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From Cedar to Hyssop

VII. El Khadr

El Khadr, the "Green One," has been already mentioned in our Peasant's Calendar as a "rainbringer and a lover of young green things." He is a most popular saint in Palestine, venerated by Moslems, Christians and Jews, though not always under this name, for, protean figure that he is El Khadr is identified with Mar Elias (Elijah) and Mar Jirjis (Saint George). Near East, usually as El Khidr, but in same parts he is identified with St. Theodore and in Kurdistan with St. Sergius. "Just as Syrian Moslems make pilgrimages to churches of St. George, so do Kizilbash Kurds of the Dersim to Armenian churches of St. Sergius."[1] In Persia, stranger still, he becomes a water spirit and has a spring festival of his own; in parts of Syria he is the "Old Man of the Sea." In all these lands his feasts are usually in the spring or at the sowing time and he is regarded as a rainbringer. In Palestine the rolling of thunder is said to be the galloping of his horse in the sky. But he rides on earth too, on a white horse and succours lost travellers, appearing to them by night and moving in front of them to lead them in the right way.

Indeed he is ever wandering over the face of the earth, for he is immortal; when he was young he made one of that band of heroes who discovered the Fountain of Youth, and, outdaring Alexander, he drank of the water and so lives for ever. We heard his immortality commented on by a Moslem at Lidd, who, speaking of the Tomb of St. George in the church there, said, "Haw is it that the Christians pretend to have this tomb, when it is well known that El Khadr never died."

Now in most of these respects he is readily identifiable with Elijah, who had command over the rain and who was caught up alive into heaven, while he only resembles St. George in his habit of knight errancy on a white horse, but what he is or was in himself, whether simply a mixture of the two or some ancient deity of vegetation whom they have annexed, or some later Moslem saint who has annexed them, is not clear. M. Virolleaud derives the name El Khadr from Xisuthros who was Hasisatra one of the names for the Phoenician god El, the Father of years, and finds close resemblances to the god in the way El Khadr is regarded among the Alaouites of today.[2] Hasluck, on the other hand, says that the results of his analysis tend to show that "in Khidr there is no independant Moslem or pre-Moslem element," i.e., that he is Elijah, with a Christian element superadded.

In local folklore, not content with his composite honours, he continues, like other popular heroes, to accumulate marvels and acquire merit for the deeds of others.

One legend tells that the architect of Justinian was aided in the building of S. Sophia in Constantinople by El Khadr, and another that when the dome of S. Sophia fell down in the year of the Prophet's Birth, it could not be rebuilt until Elias (El Khidr) had appeared to the Greeks and prescribed the use of mortar compounded of sand from Mecca, water from the well Zemzem and saliva of the Prophet.[3] After this the reader will be almost prepared to learn that in Jerusalem folklore it was El Khadr who assisted Queen Helena to find the True Cross. We are far here from our plants and El Khadr as the rainbringer, and the curious tale that follows must be its own excuse; it is a strange mixture of history, and folktales, streaked with local colour.

 

A Tale of El Khadr

The Feast of Mar Elias (El Khadr)[4] came and the young men stood together making their vows. One said: "I will give a goat," another "I will give a sheep." Then Jirjis, the son of a widow, desired to offer something. They had but one cow. "Then," he said, "I will sacrifice a cow," and he went and killed the cow.

At evening time his mother called to him and said, "Where is the cow?" He said, "I gave it to El Khadr." His mother said, "You have cut our lives (i.e., you slay us). Let me not see your face again." That night the young man had a vision. A white haired man appeared to him and said, "Fear not, I am El Khadr; thou shalt go to Constantinople and to the king's palace. Only each day thou shalt call a blessing upon me" (kulle yam bitesalili).

So the young man went far away to Constantinople and he went to the King's Palace. But he was dressed as a fellah and they sent him away from the door of the Palace. Again the vision appeared, saying as before, "Fear not; I am with you. Only do not forget to ask a blessing on me every day," and this he continued to do. After many nights El Khadr came and showed him where seven storehouses of gold were hidden.

Then the young man went again to the palace, offering to reveal his knowledge, and this time he was allowed to enter in and was made welcome there and he gave all the gold to Queen Helena. Then the saying came true,

"He who gives gold

May marry the Sultan's daughter,"

for Jirjis was dressed as a Prince and married to the King's daughter.

That night, his wedding night, he forgot to ask a blessing on El Khadr. In the morning he woke to find himself back in Jerusalem, standing at the Bab el Khalil, dressed as a fellah and only the ring on his finger to remind him of his bride, the King's daughter! Months passed and he lived miserably in Jerusalem, ever imploring forgiveness of El Khadr.

Now when time was accomplished Queen Helena decided to travel and to build churches. At every place where she stopped on her journey she built a pillar and a sign was placed on the pillar some say a light, some say a bell so that news could be sent back to Constantinople. At last the Queen arrived in Jerusalem and with her came the King's daughter and her babe. Now the babe was not content, but cried for ever for his father, day and night, and there was his father, a poor fellah out of work, hanging round the Bab el Khalil!

One day those who stood near the young man said to him, "Why do you not go and work for the Queen who is trying to find the Cross? She needs many workmen to dig for her." So he went and was accepted and worked with the workmen, and that same night El Khadr appeared to him and showed him where the True Cross lay. Next morning he first revealed the secret to the Queen and then showed the ring to the King's daughter, and as soon as ever he came near her, the babe, his son, stopped crying!

After the Cross was found, Queen Helena sent the news to Constantinnple by means of her pillars.

So by the wisdom of El Khadr the True Cross was found and through the gold of El Khadr all the churches of Queen Helena were built.

 

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[1] Hasluck, "Christianity and Islam under the Sultans" (p. 335).

[2] Ch. Virolleaud, "The Gods of Phoenicia." Antiquity. Dec., 193I. p. 407.

[3] Hasluck, op. cit., p. II.

[4] This story is sometimes told in the name of Mar Elias throughout.