Mar Mattai monastery

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Monastery of St. Matthew
Mar Mattai monastery is located in Iraq
Mar Mattai monastery
Location within Iraq
Monastery information
Other names Dayro d-Mor Mattai
Order Syriac Orthodox Church
Established 363
Dedicated to Mor Mattai
Location near Bartella, Nineveh,  Iraq
Coordinates 36°29′24″N 43°26′34″E / 36.49°N 43.442778°E / 36.49; 43.442778

Dayro d-Mor Mattai (Syriac: ܕܝܪܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܡܬܝ‎;The Monastery of St. Matthew, Arabic,دير مار متى) is located atop Mount Alfaf in northern Iraq and is 20 kilometers from Mosul. It is recognized as one of the oldest Christian monasteries in existence and is famous for its magnificent library and considerable collection of Syriac Christian manuscripts.[1] It is also the center of an Archbishopric, with Bishop Mor Timothius Mousa A. Shamani serving.


Mor Timothy Mosa Alshamany (2015), Archbishop of the monastery

The monastery was founded in 363 by the hermit Mar Mattai who had fled persecution in Amid under the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. According to Syriac tradition, he was involved in healing the sister of Mor Behnam and converting the brother and sister to Christianity. Their father, King Sennacherib of Assyria initially killed his son and daughter but later recanted and awarded Mattai a place atop Mount Alfaf to establish his monastery. Mattai was quickly joined by a small group of Syriac followers, and under his leadership that community developed a true monastic ethos.

In 1171, neighbouring Kurds led several attacks on the monastery and were repelled by a coalition of monks and local Christians. The Kurds promised the monks they would cease their attacks and paid them 30 dinars and the monks sent the local Christians back to their villages in the belief that the monastery would be safe. Later, a force of 1500 Kurds succeeded in pillaging the monastery and killing 15 monks who did not find refuge in the upper citadel. The monks who survived the attack abandoned the monastery and relocated to Mosul. Upon hearing of the attack, the governor of Mosul attacked the Kurds, killing many; in retaliation the Kurds destroyed nine Nestorian villages, killing their inhabitants and attacked the Monastery of Mar Sergius.[2]

In 1369, another Kurdish attack on the monastery damaged many manuscripts. During the 19th century, Kurds looted the monastery numerous times.[3]

The monastery is currently maintained by the Syriac Orthodox Church, and serves the small farming village below. Every year, Christians of various church denominations gather in the monastery on September 18 to commemorate the day of Mar Matti's death.[4] As of December 2015, the monastery was housing refugees fleeing ISIS, and was protected by a small contingent of Dwekh Nawsha and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.[5]