Incident Report Feature: al-Sa´a “Clock” Church

New video footage shows damage to the al-Sa´a “Clock” Church, a mid-19th century Roman Catholic church in the Old City of Mosul.

Mosul's Clock Church pictured in the 1920s (Lebrecht Photo Library/Telegraph)

Our Lady of the Hour Roman Catholic Church, popularly known as al-Sa´a (“Clock”) Church or Latin Church, was constructed by Dominican friars 1862–1873 CE. [1] In 1882, the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napolean III, donated the famous Clock Tower in recognition of the Dominican monks’ service to the people of Mosul during a typhoid epidemic in the 1870s. The neighborhood surrounding the church subsequently became known as al-Sa’a.

The church building consists of two wings of equal size, each with a large dome, and a large central courtyard. Inside, the church contains a large organ opposite the altar, as well as stained glass windows and fine marble. The clock tower stands at 27 meters high and is visible throughout the Old City of Mosul. It is adorned with four clock faces. The original clocks were maintained by hand until the 1980s, when they were replaced by mechanized versions.

In 2006, an explosion outside the church destroyed windows and three sets of doors. In 2008, another explosion damaged the church's front gates and clock tower. No party took responsibility for either explosions.

The church and clock tower have been reported destroyed on at least three occasions. In September 2015, a Niqash article reported that ISIS militants had demolished the clock tower in February of that year.

In April 2016 rumors surfaced that ISIS militants had blown up the church. Many media outlets, including Le Figaro and The Telegraph, picked up on the story and reported it as fact despite lack of substantial evidence. In October 2016, Bellingcat, a network of investigators using open source evidence and social media, published an article that determined this report of destruction to be false.

Video still showing damage to facade and clock tower of the Clock Church, seen from west (Al-Mosuliya; June 29, 2017)

Photograph of graffiti indicating church has been checked for explosives (Stars and Stripes; July 22, 2017)

On November 4, 2016, it was reported that ISIS militants had begun demolishing the Clock Church using “demolition machines” and “hydraulic hammers.” DigitalGlobe satellite imagery corroborated this report. Damage to the church is first seen in an image from November 4, 2016, but the damage was isolated to the southern portion of the church building. The clock tower appeared undamaged.

Video still of damage to western exterior wall of Clock Church (Al-Aan Arabic Television; August 14, 2017)

Video still of damage to interior courtyard of Clock Church (Al-Aan Arabic Television; August 14, 2017)

On June 29, 2017 al-Mosuliya released a video showing extensive damage to the Clock Church. The facing is missing from much of the building and evidence of military activity such as explosions and gunfire/shrapnel is apparent.

Stars and Stripes later posted new photographs of the interior of the church, which show damage and evidence of of ISIS occupation of the site, including bulletproof vests. According to Iraqi Sgt. Bassam Nadhim Ibrahim, the church was used as a base by ISIS for a unit known as the “Devil’s Battalion.” Graffiti on a wall suggests the area had to be cleared of explosive devices by Iraqi forces.

 

Photograph showing severe damage to interior courtyard of Clock Church and clock tower, with at least one clock face now missing (Stars and Stripes; July 22, 2017)

Video still of a child’s shoe found in the basement of the church (Al-Aan Arabic Television; August 14, 2017)

In August 2017, al-Aan Arabic Television and al-Mosuliya published footage of the Clock Church. An ISIS militant captured by Iraqi forces and interviewed by al-Aan states that the basement of the church had been used as a headquarters and training camp for newly enrolled ISIS members. Signs on the walls of the basement state the church was the location of the “Saad al-Ansari Camp,” with inscriptions dating back to 2015. Based on items found amongst  the debris in the basement, children and/or women had been held in the church at an undetermined time. 

For the full Incident Report see ASOR CHI August 2017 Monthly Report.

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[1] Dabrowska, K. & Geoff, H. (2008) Iraq: Then and Now. Bradt Travel Guides. 164.

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