Aqra - The Chaldean Diocese of Aqra

The Chaldean Diocese of Aqra

As far as is known, neither the Mosul nor the Qudshanis patriarchate had a bishop for the ʿAqra region until the nineteenth century. The colophons of the surviving manuscripts from the ʿAqra region invariably mention the Mosul patriarchs of the Eliya line, and there is no evidence that the Qudshanis patriarchs took any interest in the region before the 1830s. Most of the villages in the ʿAqra region were still traditionalist at the beginning of the nineteenth century (though the Zibar villages of Arena and Barzane had Catholic communities before the end of the eighteenth century), and determined efforts by the Chaldean church to convert them to Catholicism in the 1830s shook their traditional loyalty, enabling the Qudshanis patriarchate to exercise some influence in the region for a short period.

The ʿAqra region had a number of Catholic communities by the end of the eighteenth century, which were included in the Chaldean diocese of ʿAmadiya. Two unsuccessful attempts were made by the patriarch Yohannan VIII Hormizd to give the region its own Chaldean bishop in the 1830s. In 1834, in an attempt to preserve the patriarchal succession in his own family, he sent his nephew Eliya Sefaro to Urmi, where he was consecrated bishop of ʿAqra by the Qudshanis patriarch Shemʿon XVII Abraham. Shortly afterwards Eliya made a Catholic profession of faith and 'was received into the bosom of the Chaldean church'. His consecration was not recognised by the Vatican, and he was suspended. In 1835 he was absolved and sent to Tel Isqof as a priest. The incident was notorious, and Badger's contemporary account is to be preferred to an alternative tradition preserved by Tfinkdji, who stated that Eliya was consecrated at Qudshanis in 1829, and that the patriarch’s motive was to harass his old enemy, the metropolitan of ʿAmadiya Joseph Audo.

Soon afterwards Yohnnan VIII Hormizd consecrated a metropolitan named Abraham for the ʿAqra region, who went over to the Qudshanis patriarch Shemʿon XVII Abraham in 1847. In 1850 he was residing in the monastery of Mar ʿAbdishoʿ near Nerem, and was in charge of a diocese of fifteen villages in the ʿAqra region. He is not mentioned again, and as ʿAqra was not included in the dioceses of the Qudshanis patriarchate in 1877 by Cutts, it seems likely that the region had by then returned to its traditional allegiance. In 1852 Eliya Sefaro was again consecrated for ʿAqra, by the patriarch Joseph VI Audo, and a stable Chaldean diocese in the region was finally established. According to a contemporary note in a manuscript from the ʿAqra region, Eliya Sefaro died in Herpa two years after his consecration, on 22 September 1854, and was buried in the village. This date is probably to be preferred to Tfkinkdji's statement (followed by Fiey) that he died in 1863.

Eliya Sefaro was succeeded by Yohannan Eliya Mellus, who was consecrated on 5 June 1864 by Joseph VI Audo. In 1874 Mellus was sent to India during the Malabar schism, and did not return to Kurdistan until 1882. He remained nominally bishop of ʿAqra during this period, but was under suspension until 1889, and for several years after his return lived in Mosul. In 1889 he made his submission to pope Leo XIII, and in 1890 was transferred to the diocese of Mardin by the patriarch Eliya XII ʿAbulyonan. He was succeeded as bishop of ʿAqra by Yaʿqob Yohannan Sahhar, patriarchal vicar of Basra since 1887, who was consecrated for ʿAqra on 25 March 1893.

At the synod of Alqosh in 1894 the newly-elected patriarch ʿAbdishoʿ V Khayyat asked to retain Eliya Joseph Khayyat, bishop-designate of ʿAmadiya, as his patriarchal vicar, and the dioceses of ʿAmadiya and ʿAqra were temporarily united under Yaʿqob Yohannan Sahhar, who was responsible for the united diocese from 23 April 1895 until his death in 1909.

In 1910 the two dioceses were again divided, and between 1910 and 1945 the diocese of ʿAqra was administered by a patriarchal vicar. In 1945 the future patriarch Paul Cheiko was appointed bishop of ʿAqra. In 1957 he was replaced by Andrew Sana, who died in 1977. In 1980 the diocese was placed under the care of ʿAbdalahad Rabban, apostolic administrator of Suleimaniya.

ʿAbdalahad Rabban died on 25 July 1999. The diocese of ʿAqra has remained vacant since his death, and the few remaining Chaldeans in the ʿAqra district are now under the care of an apostolic administrator, Father Youhanna Issa.

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