My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Church of the Forty Martyrs and other Churches of Mardin - our pilgrimage draws to a close

Mardin from the approach road
The last full day of our pilgrimage is spent in Mardin with its many churches and much history:
First we visit the museum in Mardin, housed in what used to be the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate. The building was purchased by the Ministry of Culture who restored it and opened it as a museum in 2000. It reflects a typical Mardin house, on three floors with a U-shaped floor plan and facing South to the Mesopotamian Plain, It is small but has some fascinating artifacts, ranging from Assyrian to Ottoman times, reflecting some of the extraordinary history of this part of the world.
I feel we have too little time here, although not everyone agrees!
There are children playing in the ArkeoPark, an enclosure within the museum grounds, where they are being taught the principles of archaeology and the archaeological importance of the area in which they live through the power of play. They seem to be having a great deal of fun.
symbols of nature on a tomb stone

There is then just a short walk to the Kirklar Kilisesi, the Syrian Orthodox Church of the Forty Martyrs, originally dedicated in 569 to Mor Behnam and Saro, which is found up a side street behind the museum. After silence and prayer Father Gabriyel (Gabriel) is delighted to tell us about this lovely church and some of its history. He asks that we take no photos within the church, which is a shame as there are also no postcards to bring home to remind us of its beauty. I wonder why he takes this stance – perhaps it is for reasons of security?
Church of the forty martyrs

This fourth and fifth century building is the central church for Christian worship in Mardin. There are something like 80 Christian families across four (or was it five) different Christian churches in the town, representing Syrian Protestant, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox and Chaldean Catholic (Mardin was a diocese of the Chaldean Church from the sixteenth century to 1941 at which time the diocese ceased to exist). Father Gabriyel celebrates the Syrian Orthodox liturgy in them all in turn.
Picture of the 40 martyrs in the Chaldean Church
We hear from Father Gabriyel that the government is beginning to allow the teaching of Aramaic again, and that this church is also visited by many interested Muslims, which gives Father Gabriyel the chance to explain the full history and the importance of Christianity to this area. There are some lovely and interesting features in the church. Unusually for churches in this area, there are doors that open and close across the sanctuary, in addition to the usual painted cloth or sutoro that can be pulled across during the liturgy. There are also five ancient wooden altars in the church, although the high altar itself seems to be made of what look to me like concrete breeze blocks and I mean no offence by saying this. It simply reflects what I saw. Over the sanctuary in front of the altar hangs the traditional dove, pointing to heaven.
the Chaldean Catholic Church
As we are told the stories of the forty martyrs, to whom the church is dedicated, and the seven sleepers of Ephesus, we can hear clearly the mid morning muezzin call to prayer from the surrounding minarets, a reminder if one was needed that Christians are in a very small minority here in this secular state but very Muslim country. We admire the very old printing press. We had seen something similar at a previous monastery, where the monk dreams one day of building it together again into full working order.

Afterwards cay is served to us all in the former Patriarchal Residence in Mardin. I ask about postcards. Many of us, I say, would love to buy some. Instead we are given a plentiful supply of glossy illustrated leaflets, sadly not in English, but they are useful souvenirs for all that.
view over the Mesopotamian Plain from the restaurant 

Then it is just a short walk east along the main street to the Chaldean Catholic Church of Mor Hűrműzd – brilliant colors and certainly very different from the Orthodox style we have become accustomed to.

Lunch is in a great restaurant, Cercis Murat Konagi on the main street. The setting is authentic, a true mansion owned by an old Mardin family, the food excellent and the views over the Mesopotamian plain stunning. Then it is time to explore a little up into the old part of town. The narrow streets seem like a maze and it would be futile to try to follow any map. However any route upwards or downwards as appropriate will bring one back before too long to the main road running east/west through the middle of the town.

Donkeys are a common site, used to transport goods along these narrow streets.

a soap shop in Mardin

We have time for some gift shopping in the bazaar and along the main street,

sunset at the monastery
and finish with cay and baklavas in a pastry shop and café near the museum, 

and finally it’s back to the monastery to admire a fabulous sunset before going inside for evening prayer.


  1. This is a lovely series. I love the photos! Who would have thought there could be so many different Christian denominations there in that little corner of Turkey. I guess this is a major area where Paul proselytized, and of course, churches will split over jots and tittles, won't they.

  2. I have so many more photos as well - I guess I shall have to make up an album on facebook of the best ones so they all get an airing - but need a bit of time to do that...Keep the comments coming - I'm so glad this is being appreciated! I'm already getting excited about going to Georgia in the Caucasus.

    1. Eleanor, will the trip to Georgia be another pilgrimage?

    2. yes Jo Anne it is - I'm already getting very excited about it!

  3. Oh what a traveller you are - how wonderful to see all these things! I LOVE this blog! Yes, the Eastern church seems to have divided into even more parts than the Western... How very interesting that Aramaic is being taught again... and how little we hear via the media etc of the Christians inTurkey...such a rich historical heritage. I only knew, before this, of the unfortunate Orthodox Greeks who were removed in about 1923 or so whenTurkey was establishing itself under Ataturk, (I think?) - it woul dbe so good if religious/cultural groups could be much more tolerant of one another wouldn't it.

    1. Yes Mari wouldn't that be wonderful - we just need much more education and understanding - the different faiths really have so much in common if we only knew it.. glad you're enjoying this - just a few more posts to go to the end of the trip - and I shall do the same for Georgia next year...