (April 2007), 83–99.Find this resource:

J. Tannous, Syria between Byzantium and Islam: Making Incommensurables Speak (Ph.D. diss, Princeton, 2010).Find this resource:

J. Tannous ‘You Are What You Read: Qenneshre and the Miaphysite Church in the Seventh Century’, in Wood, ed., History and Identity, 83–102.Find this resource: