Orenkale, near Baskale, Van, Turkey.

To find Orenkale, access Google Maps and in the search engine type “Baskale, Turkey”. From the centre of Baskale, follow the road south for about 12 kms to Orenkale (do not make the mistake of following the main road to Hakkari. The road to Orenkale lies to the west of the road to Hakkari). You are on the correct road if, after about 8 kms, you pass the small village of Erkonagi. Public transport to Erkonagi and Orenkale is non-existent, but almost everyone with a motor vehicle will provide you with a lift all or part of the way.

I decided to risk a visit to Orenkale, a village about 12 kms to the south of Baskale said to have a castle and a medrese (a seminary for training hocas, or religious leaders for the mosques). I asked for the road leading to Orenkale and began to walk out of town. The first car that came my way had two men in it. Sitting on the back seat were the son and two daughters of one of the men. The men said that they were driving to within 4 kms of Orenkale and would be delighted to take me that far.

T. A. Sinclair’s description of the area surrounding Baskale gives an insight into the unusual scenery encountered all the way to Orenkale:

“The wide valley’s surface, generally undulating or flat, is nevertheless deeply scored in places by ravines making for the River Zab; mostly unseen, the river flows down the middle line. Much of the surface is covered thinly by light grass: the rectangular ploughed areas are conspicuous against the plain’s light green. On the east (looking toward Iran) the crowded, many-coloured hills rise gradually. On the west the plain’s edge is sharper, and the green hills go up more steeply. They rise eventually to the high range which limits the Hosap Plain to the east. Baskale, the highest town in Turkey and the former capital of the district (Armenian Greater Aghbak) stands at the edge of the plain on this side, high enough to survey its southern half.”

The road meandered in and out of small valleys and over low ridges, but never ascended or descended very steeply. Hills and mountains remained a constant in the middle distance, but, almost the whole way to our destination, the views were extensive. Rectangular fields do, indeed, mingle and alternate with the more extensive patches of pasture, and large flocks of sheep and goats, and a few herds of cattle, graze where they can, which means that you must watch for large and ferocious dogs used to protect the livestock. The wheat in one field had been harvested and the hay removed to create large stacks around the boundary.  The field had been turned into a temporary football pitch where boys had formed two five-a-side teams. The boys chased after an old leather football with considerable enthusiasm. So bees could benefit from the many wild flowers, hives had been arranged in no fewer than six different places. Because the cloud was building up, the scenery assumed a more bleak appearance than would have been the case had the sun been shining (trees are very rare on the plain, and the absence of trees increased the sense of bleakness). However, the cloud somehow enhanced the atmosphere and the sense that something special lay ahead. I found the area quite enchanting, despite the presence of the large and ferocious dogs.

We arrived in the small village of Erkonagi, which commands outstanding views over the plain toward Iran, in these parts only 30 kms to the east. We stopped in front of a large stone house with a flat roof and, after being introduced to the man who owned the house, I was urged to stay, first for some tea and then for a meal. This I did, even though rain was threatening and I was about 4 kms from Orenkale.

After the meal, which was eaten as the sky continued to darken with cloud, the males returned to the salon for more tea. After half an hour I explained that, if I were to visit Orenkale and return to Baskale before nightfall, I would have to leave very soon, not least because a storm was threatening. I said farewell, took a few last photos of everyone who had been so kind to me, and set off for Orenkale. For most of the way the road ascends and descends very gently, which made the walk much easier than would otherwise have been the case. However, to access Orenkale the road descends quite steeply to a bridge over a fast-flowing river, then ascends for much longer to enter the village itself. Although the village stands on a fertile plateau above the river, far above is a mountain summit crowned with the ruins of the castle. Orenkale’s castle ruins are more extensive than those at Baskale, but cannot compare with those at Hosap. However, they are located so dramatically on the mountain summit that this alone makes the journey worthwhile. The other things that make the journey worthwhile are the ruined medrese in the village and the wild flowers that prosper in the pasture all the way along the road. Perhaps the most common flower of all is a blue flower resembling a large thistle. In places there were so many thistle-like flowers that a blue mist seemed to hug the ground.

I arrived at the edge of the village where a young man aged about twenty greeted me with handshakes and a few words in Kurmanci. We walked together to the centre of the village where I found the remains of what must once have been a remarkable medrese. By now, with the first drops of rain falling from the sky, I had attracted a gang of male children and five adults, the latter very surprised that a foreigner had arrived in Orenkale, especially without a car.

