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The First Chapter

     

Building and demolition of the structure

Since establishing the Assyro-Chaldian Catholic patriarchy in Urmia and during the patriarchy of Mar Shimun 12th 1556-1662, faithful Assyrian Chaldian would  worship together at the old St Mary Church, the only church in the city of Urmia at that time.

After Mar Shimun 12th death, Mar Shimun 13th   separated from Eastern Assyro Chaldian (Catholic) church and returned to the old Eastern Church and moved his Patriarch seat to Ghochanos in the mountain of Hakkary. These changes in leadership and the increased number of parishioners in a small church belonging to Lazarian missionaries whom had arrived in Urmia 1841, urged the faithful parishioners to follow through their plans of building a new church.

This was the beginning of the history for the “St Mary the Mother of God” parish.

According to Fars Lazarian missionaries, chapter 3 Page. 429, written by Fr. Chautalier, the following is a brief history of the beginning of construction of the Catholic Church of Urmia. Highly ambitioned His Excellency Bishop Augustine Clozel, special ambassador of His Holiness Pope, started the prime construction of the Catholic Church of Urmia on (September 8th 1874- August 12th 1882).

 Noteworthy, prior to this construction, His Excellency Bishop Augustine had built and renovated many churches in villages all over Urmia, such as:

 - Church of St Mary of Mavana

- Church of Angel Gabriel of Urdoshahi

- Church of St Mary of Gogtapa

- Church of St Mary Spoorghan

- Church of St Mary of Amrud Aghaj

- Church of St Mary of Shams Hajian

- Church of St Ephrim of Zomallan

 After completion of the church, His Excellency’s next ambitious plan was to build grand Cathedral of Urmi. His objective was to build a structure as beautiful as grand Cathedral of St Givargis (St Georg) of Salamas known as pearl of Salamas Valley that was mesmerized by every visitor, even local Muslims

  

To pursue His plan, he purchased surrounding Lazarist monastery real-estate such as Borzu Khan, Sardar Badal, Pira and Agha Bait Bedu.

The planner and architect was Fr Lene in which later was designated ambassador in Iran by His Holiness Pope on June 1892-1910.

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The structure of the Cathedral began by the ground braking ceremony which started at 5:30 PM on May 1881 by His Excellency Bishop Augustine Clozel.

Fr Lene estimated the cost of the building to be 30 to 40 thousand France Franc.

Mr. Khaje Grogore and Ms. Rakhel donated 1000 Iran Rial each for this purpose. Among the other donors, a gesture of a local Muslim donation is also documented for 500 Iran Rial by the name of General Khan Babakhan.

His Excellency's highly regarded characteristic had great effect on the progression of the structure.

For the record, I would like to mention a few of his distinct characteristics.  

Due to His highly regarded manor, love, wisdom and mutual respect toward others, he was loved and greatly respected even among Muslim citizens.

To elaborate on His love, dedication, sacrifices and wisdom, the following is one of the well documented events that describes his service.

The city of Urmia was surrendered by Kurdish rebels at the end of the 70s in the nineteenth century for a major attack. His Excellency with his skillful negotiations with the rebels resulted in prevention of a major bloodshed without incident for the citizens.

For his act of courage, gratitude, and appreciation he received a golden ring from The Iran Emperor at that time Naser O- Deen Shah, letter of appreciation from the Foreign Ministry of Iran and head of the Defense Ministry of Iran in a ceremony held by the Governor of Urmia.

Due to His popularity and great respect among all tribes and sects, even Protestant missionaries in which had influential role in the society, and all the levels of Iranian Governments in Teheran and Tabriz, including local Muslims clerics; there was neither resistance nor any disputes to hinder the progression of construction. The progress had lifted Christians Catholics spirit in such a difficult era.

The Cathedral’s dimensions were 27 meter long and 14 meter wide. It was built according to a design which specified three naves, which were separated by beautiful columns. This Cathedral had five alters, the main alter called "St Mary the Mother of God" and the four others were called "St Joseph", "St Vincent de Paul", "Jesus' Sufferings" and "Sacred Heart". The ceilings of the main alter consisted of a beautiful large dome and smaller ones for the other four alters. Under the main alter was a designated burial space for bishops, priests and nuns. On the main tower a large clock and a loud bell were installed that could be seen and heard all over the city, even by the suburban villages.

Noticeably, all the building’s material used to build this cathedral was bricks.

The final stages of construction were near the end and the Cathedral' consecration was scheduled on St Mary' Assumption Day. At this time, the sudden illness of His Excellency caused great concerns among the faithful. His condition was worsening day by day. In spite off His poor health condition, he would anxiously continue to follow up on the progression of the construction. Right before His death, He asked if the burial place under the main alters was completed? Fr Lene replied yes, he warmly smiled and revealed his wish to be buried at that place.

His Excellency Bishop Augustine Clozel passed away on August 12th 1885 and was buried under the main alter.

Fr Lene completed the construction of the Cathedral shortly after.

The bloody civil war, which was in 1918 forced Christians to leave Urmia, many were hidden at the homes of their Muslim friends and neighbors and about 3000 Christians took refuge at St Mary Catholic Church of Urmia. Unfortunately, barbaric acts of rebels resulted in the massacre of women, children, young and old in the Church, including His Holiness Pope' representative Sontag on 31st of July,1918.

Archbishop Mar Thoma Oudu and Sontag were martyred among other faithful parishioners on the 29th of August 1918 at the grand Cathedral in Urmia.

Over time, the structure crumbled on the 3000 Christian martyrs and became a burial place for them.

This was the first chapter with a sad ending in the history of St Mary' Church of Urmia.

  Initial efforts of rebuilding its structure

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Mar Thoma Oudu   

  Bishop Augustine Clozel
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