Jacob of Nisibis

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Saint Jacob of Nisibis
Bishop of Nisibis
Died 337/338[1]
Nisibis, Roman Empire
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church
  • 13 January & 31 October (Eastern Orthodox Church)
  • 15 July (Syriac Orthodox Church & Roman Catholic Church)
  • 18 Tobi (Coptic Orthodox Church)

Saint Jacob of Nisibis (Syriac: ܝܥܩܘܒ ܢܨܝܒܢܝܐ‎, Yaʿqôḇ Nṣîḇnāyâ, Greek: Ἅγιος Ἰάκωβος Ἐπίσκοπος Μυγδονίας), also known as Saint James of Nisibis, was Bishop of Nisibis until his death in 337/338. He is venerated as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, and Roman Catholic Church.


Saint Jacob became an anchorite in c. 280 in the mountains near Nisibis where, according to Saint Theodoret of Cyrrhus, he survived on herbs and fruits, and chose to wear no clothes, build shelter, or light fires for warmth.[2] The saint became famous, and received visits from Sheria, Bishop of Arbela (r. 304-316), according to the Chronicle of Arbela.[3]

The saint resolved to climb Mount Qardu, traditionally believed to be the resting place of Noah's Ark, and recover a fragment of the ark upon hearing from the hermit Maroukeh that local people doubted the Great Flood.[4] Saint Jacob ascended the mountain and rested close to the summit; in his sleep, an angel placed a fragment of the ark close to him, and instructed him to awake.[4] The saint brought the relic to the hermit Maroukeh and, according to the saint's hagiography, a sacred spring appeared where the saint had rested, reputed to have healing properties.[4]

Disagreement exists as to the date of the saint's consecration as bishop of Nisibis as it is argued it took place in c. 300,[2] and he is recorded as the city's first bishop by Saint Ephrem the Syrian.[5] However, Saint Jacob is credited as the successor of Babu, the first bishop of Nisibis (r. 300-309), by the Catholic Encyclopedia,[6] who Saint Ephrem states was in fact Saint Jacob's successor.[5] In his Chronography, Elijah of Nisibis states that Saint Jacob was consecrated bishop in 308.[3]

The Chronicle of Edessa states that the saint constructed the first church in Nisibis in c. 313-320.[1] Saint Jacob attended the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and opposed Arius.[1] Saint Ephrem purportedly accompanied the saint to the council, however, this is considered apocryphal.[7] Saint Jacob attended the funeral of Saint Metrophanes of Byzantium in 326.[8]

Saint Jacob was present at the siege of Nisibis by Shapur II, Shahanshah of Iran, in 337/338, and, according to Saint Theodoret, with encouragement from the city's population and Saint Ephrem, Saint Jacob ascended the walls and prayed for the city, and cursed the besiegers.[9] The Martyrologium Hieronymianum relates that he died on 15 July, the thirtieth day of the siege, according to the Chronicle of 724.[10] Gennadius of Massilia and Saint Ephrem record that Saint Jacob was buried within the walls of Nisibis.[10] Saint Theodoret adds that the Iranian army was afflicted by a swarm of gnats and flies summoned by the saint, and Shapur II subsequently abandoned the siege.[9]

In 350, according to the Chronicon Paschale, Saint Jacob helped defend Nisibis against Shapur II again and, as he was wearing the imperial regalia, was confused for Emperor Constantius II.[11] Shapur II challenged the saint to fight outside the city, where it was revealed he was an apparition and the Iranian army withdrew as a result.[11]


Saint Theodoret relates that the bones of Saint Jacob were transferred from Nisibis to Edessa following the city's cession to Iran on 22 August 363.[12][13] The saint's relics were later moved to Constantinople in 970.[14] Fragments of the skull of Saint Jacob were donated to Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany in 1367 by Lippold von Steinberg after the Battle of Dinklar.[15]

The fragment of Noah's Ark discovered by Saint Jacob was later brought to Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Armenia.[4] In 2018, the relics of Saint Jacob were brought from the Armenian Church of Saint George in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to Canada, where it was taken to the Armenian Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator in Montreal on 17 June, and the Armenian Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto on 24 June.[16]


Several homilies previously attributed to Saint Jacob by Gennadius of Massilia and others are now understood to be the work of Saint Aphraates.[1] The misidentification arose from Aphraates' assumption of the name Jacob upon becoming bishop.[17] Letters and canons, as well as other works, formerly attributed to the saint are known to be written in a later period.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bundy (2013), p. 602
  2. ^ a b Hinson (1995), pp. 198-199
  3. ^ a b Vööbus (1951), p. 28
  4. ^ a b c d Our Patron Saint James of Nisibis. Armenian Apostolic Church
  5. ^ a b Bundy (2000), p. 191
  6. ^ Vailhé (1911)
  7. ^ Mathews (2006), p. 162
  8. ^ Ὁ Ἅγιος Ἰάκωβος Ἐπίσκοπος Μυγδονίας. Great Synaxaristes (in Greek)
  9. ^ a b Lightfoot (1988), p. 124
  10. ^ a b Burgess, pp. 8-9
  11. ^ a b Whitby (1998), p. 196
  12. ^ Harvey (2005), p. 124
  13. ^ NISIBIS. Encyclopaedia Iranica
  14. ^ Cross & Livingstone (2005), p. 861
  15. ^ Kunstschätze erhalten. Bistum Hildesheim (in German)
  16. ^ "Holy Relics of Sourb Hagop of Mtsbin (St. Jacob of Nisibis) in Montreal". Hayern Aysor. 21 June 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2018. 
  17. ^ Albert (1907)


  • Albert, Francis X.E. (1907). "Aphraates". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  • Bundy, David (2000). "Vision for the City: Nisibis in Ephrem's Hymns on Nicomedia". Religions of Late Antiquity in Practice. Princeton University Press. pp. 189–206. 
  • Bundy, David (2013). "Jacob of Nisibis". Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. Everett Ferguson. Routledge. p. 602. 
  • Burgess, R. W. (1988). "The Dates of the First Siege of Nisibis and the Death of James of Nisibis". Byzantion, Vol. 69, No. 1. Peeters Publishers. pp. 7–17. 
  • Cross, Frank Leslie; Livingstone, Elizabeth A. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford University Press. 
  • Harvey, Susan Ashbrook (2005). "Julian Saba and Early Christianity". Wilderness: Essays in Honour of Frances Young. A&C Black. pp. 120–134. 
  • Hinson, E. Glenn (1995). The Church Triumphant: A History of Christianity Up to 1300. Mercer University Press. 
  • Lightfoot, C. S. (1988). "Facts and Fiction: The Third Siege of Nisibis (A.D. 350)". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 37, H. 1. Franz Steiner Verlag. pp. 105–125. 
  • Mathews, Edward G. (2006). "A First Glance at the Armenian Prayers Attributed to Surb Eprem Xorin Asorwoy". Worship Traditions in Armenia and the Neighboring Christian East. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. pp. 161–175. 
  • Vailhé, Siméon (1911). "Nisibis". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  • Vööbus, Arthur (1951). "The Origin of Monasticism in Mesopotamia". Church History, Vol. 20, No. 4. Cambridge University Press. pp. 27–37. 
  • Whitby, Michael (1998). "Deus Nobiscum: Christianity, Warfare and Morale in Late Antiquity". Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement, No. 71. Wiley. pp. 191–208. 
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