Hormizd, Monastery of Rabban [Chald.]

The Chaldean monastery of Rabban Hormizd, built upon a mountain ridge northeast of Alqosh in northern Iraq, is famous not only for its magnificent location and impressive buildings, but also for its central role in the history of the transmission of E.-Syr. literature and its importance in the struggles between the Chald. Church and the Ch. of E., to which the monastery originally belonged. Similar struggles, between the Syr. Orth. and the Ch. of E., formed the context of the monastery’s early beginnings in the 7th cent., when, according to Rabban Shemʿon, the author of the ‘History of Rabban Hormizd the Persian’, it was founded by Rabban Hormizd of Beth Lapaṭ, a former monk of the Monastery of Rabban Bar ʿEdta. Whereas a few 12th-cent. mss. indicate its importance in earlier centuries, the monastery’s most important achievements date from the late 15th to early 20th cent. Following the turbulent 14th cent., its monks contributed to the revival of E.-Syr. ms. writing in the 15th and first half of the 16th cent. Among the earliest authors of that period is the monk Sargis bar Waḥle (ca. 1500), who wrote a Memronā (a metrical homily) on Rabban Hormizd. In the 17th and early 18th cent., after the number of monks declined considerably, a few clerical families from nearby Alqosh took the lead in ms. production. Among these was the Abuna family, who also provided the patriarchs for one of the patriarchal lines of the Ch. of E. These patriarchs of the Eliya line had their official residence in the monastery, where most of them were also buried, their grave stones spanning the centuries between 1497 and 1804. In Rabban Hormizd, also the first schism with the Chaldean church originated, when in 1552 its abbot Yoḥannan Sullaqa was elected as a counter-patriarch after part of the Ch. of E. disagreed with the choice of a new potential successor (naṭar kursi) from the Abuna family. Despite Sullaqa’s relative success in acquiring papal consecration and establishing a new Catholic line, the monastery remained in the hands of the traditional party and was a seat of opposition to the Catholic hierarchies until the late 18th cent., even though some of the Eliya patriarchs attempted to establish their own connections with Rome. After the monastery was practically deserted in the late 18th cent., a new era started when the Chaldean monk Gabriel Dambo (alternatively written as Danbo) appropriated it as the location of a new monastic community. After initial opposition, his order was recognized in 1830, by which time the patr. of the Eliya line, Yoḥannan Hormizd, had also converted to Catholicism. Gabriel Dambo succeeded in attracting a group of enthusiastic monks, who after some training were sent into the villages of northern Iraq to assist the Dominican missionaries in their work in the countryside. Some of the monks later became bishops, while ms. writing was taken up again as well. One of the more serious problems of the monastery was its isolated location making it vulnerable to pillage and raids by local Kurds and passing armies; documented attacks include Murād Bey’s attack in 1508, Kurdish threats in 1706 and 1717, pillaging by the Persian armies of Nādir Shāh in 1743, and again Kurdish raids in 1842 and 1850. In 1858, therefore, the decision was made to build a new Chaldean monastery, ‘Our Lady of the Seeds’ (‘Notre Dame des Semences’), closer to Alqosh, safer and more comfortable in the cold winter months. It was here that the scribal tradition of Rabban Hormizd was again taken up and carried into the early 20th cent.

See Fig. 3c, 56c, and 57.


  • M.  Brière, ‘Histoire du couvent de Rabban Hormizd de 1808 à 1832’, ROC 15 (1910), 410–26; 16 (1911), 113–27, 249–254, 346–55.
  • S. P.  Brock, ‘Monasticism in Iraq: The cultural contribution’, in The Christian Heritage of Iraq: Collected Papers from the Christianity of Iraq I–V Seminar Days, ed. E. C. D. Hunter (Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies 13; 2009), 64–80.
  • E. A. W.  Budge, The life of Rabban Hôrmîzd and the foundation of his Monastery at Al-Ḳôsh. A metrical discourse by Waḥlê, surnamed Sergius of Âdhôrbâîjân (Semitistische Studien. Ergänzungshefte zur ZA 2.3; 1894). (Syr.)
  • E. A. W.  Budge, The histories of Rabban Hôrmîzd the Persian and Rabban Bar-ʿIdtâ (2 vols; 1902, repr. 1976), vol. I, 1–109 (Shemʿon’s text; Syr.); vol. II.1, 1–160 (Shemʿon’s text; ET); vol. II.2, 306–514 (ET of Sargis’s metrical hom.).
  • Fiey, Assyrie chrétienne.
  • A.  Harrak, ‘Patriarchal funerary inscriptions in the Monastery of Rabban Hormizd: Types, literary origins, and purpose’, Hugoye 6.2 (2003).
  • H. L.  Murre-van den Berg, ‘The Patriarchs of the Church of the East from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries’, Hugoye 2.2 (1999).
  • J.-M.  Vosté, ‘Les inscriptions de Rabban Hormizd et de Notre Dame des Semences près d’Alqosh (Iraq)’, LM 43 (1930), 263–316.
  • Wilmshurst, Ecclesiastical organisation.

How to Cite This Entry

Heleen L. Murre-van den Berg , “Hormizd, Monastery of Rabban,” 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/Hormizd-Monastery-of-Rabban.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Heleen L. Murre-van den Berg , “Hormizd, Monastery of Rabban,” 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/Hormizd-Monastery-of-Rabban.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Murre-van den Berg, Heleen L. “Hormizd, Monastery of Rabban.” 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/Hormizd-Monastery-of-Rabban.

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