Gabriel, Monastery of Mor Monastery of Qarṭmin

The Monastery of Qarṭmin began long before its official foundation date of 397. The founders were Shmuel (Samuel) of Eshtin and his disciple Shemʿun (Simeon) of Qarṭmin. In the village of Qarṭmin (Yayvantepe) there is a church of the martyred bp. Karpos, Shmuel’s spiritual father. Karpos was killed, according to the Life of Shmuel, by Persian raiders on the southern escarpment of Ṭur ʿAbdin, which rises from the Plain of Nisibis. The most likely context is 350, when Nisibis, then a Roman city, was besieged. Shmuel fled north from the raiders, into the hills, and so came to the village of Qarṭmin, where he acquired a disciple, Shemʿun. Together they lived in a ruined temple now called ‘The Arches of Mor Gabriel’. Then the boy Shemʿun had a dream in which he was commanded by an angel to build a Beth Ṣlutho (open-air enclosure for prayer) further to the west. Perhaps Shemʿun was still alive when, more than forty years later, the Roman Emperor established the institution officially by his benefaction in 397.

The answer to the question of how the emperor in Constantinople came to hear of this remote monastery and to consider it worthy of his attention must be connected with the Roman frontier-garrison in the Castle of Tur ʿAbdin built after the Persian raid of 350. The Christian soldiers in the castle honoured the holy men of Qarṭmin and attributed the security of the frontier partly to their prayers. It may well be that the Emperor also believed in the efficacy of the holy men’s prayers and that the first large benefactions to Qarṭmin (gold to build buildings, valuable communion vessels, and vestments for the liturgy) were intended not only to raise morale, but also to propitiate the God of Victories. The gesture of Honorius and Arcadius was repeated even more generously by the following administration, that of Theodosius II.

Theodosius’s death nearly coincided with the Council of Chalcedon (451), for which the new Emperor, Marcian, was personally responsible. Considering the later reputation of Qarṭmin as a focus of opposition to Chalcedon, it seems likely that, by disagreeing with that council, the monks forfeited a benefaction from this emperor. For the rest of the century confusion reigned. Some emperors, like Zeno and Anastasius, tried to compromise on the apparently insoluble issue of Chalcedon. But in 512, Anastasius, changing his policy, sided with the opponents of the Council. In the same year, according to the record preserved at Qarṭmin, he caused a church with a splendid prayer hall to be built there. This is still in use as the main church of the monastery. It seems likely that he also built the so-called ‘Dome of Theodora’, an octagon of identical height and building materials, and that this was originally used as a baptistery. Later, when there were no longer large numbers of adult converts to Christianity who came to the monastery to be baptized after making a penitential pilgrimage, the dome was used as a kitchen. The great slab in the main church was made in the 8th cent. for the purpose of making bread dough; for many centuries it stood under the dome.

After Anastasius, no emperor declared himself an opponent of Chalcedon, and no emperor made a benefaction to Qarṭmin. There is a story that the Empress Theodora, consort of Justinian I, who was undoubtedly a great friend of monks and especially of those opposed to the Council of Chalcedon, visited Qarṭmin and gave it the dome which is named after her. This report is unworthy of credence.

The monastery became the residence of a bp. when the Persian Conquest created vacancies on four sees in the area; the abbot of Qarṭmin was asked to fill them all until suitable men could be found for those outside Ṭur ʿAbdin. By the time of the Arab Conquest, in 639/40, the abbot of Qarṭmin, now Gabriel of Beth Qustan (Bequsyone), was managing two dioceses from his monastery: that of Ṭur ʿAbdin and that of Dara. No doubt the success with which he negotiated a treaty with the Arab conquerors, protecting the rights of the Christians in his region, made him great in the eyes of later generations. When his Life came to be written, little was remembered about him, which shows that it took time for him to acquire the reputation of a saint. He had certainly acquired it by the year 774, in which the plague raged in Ṭur ʿAbdin, killing 94 monks at Qarṭmin and all the prominent people at Dayr al-Ṣalīb. After 30 Qarṭmin monks had died in a single night, the corpse of Gabriel was exhumed and fixed upright in the church to pray for an end to the plague. After this, the right arm was detached and taken to Ḥaḥ, near Dayr al-Ṣalīb, to bring an end to the plague there also.