Sinclair notes that the design of the medrese:

“is accommodated to the steep south-eastward slope. The two lines of rooms either side of a courtyard lie along the slope… The two end walls of the courtyard are closed by walls only. The building as a whole, owing to the width of the rooms, is longer at right angles to than along the courtyard’s axis. The line of rooms on the downhill side had a higher external facade than the other, but the rooms on the uphill side are built from foundations at a slightly higher level. Of the uphill rooms those on the lower storey have been engulfed by earth up to the arches of the doors…

“The outer door, in a recess with a keel-shaped arch, comes directly into the courtyard’s ne. side. Each line of rooms was reached from a portico. The upper portico on the nw. is fronted by walls at either end leaving a gap between of two-fifths the total length… The tall stone piers that supported both the wooden floors and, on the se. side only, the roof, of the porticoes’ upper storeys still stand; the beam-holes for the floor and for a balustrade can be seen. The ground floors of the porticoes are fronted by arches joining the piers…

“Each room’s courtyard-side window has an arch which is completely filled by a stone lintel. Hearths in each room. Instead of the two southerly rooms of the se. side’s ground floor, a prayer hall has been contrived.”

The ruined medrese, and the castle high above the small settlement, confirm that Orenkale used to be an important town, but now it is a remote village composed almost entirely of old stone houses whose builders utilised basic construction methods. A few houses have been built with concrete and breeze block, but such houses are in the minority. Some old stone houses have small patios and verandas, and a few walls have been covered with mud or plaster and painted. Dry stone walls enclose fields and many of the gardens.

The rain discouraged any idea about ascending the mountain to examine the castle, but I was taken to somewhere from where I could see the ruins clearly, although from a distance of about half a kilometre. The castle occupies the whole of the gentle hilltop. To the west the slope is steep, and at the south end of this side of the hilltop the wall is carefully preserved. In fact, a tower survives. At the castle’s north-west corner is the ruin of a mosque. Remains of the minaret stand on a tower at the north-west corner of the mosque and the castle.

Sinclair has a few last helpful things to say about Orenkale:

“The village is high above the south-west corner of the plain. The castle stands at the top of a steep slope rising from the village’s north side. When the Husrev Pasa Medresesi, which stands amid trees on a slope in the village, was built (1653), the settlement, presumably larger than at present, was probably divided between the castle and the present site, and the castle is very likely to have been the residence of the medrese’s endower. The latter, a brother of the bey of Hakkari, perhaps built one of the two turbes (tombs) beneath the castle on the far side (the north) from the village. When the family of the Hakkari beys was finally evicted from Baskale by the Ottoman authorities (1845 – the last of the family to occupy Baskale was a woman, Halime Hatun), it was given Pizan (Orenkale’s old name) as a residence.”

I set off for Baskale, but two boys soon caught me up. The boys wanted to show me a carved stone on a rock wall beside the fast-flowing river that pours out of a remarkably pretty valley west of Orenkale. We followed a path beside the river on the same side as the mountain crowned with the castle. Sure enough, not far from where the river tumbles over a small waterfall, an unusual example of carved stone was about a metre above my head. The carving had been made in the natural rock itself and was probably very old. Curves dominated the design, which I was unable to distinguish as anything in particular. But what this seemed to prove is that Orenkale has much to reveal, despite its current small size.

I thanked the boys for their kindness and set off along the road to Baskale. I was caught in a second downpour, but, for part of it, sheltered with two shepherds under their umbrella. Twice I thought I would have problems with dogs, but, after barking loudly and threatening to chase me, they decided I was not a danger to their flocks of sheep and goats.

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Muradiye Falls and St. Argelan Monastery, Muradiye, Van, Turkey.

The town of Muradiye lies a few kilometres north-east of the most north-easterly extremity of Lake Van. Muradiye Falls and St. Argelan Monastery are a few kilometres north and west of the town respectively.

Muradiye Falls can look very spectacular, in winter when it freezes, and in autumn and spring when rain guarantees that a lot of water tumbles a distance of about 30 metres from the river above. However, I was visiting the falls in summer when common sense suggests that the flow of water will be much reduced. I therefore approached the waterfall resigned to the fact that it would not present a stunning sight, but, once on the wobbly footbridge that spans the gorge just to the south, was delighted: lots of water tumbled over the ledge and did so in five or six places, thereby creating a waterfall about 60 metres wide. Moreover, the views everywhere were sublime, along the gorge below the falls, above the falls where mountains and trees frame the river in the most picturesque manner imaginable, and where the water itself cascades over rock that has assumed many different colours. The falls are so substantial that, even when quite a lot of people visit, their majesty is not impaired. Rocks and trees at the foot of the falls add to the delightful views, and nothing commercial has been located nearby (a few small shops lurk among trees beside the car park about 200 metres away, and a cafe overlooks the falls from the far side of the gorge. One of the cafe tables is on an isolated outcrop of rock providing a stunning view of the falls. The cafe table does not spoil the views in any shape or form).

