Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Old Church in Jeddah?



I’ve been down in the old part of Jeddah many times, but last week when my husband and I drove down there to go to the fish market, I discovered something new. We were driving along busy Hail Street, passing by a lonely lot, overgrown with weeds and surrounded by office buildings.
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The only structure on the lot was a sad little crumbling building in ruin, amidst the weeds, trash, and broken bottles. Adnan pointed it out to me and said that it was the remains of an old Anglican church. I had read about this church before but had never seen it or noticed it before.
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It stands in the Baghdadiyah District of Jeddah not far from Al-Balad, near Hail and Hamzah Shahatah Streets. Just south of the abandoned unkempt lot where the church is situated is a body of water called Arba’een Lake, where the Jaffali Mosque is located.
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The history of this building is murky, but it is believed to be less than 100 years old, built when Britain supported the Sharif of Mecca in the revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the hopes of achieving Arab independence and creating a Pan-Arab state.  What is clear is that there are many versions as to the history of this building and doubts about whether or not it was ever actually used as a church.
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I’ve read that this church was actually built outside the big walls that encompassed the then small fishing village of Jeddah. The presence of an Anglican church in Saudi Arabia may seem ironic in a land that strictly prohibits the practice of any other religion besides Islam. But there is ample evidence that centuries ago Christians and even Jews used to live peacefully side by side in this country.
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In the 1980s, a 4th Century church was unearthed in the city of Jubail. This other church is believed to be one of the oldest known churches in the entire region. You can see photos of the Jubail Church and read a bit more about it by CLICKING HERE.
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Like many of the old historic buildings in the old part of Jeddah, this old church does not appear to be protected and is certainly not being preserved. I easily walked up to it and could have probably gone inside, but I did not. From archaeological and historical viewpoints, preservation of this site should be made a priority, but that is not likely to happen.
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NOTE: There are questions as to whether or not this building was ever used as a "church."  For more information about the discrepancies, please read the comments below.
Also, please do not use this post to argue about religion or politics. I have posted about this church because I find it interesting and I find a certain beauty in the decaying old buildings of Jeddah. 



25 comments:

  1. Hi Susie, I love your blog...you have capture so many interesting things and places here in Jeddah...I have been here for almost 20 years now and always wanted to something like this just to show my family and friends back home and thanks to you I can...great job! Barb

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    1. Hi Barb - You have definitely made my day! Want to meet for coffee sometime?

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  2. Thanks for fixing, Susie.
    I was surprised to learn that a church existed and also surprised that it is only 100 years old. I guess in something is not used in the desert it will deteriorate quickly.

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  3. Are there any Christian inscriptions or any kind of Christian decorations visible at the site?

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    1. Jerry - I didn't see anything like that. I'm sure if there were any symbols of Christianity, such as crosses, they would have long ago been removed or destroyed. I did read an account by someone who said they had been inside the building. He felt that the building could be as old as 150 years and that while there was no electrical circuitry embedded in the walls, there was evidence that the building was in use as late as possibly the 1940s because of the type of fluorescent lighting that had been jury-rigged inside. His impression was that the downstairs interior resembled a home but that the second floor appeared more open so church services could have conceivably been held there. He also remarked that the architecture seemed more of Dutch origin. I don't know where one might find accurate historical data about this building - record keeping isn't exactly considered important here. Getting an archaeologist's opinion might solve some of the mystery surrounding this structure.

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    2. You cannot see any cross in the building. I heard also that that are already many attempts to demolish the building to build a new one, but every time they will do it something bad happen to some workers that is why the building is still there. The picture here actually is not like this anymore at present only the arch is left standing.

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  4. This is an outstanding job done by you. I have gone through your earlier posts as well. And I find all of them interesting and well narrated. Though i am living here in Jeddah for more than an year now but i wouldn't have seen it in this way as you have shown. And that drags me a little closer to this city.
    Thanks and Keep going....
    All the Best.

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    1. Hi Shakir - Thank you very much. I'm happy to show you Jeddah through my eyes. If you are interested, I post new photos every from Jeddah on my on my photo blog: http://susieofarabia.blogspot.com/

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  5. I have been in Jeddah for all these years and this is something that I haven't heard off or even thought of. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Rainy Monsoon Day - You are most welcome. I'm sure I had passed by it before and never really noticed it until my husband pointed it out to me recently.

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  6. I went to this church when my husband and I were in Jeddah in January! Our tour guide told us that the lot was up for sale and the new owner would probably tear the church down to make way for new buildings. http://educationincultureshock.blogspot.com/2012/01/jeddah-highlights.html

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    1. Hi Amber - Thanks for the link to your blog. I really enjoyed perusing it and reading about your experiences in KSA.

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  7. Thanks for the great post! I had heard about this place but had never seen pics of it.

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  8. Hi Fish - You are welcome! It's really quite accessible, but unless you specifically know what it is, it's easy to just pass right by it without much thought - just another crumbling building in the old part of Jeddah.

