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    xXx Mor Gabriel Monastery * by Servet Dilber In the half-light of dawn we were driving along a straight road straining our eyes to catch sight of the turning.
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 1999
      xXx Mor Gabriel Monastery

      * by Servet Dilber

      In the half-light of dawn we were driving along a straight road
      straining our eyes to catch sight of the turning. Twenty minutes after
      leaving the town of Midyat we came to it; an unmade road which would
      take us the last 2 kilometres to our destination. It was still not
      fully light when the dark walls of a huge building loomed ahead of us,
      silhouetted against the sky. As we got out of the car in the lonely
      treeless landscape, the sound of bells chiming told us that we were
      just in time. We passed through the carved gate of the monastery and
      mingled with the crowd descending the steps.

      Far from the bustle of daily life which was beginning in the outside
      world where the sun had just risen, we listened to prayers read by
      Metropolitan Timotheos Samuel Akta, and hymns sung by the childrens
      choir. These were rituals which had not changed for centuries. In the
      dim light from a 4th century window a man walked up and down the rows
      of the small congregation swinging a censer containing a burning
      incense tree back and forth, and the choir singers struck their finger
      cymbals to the rhythm of the hymn. We forgot which time we belonged

      When the service was over we had breakfast with the secretary to the
      Metropolitan, Yusuf Beda, who then took us around monastery. As well as
      the church in which the service had been held, there was a second, now
      unused, dedicated to the Virgin Mary containing biblical scenes.

      This latter church is one of the oldest parts of the monastery, which
      has been extensively altered and repaired over the centuries.

      We walked past high stone walls and beneath arched gateways to reach a
      narrow flight of steps leading to the upper courtyard. From here there
      was a view over every part of the monastery, and the fine carving
      around the doors and windows attracted our attention. The famous Midyat
      stone is transformed into works of art by Syrian Orthodox stonemasons.

      As we re-traced our steps down to the lower courtyard and headed for
      the garden, we asked Yusuf Bey about the column capitals at the head of
      the steps. He could not put a date to them, but told us they had been
      brought here from a ruined monastery in the Bagok Mountains.

      We passed through the large garden containing pistachio, apple, walnut,
      apricot and plum trees, and came to the vineyards. As we ate grapes
      which Yusuf Bey picked for us, he told us about the history of the
      monastery. Syrian Orthodox communities had long been concentrated in
      this part of southern Anatolia around Mardin, Hasankeyf, Cizre and
      Nusaybin, and caves in the region had been used as places of worship.

      Eventually the region came to be known as Turabdin, meaning mountain of
      those who worship. This monastery had been founded in the year 397 by
      St. Mor Samuel and Mor Semun, who called it Mor Semun Kartminyo.

      Its Syriac name is Dayro dUmro (Deyrulumur), meaning Shelter of Monks,
      although from the 7th century when it became the centre of the Turabdin
      Metropolitanate, it became better known as St. Mor Gabriel.

      There are two theories about the origin of the Syrian Orthodox people
      themselves. One is that they are the descendants of the Assyrians,
      Babylonians and other various races who inhabited Upper Mesopotamia,
      and that Christianity bound them together as a single people. The term
      Sryani derives, according to this theory, from the Assyrians. The
      alternative view is that the Syrian Orthodox people are of Aramaean
      origin, and that after part of the latter adopted Christianity, they
      began calling themselves Snryani to distinguish them from pagan

      Today the monastery continues to run a school, where five teachers
      teach the Syriac language and liturgy to between 25 and 40 pupils from
      surrounding villages. The pupils also attend ordinary schools in

      One of the worlds oldest Christian monasteries, Mor Gabriel has been a
      home to monks and nuns who dedicate their lives to the worship of God
      through the medium of prayers and hymns, for the past sixteen

      * Servet Dilber is a photographer.
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