As far as I could tell, all the visitors except me were Turks or Kurds. Most Turks and Kurds were from the local region, but some were passing through on holiday. Some visitors sat at the cafe tables enjoying the views as they had something to drink, but most people descended a path so they could stand below the falls where the river continues its journey along the gorge. As you would expect, a few males had stripped to their underpants or put on swimming trunks and were swimming or playing in the deeper pools, but females above the age of about thirteen had to remain fully dressed. The best the older females could do was remove whatever they had on their feet and paddle where the water was at its most shallow. Because trees and rocks are just to the north of the falls, some families had set up camp in the shade and were finishing large picnics. Everyone seemed in a holiday mood even though Seker Bayram (Eid-ul-Fitr) had concluded…

It was now about 3.45pm, but I had no intention of returning to the town of Muradiye because, about 2 kms west of where I stood, almost half way up a mountain, I could see the distinctive outline of a ruined Armenian church, and the ruin looked in quite good condition. Next to a vehicle repair business, a side road branching from the main road seemed to lead directly for the ruined church, but, when I asked a man fixing the engine of a lorry if this was so, he said the side road deceives the eye. The man downed tools, summoned me to a nearby car and drove me about 2 kms south along the road to Van. We stopped at a point where a river, no doubt the same river with the falls further north, tumbled out of gently undulating hills and spread over flat ground covered with rock (local boys, some naked, played in the water, which nowhere looked deep enough to swim in). A footbridge crossed the river and led to a cafe on the opposite bank where people came to drink tea and smoke nargiles (water pipes) in quiet but pretty surroundings. The man told me to walk past the cafe and follow a dirt road leading north toward the ruined church. The road would follow an irrigation channel for about 2 kms. Eventually I would arrive at a point where the ruined church is clearly visible to my left. I was to approach the ruin along another dirt road and begin the ascent.

Everything was exactly as the man had said. The irrigation channel was about 4 metres wide and very full, no doubt with water directed from the river just alluded to. Butterflies, birds and frogs benefited from the channel and the vegetation it supported along its banks. Tall cypress trees grew in a few places, which made the views even more enchanting. High mountains lay to the west. To the east was the wide and fertile valley on which the town of Muradiye is located. Beside the river near the cafe and the footbridge, a large flock of sheep and goats looked for vegetation among the rocks.

I arrived at the point where I had to make a left turn. Ahead, about 400 metres away, were a few very old stone houses. The houses amounted to no more than a hamlet, but they suggested to me that, in the past, a larger settlement may have existed, perhaps because of the church high above. The families in the hamlet appeared to be very poor. Most of the families grew crops or reared livestock on the nearby pasture.

The ascent to the ruined church was quite exhausting, partly because the church was further away than it looked, and partly because there were places where the slope rose at about 45 degrees. Another problem was that the rock was often unstable underfoot. This said, I would have been bitterly disappointed had I missed seeing the church up close. It is a remarkable ruin.

The church is part of what was once St. Argelan Monastery. T. A. Sinclair (a renowned scholar specialising in eastern Turkey) writes that the church:

“was certainly built by the 13th century, when St. Argelan, an ascetic famous for his miracles, took up residence in the monastery. Argelan was buried in 1251 in a funerary chapel built near a cave where he had been in the habit of retiring. The chapel was pulled down in the mid-17th century and the present church was then built in its place. (The church) stands on a broad, gentle (?) hillside. From one side a tapering aspect is preserved: in one respect it is actually enhanced by the loss of facing stone from the roof and walls. The church is a domed rectangle in which the w. walls supporting the dome are unusually short, and the w. ends of the n. and s. arches under the dome rest on the face of the w. arch. However, the sw. angle and the sw. quarter of the drum and dome have fallen. Above the rooms by the apse are windowed spaces, to which, however, there seems to have been no access. Much of the facing stone seems to have been renewed in a restoration of 1700.”

There are a number of things interesting about the church. First, the church stands on a very narrow ledge high above the valley and below a mountain wall rising steeply behind. I could not do other than marvel at the ingenuity of those responsible for its construction. Second, the dome and the drum, and the dressed stone that encases their exterior walls, are in unusually good condition. Third, because so much of the  church survives, it is easy to appreciate how cleverly the rectangular nave, which is not very large, transitions into the dome and the drum. Fourth, carved into the rock beside the church are some remarkably intricate and sometimes unusual khatchkars (Armenian for “stone crosses”. There are also many conventional crosses, but they are more basic in execution). Last, caves exist beside the church and in the mountain wall above, and carved crosses decorate some of the cave entrances. It seems reasonable to assume that monks keen to engage with the ascetic practices favoured by St. Argelan lived in some or all of the caves.

Needless to say, the views from the ledge are outstanding. To the east you admire the wide fertile valley with Muradiye about 3 kms away, to the south you see high mountain slopes, to the north you peer along the pretty valley toward Muradiye Falls and Dogubayazit far beyond, and downward you overlook the hamlet. Far below, a few people were working in the fields and the orchards.