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  9. Hi Susie,
    I always enjoy reading your blog, very interesting experience. I've been following it since 2008 (I guess). It is nice to see the our society in the eyes of a foreigner.
    This post however is not accurate. This building is actually a private property belongs to Mohammed Ali Abdu, a former manager in the water distillation plant in Jeddah. He rented the property to a guy called Marqueze (I don't have his full name) who used it as his residence. Marqueze had good relations with many important figures in the society and had frequent social gatherings at this place.

    This information is from a report by Mohammed Sadiq Diab, a prominent Jeddah historian and journalist.
    Here is the video (but it's in Arabic)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nxbbn9OpIjE
    And this is his blog (also in Arabic)
    http://www.jeddahsociety.com/

    Unfortunately M.S Diab had passed away last year.

    There is another building in the Cornishe area also rumored to be an abandoned church. I heard from many sources that there was indeed a church just outside the old city of Jeddah (before the Wahhabism of course) built by the Portuguese.
    You should read more in the history of Jeddah or maybe have a conversation with some older people from the original inhabitants of the old city. You will be surprised how diverse and open the society was.
    Please check this video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGBSOJtQgF0

    Thank you for the blog,
    Best of luck
    AJ

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  10. Hi AJ - Thank you for the information and the video link. I wish the blog and the video were in English! As you know, it is very difficult to get accurate historical information around here. I hear many stories from people all the time, but there seems to be no way of checking how factual these stories are. Thanks again so much. I'll have my husband try to interpret those links for me.

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  11. hi susie, nice photographs . i like this blog im from jeddah

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  12. I'm a 47 historian from Jeddah - my ancenstors can be traced as living in Jeddah for over 450 years. I'm afraid there was never a church in Jeddah and the pictures you've posted are the ruins of the home of Sheikh Mohammad Ali Abdu, which later became the home of an Italian expat who lived in Jeddah for years before abandoning the building. I have all the documents confirming this if you would like to go through them.

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    1. Hi Stray Jane. I live in Jeddah and I'm really very interested in Jeddah's history. I would be very interested in looking at those documents (if just to clear up a few arguments that I've had with some of the expats I know about that building). Do you have electronic copies of them?

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  13. Hello Susie.

    Thank you for you blog, but I would like to say to you that this building is not a church at all! this was an old building for one of Jeddah notables.

    I'm from Jeddah and I'm living here from my childhood and I have met some
    of old men in Jeddah and he said to me that this building is not church!

    Thank you.
    Mohammad

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  14. Hi Susie,

    This is a most interesting post and set of comments. In exploring a little further, I found this 2012 article in Arab News addressing the issue, and presenting convincing evidence from experts in a public forum that this building has never been a church, despite common rumours about it:

    http://www.arabnews.com/misconception-about-old-jeddah-edifice-cleared

    I am certainly aware from other experiences that specific architectural motifs may inspire some observers to draw conclusions that are different than the actual use and meaning of the motifs.

    Great post! Thanks!

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  15. I hate to spoil your thrill, but this not a church by any means. This old house belonged to my grandfather who built it in 1947. He lived in it for 7 years or more, but his health got bad and the doctor advised that humidity was bad for him, so he left the house. It remained in his ownership until a new road was supposed to pass through his house, so he was paid a compensation and the house belonged to the government, and the road was never built.
    The name of the owner who built and lived in the house with his wife Badryiah Batarji is Mohammed Ali Abdoh, and as a grandson I still have documents to prove it all. I visited the house a couple of times as a child, and older members of my family, in additions to many older people in Jeddah have been repeating this fact over and over and over, but Fantasy is definitely more appealing than reality.
    It is your option to believe that there was never a church in Jeddah, ugly as it is, or fly high with the beautiful fantasy. Who was that poet who gave us the stupid line: " Beauty is truth, truth is beauty"??
    Mohamed Saeed Aljohani
    Mandarine@Excite.com

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    1. Hi Mohamed - Thank you for your comment. There are apparently many versions going around as to the history of this building, as you can see by the comments. It would be nice to have an official source which would verify the facts that we could refer to. Thanks again.

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  16. Hi Mrs.Susie,

    Actually i m a christian man living in Jeddah and i passed by this church which i took some pics and i showed it to an expert architect & interior architect and they confirmed that this building is a church 100% based on the lines,specs & some other important indications showing obviously a church building. With all my respect to the people who commented and said the opposit, i would like to ask them to provide us some offical documents showing that this is not a church. I appreciate from your end as well to allow me to post on my personal facebook the history of this church if you don t mind, just to share it with my christian friends that are attached to a single small detail concerning our christianity, keeping in mind that we respect all the religions without any exception.

    Thank you

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    1. Hi Anonymous - Thanks for your comment. I don't have a problem with you sharing this post with your audience. Best Wishes.

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