The loss of 94 monks did not bring to an end the prosperity of Qarṭmin, which was now sometimes called Dayro d-ʿUmro (Arabic Dayr al-ʿUmr), though it did perhaps make people begin to call it ‘The Monastery of Gabriel’. The miracle performed by Mor Gabriel may also have created a need for a written history of the monastery including the Lives of Shmuel and Shemʿun and a Life of Gabriel (‘The Qarṭmin Trilogy’).

Mor Shemʿun d-Zayte, ‘Simeon of the Olive-Trees’ (d. 734), a monk of Qarṭmin, became bp. of Ḥarran and used his influence to build in and around Nisibis, whose Christian community (existing alongside Zoroastrians) was largely Ch. of E., profit-making installations, such as olive-presses, water-mills, bath-houses, and inns, which would add to the income of the Monastery of Qarṭmin. Qarṭmin remained buoyant into the late 8th cent.; but after about 800 a decline set in. The 9th cent. seems to have been a period of low ebb. ‘Mor Gabriel’s Monastery’ settled down into a cosy relationship with the neighbouring villages, particularly Beth Sbirino (Bsorino) to the east. It was a man from that village, Bp. Yuḥanon, who revived, in the 11th cent. (after it had been extinct for a cent.), the ancient Edessene script for use in making new parchment copies of the Gospels. He called it sreṭ ewangeliyon ‘Gospel script’ (one of the possible etymologies of the name esṭrangelo). One ms. written out and illustrated by his nephews, Emmanuel and Niho, monks of Qarṭmin, is extant in Berlin. Bar ʿEbroyo speaks of a total of seventy such volumes by these calligraphists in the library of Qarṭmin. This ‘renaissance’ was ultimately the consequence of the Byzantine reconquest of Melitene in 934.

The Monastery of Mor Gabriel is today the residence of the bp. of Ṭur ʿAbdin and gives the appearance of great prosperity, though the villages all around are becoming depopulated.

See Fig. 52 and 53.

Sources

(For further details and literature, see Ṭur ʿAbdin)

  • E.  Aydin, Das Leben des heiligen Gabriel. The Life of Saint Gabriel. Tašʿito d-qadišo Mor Gabriʾel (2009).
  • F.  Briquel-Chatonnet, ‘Note sur l’histoire du monastère de Saint-Gabriel de Qartamin’, LM 98 (1985), 95–102.
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘The Fenqitho of the Monastery of Mor Gabriel in Tur ʿAbdin’, OKS 28 (1979), 168–82.
  • P. Y.  Dolapönü, Maktab zabne d- ʿumro qadišo d-Qarṭmin (Mardin, 1959). (in Syriac; Turkish edition in Mor Gabriel. Dayrul-umur tarihi [Istanbul, 1971])
  • Fiey, Pour un Oriens christianus novus, 254–6.
  • E. J. W.  Hawkins and M. C.  Mundell, ‘The mosaics of the monastery of Mar Samuel, Mar Simeon and Mar Gabriel near Kartmin’, DOP (1973), 279–96.
  • J. Leroy, ‘Deux baptistères paléochrétiens d’Orient méconnus’, CahArch 25 (1976), 1–6.
  • A. N. Palmer, Sources for the history of the Abbey of Qartmin in Tur ʿAbdin (Ph.D. Diss., Oxford; 1982).
  • A. N. Palmer, Tašʿyoto d-qadiše mor(y) šmuʾel w-mor(y) šemʿun w-mor(y) gabriʾel d-Qarṭmin [The Lives of Saint Shmuel, Saint Shemʿun and Saint Gabriel of Qarṭmin] (Glane/Losser, 1983).
  • A. N. Palmer, Monk and mason on the Tigris frontier: the early history of Ṭur ʿAbdin (University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 39; 1990).
  • A. N. Palmer, ‘The Life of Gabriel of Qartmīn’, in Christian-Muslim relations, ed. Thomas and Roggema, 892–7.


How to Cite This Entry

Andrew N. Palmer, “Gabriel, Monastery of Mor,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Gabriel-Monastery-of-Mor.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Andrew N. Palmer, “Gabriel, Monastery of Mor,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Gabriel-Monastery-of-Mor.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Palmer, Andrew N. “Gabriel, Monastery of Mor.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Gabriel-Monastery-of-Mor.

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