Getting down from the church proved considerably easier and quicker than getting up. I found a fairly reliable path among the rocks, the flowers and the wild herbs and arrived in the hamlet about thirty minutes after setting off.

N.B. The monastery featured in the photos below belonged to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a church which in the old days used to be misleadingly called “monophysite”. The churches most often deemed “monophysite” (Christ has one nature, the divine) are the Armenian Apostolic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox churches. These churches are distinct from the “dyophysite/diaphysite” churches (the Protestant, the Roman Catholic and the “mainstream” Orthodox churches such as the Greek, the Russian and the Serbian Orthodox churches) which subscribe to the idea that Christ has two natures, the divine and the human.

However, the Armenian Apostolic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox churches are better described as “miaphysite”. The “miaphysite” doctrine derives from Cyril of Alexandria who described Christ as being of one incarnate nature where both the divine and the human are united. While the prefix “mono” refers to a singular one, the prefix “mia” refers to a compound one.

The “dyophysite/diaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing oil and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, are present in Jesus, but do not mix), while the “miaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing wine and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, mix).

One last point: Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the religion of the state (Georgia was the second country to do so). 301 is usually identified as the year in which Christianity became the state religion in Armenia. Note that 301 pre-dates adoption of Christianity as the state religion in Georgia by over thirty years (337 is now widely accepted as the date when at least part of modern-day Georgia adopted Christianity as the state religion), and the Roman Empire’s edict of toleration of Christianity in 311 by ten years. But the edict of toleration did not make Christianity the religion of the state in the Roman Empire, nor did legalisation of Christianity in 313 or Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 321. These events merely made it a lot safer to be a Christian within the empire’s borders. Note that at least one later Pagan emperor, Julian in the 360s, engaged in the persecution of Christians, as had occurred prior to 311.

It is very sad that Armenia’s importance in the history of early Christianity is so poorly appreciated in most of the West. It is also sad that the distinction between “dyophysite/diaphysite” and “miaphysite” Christianity is so rarely acknowledged in classrooms, whether in schools or universities.

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Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

Bradford, one of my favourite UK cities, is best known because of its very large “Asian” population (in fact, the “Asian” population of Bradford is overwhelmingly Pakistani in origin, even though the city is now home to over a hundred different ethnic groups). In this post I allude fleetingly to the “Asian” dimension of the city, but also reveal that, in common with all great cities, Bradford is multi-faceted (which is why I enjoy every visit I make).

We drove to the Great Victoria Hotel in Bradford’s city centre, a large mid-Victorian pile (the hotel was built in 1867, above all to meet the needs of railway passengers) opposite the crown court and next to the offices and the printing presses of the Telegraph and Argus newspaper. We were directed to a very good corner room with en suite facilities and an adjoining sitting room, which meant we had what was really a small suite (but the cost was only £45 a night without breakfast). The afternoon was spent in the National Media Museum (so recently threatened with closure), Bradford Cathedral and Little Germany, the latter an area of narrow streets just to the side of the cathedral with remarkable commercial and industrial buildings that somehow survived demolition in the 1960s and 1970s (the centre of Bradford is marred by wide through roads and large ugly office and commercial blocks dating from the 1960s to the 1980s). For our evening meal we drove to the Three Singhs about 2 miles south of the city centre for a very good Punjabi meal in pleasant modern surroundings (the mango lassi was the best mango lassi we have ever had in a restaurant). After dropping the car back at the hotel we walked about ten minutes to The Sparrow, a “bier cafe” that was the Campaign for Real Ale’s Bradford pub of the year in 2012. As you would expect, The Sparrow has a selection of very good beers and patrons of diverse age and ethnicity, but the facilities are not conducive to a prolonged drinking session.

The following morning we had coffee in our room and shared a banana and what remained of an excellent Yorkshire curd tart bought the day before in Saltaire. We then went to a shop called Living Islam so Hilary could buy some scarves and me some gifts for a Kurdish family in south-east Turkey that had looked after me one day in August. Next, we popped into a bakery run by a young Iraqi Kurd who had been in the UK for eight years. We bought eight plain nans (for £2) and a few other edible goodies, one being a jar of quince jam from Iran. We then spent about three hours with J. and N., a couple we have known for a number of years (J. is Afghan in origin and N. is Pakistani in origin). N. had, as usual, prepared a wonderful Pakistani meal, a meal which ended with warmed gulab jamun and pistachio ice cream. Our final ports of call were Bombay Stores (for Hilary’s seventh scarf of the day) and a nearby enormous halal supermarket. The supermarket was extremely busy, but we came away with over £60 of edible goodies (I can taste the kulfi, the pomegranates, the Turkish white cheese and the Saudi Arabian tahini as I write).

