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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in October 2009.

- Christian Mardin
(relief at Karatepe)

For nearly 800 hundred years Mardin was the residence of the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church: he lived in the Deyr az Zafaran, a monastery four miles out of town; in 1932 because of the limitations imposed by the Republic of Turkey on religious activities, the Patriarchate was moved to Syria.

(left) Kirklar Kilisesi; (right) a monastery in the countryside

Deyr az Zafaran is not the only Christian monument near Mardin; there are several churches in town and other monasteries in the countryside.

Kirklar Sehit (Forty Martyrs) Kilisesi aka Mor Behnam (St. Behanan) Kilisesi: (left) portal; (right) details of its reliefs

At a cursory glance the portal of Kirklar Sehit Kilisesi resembles that of a mosque: its elaborate decoration reflects Muslim patterns and even the cross above the inscription seems just another geometric pattern. The prohibition against portraying human beings is violated by two very small reliefs which show St. Behanan and his sister Sara. The traditional account about the conversion of Behanan, the son of a pagan king, has points in common with that of S. Eustachio; they both saw a stag with a cross on its forehead.

Kirklar Kilisesi: (left) entrance to the church; (centre/right) decorated niches

We are so used to regarding Arabic as being synonymous with Muslim faith, that it takes a while before realizing the Christian content of the inscriptions in Kirklar Kilisesi; it is interesting to note that crosses do not follow a common pattern which makes them clearly identifiable. It is evident that the Christian communities of Mardin were wary of giving pretexts for being accused of sacrilege by the Muslim majority.

Deyr az Zafaran

Deyr az Zafaran means the Saffron monastery, probably because of the yellowish colour of the rocks behind it. The monastery still belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Church, but in recent years the Turkish authorities have "encased" it into a sort of modern museum with ticket office, gift shop, cafeteria and organized tours; the alley leading to the actual monastery is modern.

Deyr az Zafaran: details of portals

Many of the oldest churches of Rome were built above the small halls where the worshippers of the god Mithras met for their ceremonies as if to erase the memory of that cult. Similarly the monastery of Deyr az Zafaran was built in the IVth century above a temple dedicated to the Sun: it faced eastwards so that the worshippers could see the first rays of the rising sun illuminate the room. Some elements of that temple were probably employed in the decoration of the monastery.

Deyr az Zafaran: church

The monastery has been modified so many times that it is better to leave aside the analysis of the overall complex and concentrate on some details of its decoration such as the inhabited scroll frieze of the church.

Deyr az Zafaran: details of the church reliefs

The image shown in the background of this page is based on a detail of the external decoration of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Mardin: it is part of a cardinal's hat, because the Chaldean Church is associated with the Roman Catholic Church, although it retains its own rites. Most likely the Muslim inhabitants of Mardin ignore the significance of this decorative pattern.

Other abbeys/monasteries in this web site:
Monastero di S. Paolo fuori le Mura
Abbazia di S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane
Sacro Speco di S. Benedetto a Subiaco
S. Scolastica a Subiaco
Abbazia di Farfa
Abbazia di S. Nilo a Grottaferrata
Abbazia di Fossanova
Abbazia di Casamari
Abbazia di Pomposa
St. John's monastery at Patmos in Greece
The monastery of Sumela in Turkey
The monasteries at Meteora in Greece
The abbey of Bellapais on Cyprus

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