JOHN VIII, eightieth patriarch of the See of Saint Mark (1300-1320). John is better known in the HISTORY OF THE PATRIARCHS as the Son of a Saint, presumably pertaining to a saintly spiritual father, whose particulars are not identified. Even his monastic whereabouts are not clear from the few lines devoted to his reign in that history. However, his selection and consecration as patriarch during the second reign of al-Nasir Muhammad (1299-1309) were quietly performed without opposition. He was also a contemporary of Baybars-Jashankir (1309-1310), who was followed by al-Nasir in his third reign (1310-1341).
The Copts suffered in that period from a setback in their freedom imposed by a Maghribi vizier, who passed through Cairo on his way to Mecca for a Muslim pilgrimage. While riding in Cairo, he noticed a well-dressed person on horseback, with poorer folks surrounding him and asking for favors. When he asked about the dignitary, he was told that he was a Coptic Christian, which infuriated him. He went to the citadel and consulted with al-Nasir and his viceroy Salar on the position of these infidel Christians. The result was the enforcement of old humiliating decrees on the Copts, who were ordered to wear blue turbans and girdles, and to ride donkeys instead of horses; Jews were required to wear yellow turbans. The patriarch and the grand rabbi were summoned to the court and both were commanded to apply these rules to their congregations. The Maghribi visitor tried to convince the authorities to destroy churches, but his attempts failed because the chief Muslim justice issued a special juridical verdict (fatwa) stating that the COVENANT OF ��UMAR specified that only newly built churches could be eliminated, while the older foundations must be protected. The chief justice was Taqi al-Din Muhammad ibn Daqiq al-‘Abd, a Muslim whose ancestors were Islamized Copts. However, this did not stop the Muslim mob from the abuse of Christians and their frequent attacks on the churches.
An alleviating factor in this abuse came to pass when the kings of Aragon sent a mission in 1303 to the Mamluk court with a substantial gift, accompanied by a written plea to the sultan to permit the opening of churches. Consequently the ancient Jacobite church of HARIT ZUWAYLAH was reopened, as was another church in Cairo.
SUBHI Y. LABIB
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