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Hosap Kale (Castle), Guzelsu, Van, Turkey.

To find Hosap Kale in the village of Guzelsu, access Google Maps and in the search engine type “Van, Turkey”. From the centre of Van, follow the road south for about 20 kms to Gurpinar. You are now on the main road from Tatvan and Bitlis in the west to Baskale and Hakkari in the south-east and the south respectively. Follow the road toward Baskale and Hakkari. Hosap is about 40 kms east of Gurpinar. Public transport is frequent between Van and Guzelsu. Every minibus to Baskale, Hakkari or Yuksekova passes through Guzelsu, but there are also minibuses from Van that go only as far as Guzelsu.

Hosap Kale stands on a rocky outcrop high above the village of Guzelsu. The south-facing wall of the castle crowns a high vertical cliff overlooking the road. At the foot of the vertical cliff is a river, and the river is crossed by a three-arched bridge built with courses of black and white stone, apart from the balustrades and a few courses to the right and the left of the two outer arches. Because of the smaller width and height of the two end arches you might expect the middle arch to be hump-backed, but it is not. Instead it is almost level with its neighbours. Sinclair writes that:

“The bridge’s style belongs to that of some Ottoman buildings in the district and in upper Mesopotamia, and it was built by a Kurdish emir of Hosap, Zaynal Bey, in 1671.”

I crossed the bridge to ascend a dirt road, which, in the past, was the only way to access the castle (there is now an asphalt road that ascends to the castle entrance from the south-east corner of the rocky outcrop). The ascent leads into a part of Guzelsu where old houses are common, and where remnants of fortifications and mud walls reveal that the village has much more to enjoy than the castle alone. This was confirmed once I was inside the castle itself because, as I looked down on Guzelsu with panoramic views in every direction, I saw turbes (tombs) and at least one medrese (seminary for training mullahs or hocas).

From the north-west, the castle looks even larger than when viewed from below the vertical cliff. Hosap Kale is not as large as the castle in Bayburt (Bayburt Kale is Turkey’s largest castle), nor is it as remarkable a structure as Crac des Chevaliers in neighbouring Syria (Crac des Chevaliers is probably the most fascinating castle on the globe), but, in my estimation at least, it is one of the dozen finest castles still in existence, intact or in ruin.

Sinclair writes that:

“A single wall runs above the cliff and above the cliff descending on the south-east from the south, the highest, corner. The easier ground spreading downwards in the angle between the two walls is defended by three separate lines of wall. The inner of these is really part of a sort of oval keep which crowns the southerly end of the south-west side of the rock…

“The way (to the castle) leads, over the north-west extension of the castle rock, round the castle, to the bulky entrance tower on the north-east, whose door looks north along the wall. Above the door here are two lions either side of a tear drop, and, below, an inscription panel inside a frame of partly honeycomb patterns. The inscription shows that the entrance tower was built, probably with several other parts of the castle, by an emir of Hosap, Suleyman, in 1649. Two blind arches, one inside the other, enclose both the black and white frame surrounding these and the door below.

“One goes through a dark entrance chamber, turning two right angles, and climbs up a long covered way. The path then doubles back in order to go through the gate in the middle wall. Above again stands the keep, whose shape is managed by means of a series of straight stretches of wall. Its most rounded end is toward the north. The whole of the interior looks to have been covered by a roof on wooden rafters. Many of the inner wall surfaces have kept their plaster. Two very slim semi-circular towers stand in the wall overlooking the village. The southerly of these turns out to resemble, on the inside, a dovecote, but the holes are apparently for watching the road. Between the two round towers is a solid tower projecting inwards only. There are some remains of buildings (a mosque, hamam, store and others) below the keep on the side overlooking the village (south-west)…

“Keep. The floor of its upper storey was just below a series of triangular niches which project inside. In these niches are small slits for rifles and small holes in the floor (machicolation)… There are then three storeys below these, the one immediately below having, at the north-west, two levels of windows…

“Intermediate wall. The easterly stretch, facing away from the road, has relatively small towers, and the layout, but probably not the present masonry, may well be that of a medieval Armenian original.”

When I arrived at the entrance tower, the heavy iron gate, one of considerable age, was locked, so a man got out of a car parked nearby to let me in. I reached for my wallet, but was advised that entry was free. Remarkable. From the moment you examine the finely carved stone on the entrance tower you know you are about to experience something very special, and that sense of specialness persists throughout the visit. Hosap Kale proved one of the trip’s most rewarding excursions. Although I shall never forget the views from the keep and the walls, or the entrance tower, the entrance chamber, the covered pathway or the remarkable wall and towers that crown the vertical cliff, something much more modest made almost as big an impression. As Sinclair notes, “many of the inner wall surfaces (of the keep) have kept their plaster.” What he does not say is that some of the plaster moulding survives, as does some of the paintwork on the plaster.

