The heart of the Tur Abdin

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By far the most important monastery in the Tur Abdin lies 18 kilometers east of Midyat, off the road to Cizre.

Originally founded in 397 by a man named Simeon who moved here from Mardin, Mor Gabrial (Deyrulumur) serves as the seat of the bishopric of the Tür Abdin, the name given to the surrounding sountryside which is still studded with the remains of ancient Syriac chucrches.

At its peak, the community here numbered around 400 members but today that number is down to around 20 monks and nuns who live a somewhat beleaguered life, forever fending off court cases over the surrounding land (in 2013 the government agreed to give the monastery back its own land, a decision that has since been overturned).

Much of the existing monastery is relatively new but you can still visit the sixth-century church of St Mary where mosaics sparkle high up in the dome behind the altar. This dome dates back to 512, the reign of Justinian and Theodora, and is thus contemporary with İstanbul’s Hagia Sophia. It may once have covered a baptistry. There's a lovely opus sectile pavement too. 

If you're lucky you'll also be shown a fine domed dining room with a large stone table running down the middle of it. The kitchen was just next door.

Another room also contains the supposed burial place of Mor Gabriel himself as well as those of a number of metropolitans. To be honest, though, these are just plain concrete lids of zero interest. 

The two pretty belltowers were added in the 1970s.

Surrounded by orchards and farms, this is a living monastery where Aramaic, the ancient language of Jesus, is still taught to novices.

After a period of turbulence, described in William Dalrymple’s wonderful From the Holy Mountain, Mor Gabriel has received a new lease of life and outsiders are once again welcome to visit. On my most recent visit in 2015, however, visitors has once again been frightened away by political developments in the region. 

Note that the monastery closes from 11am to 1pm daily. 

Transport info

There are regular buses from Midyat to İdil for Cizre. Mor Gabriel is a two-km uphill walk off the main Midydat-Cizre road making it easy to visit even without a car.


Alternatively you can arrange for a taxi to take you there from Midyat, perhaps combining the visit with one to some of the other churches of the surrounding Tur Abdin.

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