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This city was founded on the Tigris by the second Abbaside Caliph Abou Giafar al Mansur (762 or 764) and named by him Medinet es-Selam, or City of Salvation; Bagdad is a popular name said to mean "Garden of Dat", a Mussulman dervish. During five centuries it was the rich and brilliant capital of the famous Arabian Empire. Houlagou, a grandson of Genghis Khan, entered it in 1262; it afterwards became a possession of the Kara Koyouli Turks, was taken by Tamerlane, and, in 1517, fell into the hands of the Persians who, except for a short interval in the sixteenth century, ruled over it until 1638, when Sultan Murad made it definitively a city of the Ottoman Empire. It is now the chief town of a vilayet, or district, of the same name, and has lost much of its former importance, though it still remains the most important city of Asiatic Turkey, after Damascus and Smyrna, and a great emporium of international trade. It exports textile fabrics, gold and silverware, horses, dates, etc. There are many beautiful mosques in the city, and the ruins of its ancient walls are still visible. The climate is hot; fevers are frequent, and the plague sometimes appears. Its population, taken as including the neighbouring villages, is said to be about 45,000; of these 86,000 are Mussulmans, mostly Arab Sunnites and Persian Shiites; 52,000 are Jews, and 7,000 Christians. Turkish statistics, however, are usually very uncertain. The Christians are divided as follows: 3,300 Armenians (including about 1,000 Catholics and 100 Protestants), 100 Greeks (50 Catholics); 1,600 (3,000?) Chaldeans; 1,200 Syrians; and 500 Latins.
In 1638, some days after the Turkish conquest, owing to the kindness of Abbas the Great, Urban VIII created, at the expense of a pious French lady, a Latin bishopric for the Catholics in Persia, under the title of Babylon, the old city being then (though erroneously) identified with Bagdad. For a long time the bishops of this title, when they came to the East, resided at Hamadan, in Persia, and for various reasons there were often no bishops, but only vicars Apostolic. It was only in 1742 that Père Joseph-Marie de Jésus, a Carmelite, was allowed to enter this Mussulman town. In 1848 the see became an archbishopric, with Ispahan as a suffragan see, till 1874; the archbishop, Monsignor Trioche, was appointed Apostolic Delegate for the Catholics of Oriental rites. He resigned this office in 1850, and until his death, in 1887, there were special delegates, the last of whom, Monsignor Altmayer, succeeded him and reunited both titles, as did his successor, Monsignor Jean Drure. We must here, moreover, notice that the Latin Archbishop of Bagdad, according to the decree of Urban VII, must always be of French nationality.
The limits of the ecclesiastical province extend as far as Assyria, Mesopotamia, and the territories of Bassorah and Amida, with about 2,000 Latin faithful, mostly foreigners. It includes three Apostolic prefectures: Bagdad, Mardin, and Mossul. The Prefecture of Bagdad is governed by French Discalced Carmelites, who have at Bagdad a large and beautiful college, an elementary school, a dispensary, and stations at Bassorah, Amarah, and Bushire, with primary schools and some ten churches or little chapels. French Sisters of the Presentation of Tours conduct at Bagdad an important school for girls and an orphans' institute. For the Prefectures of Mardin (French Capuchins) and Mossul French Dominicans), see articles under those titles.
The Apostolic Delegation of Bagdad, for Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, and Armenia Minor, is, as appears from its official appellation, more extensive than the Latin archbishopric. It embraces 5 Armenian dioceses, with 40 priests and about 12,000 faithful; 5 Syrian dioceses, with 80 priests and about 12,000 faithful; 9 Chaldean dioceses, with 160 priests and about 40,000 faithful.
Since the foundation of the Chaldean patriarchate by Innocent XI in 1681, after the conversion of a great many Nestorians, the Chaldean patriarch bears the title of Babylon, i.e. Bagdad. His residence was first at Diarbekir, then at Bagdad (since about 1838), and is now at Mossul. A Syrian archbishopric was also erected in 1862, with the same title of Babylon, or Bagdad; and the titular resides, or is authorized to reside, at Bagdad.
According to Bar-Hebræus ("Chronicon Eccl.", ed. Lamy, II, 236), Elias, the Greek Patriarch of Antioch, in 910 re-established at Bagdad the ancient residence of the Orthodox Catholicos which had been unoccupied since the Nestorian Schism (432). The Greek name for Bagdad was Eirenopolis, the equivalent of Medinet es-Selam. Eirenopolis is now considered among the Greeks a metropolitan title, and is held by a prelate who assists the Patriarch of Antioch as his vicar.
CUINET, La Turquie d'Asie, III, 3-212; PIOLET, Les missions catholiques françaises au XIXe siècle, I, 222-271; Missiones Catholicæ (Propaganda, Rome, 1907.)