I descended to the main road along the new asphalt road leading to and from the castle entrance to examine a small mosque, a medrese and three turbes, all of which benefit from a light-coloured brown stone similar to the stone used to construct the castle. These monuments exist in a part of Guzelsu which is quite widely dispersed. Some old houses survive, as does an old Muslim cemetery in front of the medrese where the gravestones are simple slabs of rock tilting every which way. As far as I could tell, none of the gravestones are inscribed or decorated, which suggests that they mark the final resting place of very humble people.

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Saltaire, near Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

We drove directly to Saltaire (a model industrial village founded in 1851 by Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the Yorkshire woollen industry) on a Friday morning and, between the showers, had a lovely time looking around the settlement and its immediate surroundings. We saw the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; the River Aire; Salt’s Mill with its shop full of tempting art and photography books; some very good work by Bradford’s very own David Hockney; an astounding collection of glazed terracotta made in the now-closed Burmantoft Pottery in Leeds; nearby Roberts Park with its pretty cricket ground, pavilion, scoreboard and cafe in a grade two listed building; the terraces of stone-built houses, many of which lie along cobbled streets; a magnificent Congregational church with a stunning interior (the church now belongs to the United Reformed Church); and some of Saltaire’s other large buildings designed to meet the needs and the aspirations of the mill’s one-time workers and their families (the other large buildings include a concert hall with a Wurlitzer organ). Conkers fell from the trees as we peered through the windows of the attractive shops, cafes and restaurants along Victoria Road.

Saltaire is, deservedly, a UNESCO world heritage site (and an anchor point on the European Route of Industrial Heritage), but I am including a post about it because the great majority of its visitors live no more than 50 kms away. Saltaire deserves to be far better known, not least because of the recently completed restoration of Roberts Park; the galleries, shops, cafes and restaurants in Salt’s Mill and along Victoria Road; and the opportunities for interesting walks along the canal’s tow path. Autumn is a particularly good time to visit Saltaire because the frequent rain showers enhance the cobbles and the stonework, and the falling leaves add flashes of intense colour, especially under overcast skies.

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The Monastery of Mor Aho/The Holy Cross/Dayro Daslibo, Catalcam/Dayro Daslibo, Mardin, Turkey.

To find Catalcam, access Google Maps and in the search engine type “Midyat, Turkey”. From the centre of Midyat, follow the main road north (the road goes through stunning Hasankeyf on its way to Batman) for about 6 kms to the junction for Dargecit on the right. Take the road to the right. After about 15 kms you pass beside the pretty village of Izbirak. Continue for another 5 kms and a turning to the left leads to Catalcam, which is about 4 kms from the main road. There is an asphalt road all the way from Midyat to Catalcam. Public transport exists between Midyat and Dargecit and the minibus driver will know where to drop you for Catalcam. It is a relatively easy walk across undulating plateau from the main road to Catalcam, but almost everyone with a motor vehicle will provide you with a lift all or part of the way.

Catalcam is the Turkish name for a village known to Syriac Christians as Dayro Daslibo. Nowadays, the monastery is, but for one or two nearby buildings, all that remains of the village (although later, when touring the monastery, I was told that Dayro Daslibo is really an abandoned village that exists just over the ridge). From a distance of about 1 km, the monastic complex looks larger than some that remain in Tur Abdin, and its sturdy outer walls resemble those of a castle. It soon became apparent why it is so large and why it is protected by formidable walls. At times during the history of Dayro Daslibo, the monastery was also the village. For greater security, houses were built within the complex and evidence for such houses survives to this day.

An elderly Syriac Christian who has lived in the village for most of his life, and a young Syriac Christian man whose family live in Sweden, led me on an astounding tour of the monastic complex. The elderly man knew a vast amount about the history and the folklore associated with the monastery, and the young Swedish-born Syriac Christian kindly translated what he could from Turoyo into English. At one point we stopped to drink coffee and eat a platter of fruit prepared by the young man’s mother (the young man’s family were living in the monastery for a month so they could re-engage with their roots). When I asked about sayfo (the large-scale massacre of Syriac Christians that began in April 1915), the elderly man told stories from those terrible times as if the events had happened only a few weeks’ earlier. It was obvious that sayfo (the year of the sword) has left an indelible mark on Syriac Christian consciousness, a mark comparable to the one that metz yeghem (the big calamity) has left on Armenian consciousness, and shoah (the holocaust) has left on Jewish consciousness.

DelCogliano writes that:

“The monastery was founded by Mor Aho c. 575 – 600 (the locals prefer an earlier foundation date of c. 500). Mor Aho was a native of Resh’aina (modern day Ra’s al-Ain in Syria) and became a disciple of a local monk at the age of twelve. In 573 he was captured during a Persian raid and conscripted into the Persian army. Subsequently extricating himself, he returned to the Tur Abdin region and founded a monastery.

