Is Edessa first ruling Christian Monarch in the World?
Long before Christ’s sent letters to King Abgar- Edessa was already placed among the sacred cities: The story of Abraham had been told…Alexander the great had proclaimed his glory in 332 BC.Moses had lived in here for seven years working as a shepherd before returning to Egypt…
Today, known as the city of “the Glorious”, Urfa is scattered countless time throughout the verses of the Old Testament. What a complexity between old and new- spiritual and mystical…City of “living faith”, Edessa still echoes the past, carrying hundreds of years questions and mysteries along.
Catholic Church says (Church History 1.12), that the Historian Eusebius –“he firmly believes”- records a tradition concerning letters that took place between Jesus and the kind Abgar of Edessa. Long before Christianity arrive Edessa, this legend had already taken its place on the shelf of mystery.
A female Christian pilgrim named Egeria also mentions the letters: She had visited biblical sites in Judea, Egypt and the Levant in the 380’s, ending up in Edessa to see the tomb of the Apostle Thomas.Guided through the area by a local bishop, Egeria was showed the preserved letters, and also the bust of Algar:
“Egeria was intrigued to find that the copy of Jesus’ letter to Abgar that she read in Edessa was longer than the copy she had at home (presumably from Eusebius’ work) An anonymously authored Syriac document from around 400 AD called the “Doctrine of Addai” contains the longer Syriac version, which adds to the end the promise that “thy city shall be blessed, and no enemy shall again become master of it forever.” Also in this revealing text, there is a mention of the “Holy image” described as a work of Hannan (Ananias) who “took and painted a portrait of Jesus in choice paints, and brought it with him to his lord King Abgar”
The legend follows these stories-three works (how correct to mention history at this stage?) of Eusebius and take us to Abgar, king of Edessa who afflicted with an incurable sickness. Having heard from travelers about this man called Jesus, he decided to write him praying him to come and heal him. Jesus promises to send a messenger, “endowed” with his power: Thaddeus, one the seventy-two disciples made his way to Edessa: “He then laid hands upon Abgar and the king was miraculously cured of his illness.”
Eusebius claims that he personally examined both Abgar’s letter and Jesus’ response which were preserved in the Record Office in Edessa and translated them from Syriac to Greek publishing both of them in full in his history.
“Abgar’s letter reads: Abgar Uchama the Toparch to Jesus, who has appeared as a gracious savior in the region of Jerusalem – greeting. I have heard about you and the cures which you perform without drugs or herbs. If report is true, you make the blind see again and the lame walk about; you cleanse lepers, expel unclean spirits and demons, cure those suffering from chronic and painful diseases, and raise the dead. When I heard all of this about you, I concluded that one of two things must be true – either you are God and came down from heaven to do these things, or you are God’s son doing them. Accordingly I am writing to you to come to me, whatever the inconvenience, and cure the disorder from which I suffer. I may add that I understand the Jews are treating you with contempt and desire to injure you; my city is very small, but highly esteemed, adequate for both of us.”
Jesus politely declines the offer but promises to send a disciple on behalf:
“Happy are you who believed me without having seen me! For it is written of me that those who have seen me will not believe in me, and that those who have not seen me will believe and live. As to your request that I should come to you, I must complete all that I was sent to do here, and on completing it must at once be taken up to the one who sent me. When I have been taken up I will send you one of my disciples to cure your disorder and bring life to you and those with you.”
True or not, or let’s call it legend, the earliest mention of the Abgar/Jesus correspondence is reported by Bishop Eusebius. However, this records lack any mention of the “holy image”. Like the letter itself, the portrait of Jesus was also part of a legendary growth: “The Holy Face of Edessa was chiefly famous in the Byzantine world. A bare indication, however, of this fact must suffice here, since the legend of the Edessa portrait forms part of the extremely difficult and obscure subject of the iconography of Christ and of the pictures of miraculous origin called acheiropoietoe (“made without hands”)
Story is interesting to a certain degree. But can we call all these third hand history information is actually true?
If there is no doubt that an image of Jesus that originated from Edessa existed, can we talk about a possibility that the image really did date from the time of Jesus and was hidden and rediscovered?
It was truly long believed to have been formed miraculously; and came to be called the Mandylion or image of Edessa: History tells us that it was brought to Constantinople in 944 and put on display there. After the sack of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade in 1204, the image was presumably brought to Western Europe and “ it is not known what happened to it since then.”
Exercising history is really challenging. But to a certain degree, the thin line between biblical sources and the fiction feeds our curiosity. Whether the letters were authentic and/or there was a miraculous image that had been turned after a relic and centered right in the growing legends, history takes us back to Edessa, where possibly Thaddeus preached Christianity to King Abgar and he possible converted to Christianity as early as 33 AD and later, he is reported to have converted to Christianity, becoming first ruling monarch in the world (!)
• Leclercq, H. (1907). The Legend of Abgar. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
• Tacitus, Annals, Lacus Curtius, trans. by J. Jackson. 1925-1937
• Mark Guscin, The Image of Edessa (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 185-187;
• Daniel C. Scavone, “Acheiropoietos Jesus Images in Constantinople: The Documentary Evidence,” 2006,