Beth Gazo

Choral Books

The Syrians collected their church hymns and praises in a thick volume which they called Beth Gazo (The Treasure of Melodies). It contains:

  1. The shhimo or service book for regular weekday prayers.
  2. A collection of hymns called “shahros” or vigils to be sung by the “shohre” or vigiles in Latin and spoutheyos in Greek. These singers were greatly concerned about the organization of the times of prayers. Their rank, however, followed that of the singers and, like priests and deacons of different ranks, they were supervised by the archdeacon. Their function is an old one in the church. They were mentioned by Marutha of Miyapharqin in the treatise, which he wrote between 408 and 410, addressed to Isaac, the Catholicos of Ctesiphon.[1]

This collection contained hymns for the praise of the Virgin, the saints and the martyrs, on repentance as well as on a description of the Cross, on the Nativity of Our Lord, the Resurrection and the commemoration of the dead. These vigils are fifty-one in number and in some manuscripts fifty-three.[2] Each one of them consists of either four, six, or eight lines and sometimes twenty-one and even twenty- seven lines. Only a manuscript transcribed by the bishop Bahnam of Arbo in 1568 exclusively contains one type of these songs called quqoyos which comprises sixty-seven lines. Other manuscripts state that these quqoyos were composed by St. Ephraim except for the famous quqoyo composed by the deacon Simon the Potter and his band of potters.[3] However, it is incorrect to ascribe all these quqoyos to St. Ephraim, for the Potter (Simon) has composed many lines of poetry and chorals of different meters similar to those composed by ancient poets who are unknown to us.

  1. The madroshos or hymns composed by St. Ephraim, which numbered five hundred, most of which are lost. According to one source only forty-six or fifty madroshos have survived, but other sources count sixty-seven. One manuscript alone mentions one hundred and seven madroshos. Not all of the madroshos contain many lines, especially those composed in commemoration of the Virgin, saints, etc. Those having a great number of lines cover the most widely used hymns based on the eight tunes such as the madroshos beginning with Honaw yarḥo, Abo kthab hwo egartho, Qum Phawlos, Phardayso and others. No doubt, church poets have frequently composed their poems based on the meters. But it would be difficult to distinguish the madroshos composed in the early period by eloquent poets from those of St. Ephraim. The madroshos of the second period are easily distinguishable. The total number of lines of the fifty-one madroshos is nine hundred and five lines.
  2. The takhsheftos, or supplicatory hymns, number three hundred, of which we only have two hundred and fifty-four. One manuscript enumerates only one hundred and thirty of these prayers.[4] Scholars also differ on the authors of these supplicatory hymns. To us, the author was Rabula, bishop of Edessa (d. 435), while a certain Beth Gazo mentions that they were written by St. Ephraim as well as Rabula and arranged by Jacob of Edessa.[5] According to another source the authors were St. Ephraim, Rabula and later authors who added to them their own takhsheftos.[6] Still another source maintains that they were composed by Rabula and others, including Marutha of Takrit.[7]
  3. The mawrbos or magnificats, is based on eight tunes and consists of two hundred and seven lines.
  4. The ghnizos (prosaic supplicatory hymns) which to some scholars number seventy-two, to others eighty-three or even one hundred and nineteen.
  5. The ma‘bronos or funeral songs, number one hundred and seven, one of which was composed by Bar Qiqi.[8]
  6. The shubohos or praises chanted during the administration of the Divine Eucharist.
  7. The stikhunos or stiches, hymns composed by Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) and especially used in the order of the consecration of the Holy Chrism and the clergy.
  8. Stikharos or stichera, hymns composed by John Chrysostom.
  9. The ‘eqbos (short prayers usually follow the supplicatory prayer for incense). They are eighty-one in number and have in some cases a refrain called kurokho, which is changed antiphonallv at the beginning of the evening and during the nocturnal prayers.
  10. Processional hymns for the circle of the year which are mentioned only in an eastern Beth Gazo.[9]
  11. Sughithos, or canticles of hepta-syllabic meter.
  12. Zumoros praises numbering seven hundred and twenty-eight, attached with them, are the phethghomos or jubilation songs which are selected sections of the psalms. The authors of these praises and jubilation songs are unknown.
  13. ‘Enyonos, or anthems numbering thirty-seven, the majority of which are composed by St. Ephraim. One copy has fifty-five of them.
  14. The cathismatos or sessions numbering one hundred and seven, especially those used on Sundays and other festivals. It is said that they were translated from the Greek. The Beth Gazo in the village of Bati of Tur ‘Abdin mentions that the cathismatos were composed by St. Ephraim.
  15. The ma‘nithos, prose hymns numbering more than three hundred and seventy, two hundred and ninety of which came from the pen of St. Severus of Antioch. The rest were written by John Bar Aphtonia, John the Chanter, and others. Choral books contained a group of these hymns, one of which was written by Barsoum, Maphryono of the East (d. 1454), on the sinner woman (in the Bible).[10]
  16. The Greek canons of eight tones mainly written by Jacob of Edessa, Andrew of Takrit, Cosmas and John of Damascus.[11] Some of them were composed by Syrian poets. These canons, which number thirty-four, comprised of seven hundred and fifty lines belong to the orders of both Edessa and Melitene.
  17. The bo‘uthos or supplicatory hymns, are select hymns composed by Sts. Ephraim, Isaac, Balai and Jacob of Edessa. To these are attached the tbirto, an introductory verse recited before each supplicatory hymn.
  18. The koruzuthos or conciones, composed by later poets especially David of Homs and Mas‘ud of Zaz to be chanted before higher ranks of the clergy prior to the reading of the Gospels. Because of their inferior composition and poor meaning they were dropped from use.
  19. Orders of the principal festivals.
  20. The eastern intercession.
  21. Diverse supplications.
  22. The calendars or chronicles.

