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three pairs of lovers with space

, 1609-92


John Thaddeus, Carmelite friar

A mission composed of friars from the order of Barefoot Carmelites sent by the Pope to establish a presence in the Persian capital Isfahan and to encourage the Shah in his war with the Ottomans reached Isfahan in December 1607 and remained until 1752. Its most important legacy was a collection of useful witness accounts of Persian history. These were eventually gathered together and published as A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia and the Papal Mission of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, from which the references to Greek love are here presented.[1]

One of the three original Carmelites was a Spaniard given the new name of John Thaddeus for his mission. He remained there many years, though he had left by the time the Pope made him the first Bishop of Isfahan in 1632.  He is a particularly important source for the character and deeds of Shah Abbas I, whom he knew well and for whom he translated the Psalms into Persian in 1616. He was probably proficient in Pesian from the outset, since Carmelites customarily began their language training in Rome before being sent out on missions to the Near East.

A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia


This ‘resolution’ is included in a ‘Brief Account of matters concerning the king of Persia and his habits’[2], which Fr. John Thaddeus sent away to Rome by Fr. Vincent on 15.8.1609, and that “brief account” makes unexpected and startling revelation of the utter viciousness  and personal licentiousness of this monarch, so often vaunted as great:

Shah Abbas with a Page by Muhammad Qasim, 1627

When the Augustinian Fathers came here, the king of Persia had taken an Armenian boy of good looks, named John, and put him in his ‘haram’: the boy did not want to become a Muslim and asked his father to try and get him away from there. The parent went to the Augustinian Fathers and begged them to speak to the king. They did so and asked that, as the boy did not wish to become a Muslim, he should be given his liberty. The king had him brought before the Fathers, and the Augustinian Father asked him if he were a Christian and desired to remain in his religion. The boy answered ‘yes’. The king then told the Father to take him away, but, as they were about to depart, the king added in the Turkish tongue to the boy: ‘All right: thou canst go off now, but do not think I shall give way and thou canst escape from my hands.’ The boy got so alarmed at those words that, when he was again asked what he wished to be, he replied that he wanted to be a Muslim: and so they took him back to the saraglio.

For not only did ’Abbas I, according to Fr. John Thaddeus, "have five Baigums, queens as it were’, and several hundred women in his andarun but ‘more than two hundred boys’: when he went to any place “he would cause the best-featured boys to be placed at the entrance: he ‘would go to the baths accompanied by thirty to forty naked boys’: and this Father declares that ’Abbas I was responsible for the introduction of the worst of all sins into this land, ‘where hitherto it had been abhorred’. [I 168]


A new Vicar Provincial of the Carmelites, Fr. John Baptist of S. Joseph, from Bandar ‘Abbas a year or so later, 1 5.2. 1680,[3] enquired of the Sacr. Congregation in Rome whether a practice he had found was permissible or not — a practice which sheds more light on the persecution and villainies done:

In Persia the Catholic Christians make a practice of marrying off their boys and daughters at the age of 7 or 8 or 9 years: and the reason they give for this is because, if they are not married, often the Shah takes them for his own saraglio, which he does not do when they are already married. Thus the espousals take place very often when the children are barely born, because, the Catholics being insufficient (in numbers) to provide all the matches, they are obliged to marry them to schismatic Armenians. . . . [I 408]

The following events apparently took place in 1692 and resulted from the opposition of the Armenian Apostolic Church to the successes of the Walloon Friar Elias (the Vicar Provincial) in spreading Catholicism in Julfa helped by the Shariman family, the leading Catholics of the city:

Suleiman I, Shah 1666-94, by Ali Culi Jabbadar, 1670

The MSS. Vita P. F. Elia went on to relate that with the increasing boldness of the challenge by Frs. Elias and Cherubin to the schismatic Vartapets and priests “the Devil put it “into the heart” of some of them to suggest to the myrmidons of the Shah that the male children of the brothers Shariman between the ages of ten and fifteen years should be carried off and educated in the haram of the Shah, and their fathers thus forced to abjure the Christian faith. It was due to complaints and pressure by Fr. Elias, and to large sums expended by the fathers that certain of Shah Sulaiman’s officials were won over to represent to the Shah that the boys would serve for nothing—they were nijis (unclean) and deformed in body. By such reasoning the Shah was persuaded to order the immediate restoration of the boys to their fathers, much to the joy of their families and the Carmelites, and other Christians. To escape further analogous ‘inconveniences’ the faces of the boys, as well as of the girls of the family, were treated with some unguent, which damaged the skin and flesh in such manner that the children would be marked for life “because the king could not take males or females scarred in the face”. [I 460]


[1] Edited by H. Chick, 2 volumes, London, 1839, and based on extensive documentation from the Archivio di Propaganda Fide and the Casa Generalizia dei Carmelitani in Rome.

[2] Order of Carmelites Discalced (mss. in the archives of the Casa Generalizia dei Carmelitani in Rome)  237 m. [original footnote]

[3] Scritture Non Riferite (Carmelite mss.)  p. 471. [original footnote]





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