“Some time after this he travelled to Jerusalem and Constantinople from where he smuggled away a relic of the Holy Cross. Mor Aho hid the relic in a slit in his leg, which miraculously healed over the wound, demonstrating divine approbation of the theft. The monastery’s main church, today dedicated to Mor Aho, was built over the relic, which was positioned in an undisclosed location (no doubt to prevent its further theft). Hence the relic cannot be seen and no one knows exactly where it is, though local tradition remains certain of its presence. Mor Aho is also responsible for the conversion of four villages in the area of Melitene (present-day Eski Malatya) and for the foundation of another monastery in the same region. He died at a great age, and his tomb can still be seen today in the monastery’s Beth Qadishe.

“Whatever its history after the death of Mor Aho, Dayro Daslibo was abandoned as a monastic site during the massacres of 1915. Subsequent attempts to revive monastic life failed, with some of the monks being killed. The situation of the village in the late 1990s was so precarious that in May 2000 Reverend Stephen Griffith wrote: ‘(The village of) Dayro Daslibo has only thirteen old people who are waiting to die. Their stories of the massacres of 1915 and 1924 are still vivid, but it is the migration of their children which will end the 1,400 year-old Christian history of the village.’

“The situation of Dayro Daslibo has improved since then. One family has returned to the village from the diaspora, a young man returned to the village after his military service, and the local community and visiting emigrants have expended much energy restoring and improving the church. A new well has been sunk for the village by the local authorities. Finally, a nun named Meryem (Mary) has lived at the monastery since 2001. She explained to us, however, that since there are no monks residing at the monastery and the liturgy is not performed on a regular basis, the Syriac Orthodox do not consider Dayro Daslibo an active monastery. Nonetheless, the presence of Meryem is perhaps a prelude to the full revival of monastic life. A visiting priest celebrates the liturgy every twenty or forty days for the five Christian families that now reside in the village.

“When we visited Dayro Daslibo, the lively Meryem gave us a tour of the monastery, speaking to us in German… We were able to scan the magnificent horizon from atop the church, speaking also to a local woman as she dried tomatoes on the roof.”

I also found myself on the roof of the church and can confirm that the views in every direction are excellent. On the occasion of my visit, female members of the family from Sweden helped a local woman to dry tomatoes. The women had a large plastic bowl full of enviably large tomatoes. They sliced the tomatoes in half. The sliced tomatoes were carefully arranged on a sheet of plastic or tarpaulin so that they did not touch their neighbours. The skins of the tomatoes were in contact with the plastic or tarpaulin, which meant that the juicy insides faced toward the sun. I was advised that, because of the extremely dry heat in August, it took only two to five days for the tomatoes to be ready for storage. Meryem arrived to check that everything was going well.

Sinclair writes that:

“The monastery was built round a court and surrounded by a high wall: the present villagers have built houses at first floor level and increased the place’s fortress-like aspect. One church, however, that of Mor Aho, lies just outside the enclosure, s. of the se. corner. Mor Aho, who died in 556 (?), was the supposed founder of this monastery: in reality, the monastery was probably founded earlier…

“Church of the Cross. This lies against the e. wall near the s. end, and a chamber reached from the s. sanctuary touches the monastery’s s. wall. The church is of the transverse nave type, and extends about 20 metres e. – w. Houses have now been built over most of the roof, but a beth slutho (free-standing, open-air apse, probably for summer services) survives against the w. wall of the narthex. It is much rebuilt, fragments of sculpture being re-incorporated in random positions on all three sides… The beth slutho’s inner end is rectangular rather than semi-circular. The narthex is now reached from a corridor to its n.: an opening has been broken into the narthex’s n. end. The church, too, has been rebuilt at some stage, and there are signs of subsequent restoration. The middle sanctuary ends in a semi-circle which projects beyond the e. line of the two side sanctuaries.

“Church of Mor Aho. The church, which has a square nave, lies at the n. end of the rectangular chamber for the saint’s tomb, the latter chamber being larger overall and longer n. – s. than the church’s nave. A recent corridor has been created on the w., connecting the doors of both nave and tomb chamber, and the outer wall of the corridor has been continued round the other sides of the building as an encasing wall, though the church’s three sanctuaries were rebuilt, and their layout changed, in the process. The church has kept its original wall (probably 556) on the w. and, in places, on the e., including the apse arch and the wall to its n.: the niche here seems to be the beginning of the original passage to the n. sanctuary, which is now reached from the middle sanctuary. The saint’s bare tomb lies in the s. chamber’s sw. corner. Parts at least, and probably the whole, of the chamber’s walls, were rebuilt in 1034 (inscription on outer face of w. wall), and the church’s n. wall seems to have been included in the renovation.”