The oldest, largest and most significant copy of the choral books is in the MS. 1/5 at the Sharfeh Monastery. Another rare bulky copy, in the Monastery of St. Abraham in Midyat, was unfortunately lost during World War I. We have a comprehensive copy in our library (at Homs), which contains madroshos and other hymns as shall be seen later. A short Beth Gazo containing fifty-four madroshos, most of which are made up of one or two lines, was printed in the Za’faran Monastery in 1913 and reprinted in 1925.

Source: Barsoum, Ignatius Aphram. The Scattered Pearls: A History of Syriac Literature and Sciences. Translated by Matti Moosa. 2nd revised. Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2003, 93-96.


[1] Patriarch Aphram Rahmani, Studia Syriaca, 3: 17, quoting Vatican MS. 89 which had been moved to the Borgian Museum.

[2] Birmingham MS. 321.

[3] The quqoye were the songs or hymns composed by potters who, while spinning their wheels amused themselves by extemporizing church songs. Most famous among these potters was Simon, who was discovered and encouraged by Jacob of Edessa to continue the composition of songs. Simon died in 514. (tr.)

[4] Jerusalem MS. 60.

[5] The Woodbrooke Library in Birmingham, MS. 37.

[6] The Book of Ma‘nithos in the library of the Church of al-Tahira (The Virgin Mary) in Mosul, Iraq.

[7] A sixteenth century Beth Gazo written in Mardin.

[8] According to a Beth Gazo at St. George’s Church in Damascus written in 1564.

[9] Birmingham MS. 321.

[10] These ma’nithos are called in Greek oktoechos. Four old Syriac copies of them are preserved in the Mount Sinai Library MS. 25 written on vellum in an Estrangelo script, while MSS. 72, 73 and 79 are written on paper in the ordinary Malkite script.

[11] There are six copies of these in the Mt. Sinai Library, five of which are old (written on vellum in the Estrangelo script, MSS. 10, 22, 27, 36 and 44). A sixth copy, written on paper in ordinary script, is dated 1301. It contains a service book, canons and ‘enyonos.


تطبيق البيث كازو (الناشر: مار ديونيسيوس جان قواق، المطران النائب البطريركي في شرقي الولايات المتحدة الأميركية، إعداد الدكتور جورج كيراز، مدير Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute).

The Beth Gazo book is the primary reference to West Syriac liturgical music. The Beth Gazo Portal provides the text of the Syriac book of Beth Gazo along with recordings by various chanters. A database back-end allows adding new texts and audio recordings without the need to update the app. The settings allow the user to choose a default chanter and to set Garshuni preferences.