After we had looked around the Church of the Cross and the compound’s other buildings, the latter including accommodation for Meryem, a few villagers and short- or long-term visitors (parts of the complex look and feel very old, which says a lot about how carefully restoration has been undertaken in recent times), we left the main entrance and walked to the left where an extension of the complex exists outside the walled enclosure. Here is a second, smaller, church (the church that Sinclair identifies as that of Mor Aho) with a cemetery in front of it. The cemetery has many old graves and gravestones within it, but also, beneath two or three stunted trees, a handful of more recent graves covered with quite large tombs. That Syriac Christians are once more buried in Tur Abdin simply because of old age is itself a very positive sign.

We entered the second church where my guides showed me a small flat cavity in the wall from where something had obviously been removed. My guides said that the cavity once held a stone inscribed with information in Aramaic (similar stones exist elsewhere in the church). However, the inscribed stone had caught the eye of an English or a European woman who, a few years before sayfo, had visited the monastery. The woman asked if she could have the inscribed stone and, so the story goes, the people who were showing her around granted her wish. Understandably, my guides were curious to know what had been written on the inscribed stone. They did not want the inscribed stone returned because, according to local tradition, it had been given to the woman willingly, but they wanted to know what was written on it so that a replica could be carved and inserted into the cavity from where the original had been removed.

To the best of my knowledge, the only English or European woman who might have visited the monastery a few years before sayfo was Gertrude Bell (she visited Tur Abdin twice, in 1909 and 1911), so I said this to my guides. I also said that, by typing “Gertrude Bell” into an internet search engine, the remarkable Gertrude Bell archive in the possession of Newcastle University will instantly appear in the list of relevant websites. I said I would try to find information about the inscribed stone, but warned that, if such information existed, it might prove difficult to track down.

We went into the Beth Qadishe below the church where famous figures associated with the monastery lie buried, Mor Aho included, then we returned to the sun-swamped cemetery. I delayed my departure a few minutes more to take full stock of this remarkable monastic complex. For obvious reasons, Mor Gabriel Monastery (about 30 kms south-east of Midyat) and Dar Zafaran Monastery (about 6 kms east of Mardin) are more important and better known than the Monastery of the Holy Cross, but I found my visit to Dayro Daslibo highly instructive and very moving.

N.B. Here is some useful background information for teachers (and, indeed, others) who may wish to use the post for educational purposes.

The monastery featured in the photos below belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Church, a church which in the old days used to be misleadingly called “monophysite”. The churches most often deemed “monophysite” (Christ has one nature, the divine) are the Armenian Apostolic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox churches. These churches are distinct from the “dyophysite/diaphysite” churches (the Protestant, the Roman Catholic and the “mainstream” Orthodox churches such as the Greek, the Russian and the Serbian Orthodox churches) which subscribe to the idea that Christ has two natures, the divine and the human.

However, the Armenian Apostolic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox churches are better described as “miaphysite”. The “miaphysite” doctrine derives from Cyril of Alexandria who described Christ as being of one incarnate nature in whom both the divine and the human are united. While the prefix “mono” refers to a singular one, the prefix “mia” refers to a compound one.

The “dyophysite/diaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing oil and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, are present in Jesus, but do not mix), while the “miaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing wine and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, mix).

Along with the Coptic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church played a key role in the early development of Christian monasticism. The Syriac Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel near Midyat, Turkey, can claim to be one of the oldest still functioning Christian monasteries in the world, roughly contemporary with the four ancient Coptic monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun, Egypt, whose origins also lie in the late 4th century. Mor Gabriel’s foundation precedes Mar Saba Monastery in Palestine by about 80 years, St. Catherine’s Monastery immediately below Mount Sinai by about 150 years, and the earliest monastery on Mount Athos by at least 400 years. Thus, Mor Gabriel is one of a handful of monasteries carrying on a tradition that has continued, apart from periods of desertion, for over 1,600 years.

A brief word about the attractive sutore (the plural of suturo) d’madbho, or sanctuary veils (my thanks to DelCogliano for most of what follows). Suturo d’madbho is a type of artwork encountered all over Tur Abdin. Every Tur Abdin church has at least one suturo that separates the altar from the congregation at certain times during the liturgy. The suturo is attached to a curtain rod so that it can be easily drawn back and forth when necessary. Most churches also have several other sutore hanging on a bare wall or covering an alcove or doorway. Sutore are examples of a Turkish craft skill particularly popular in Anatolia called basmacilik, which literally means “stamping”. The art of basmacilik involves taking wooden moulds carved into various figures and shapes, pressing them into paint, and then stamping them onto the cloth. An alternative way of achieving the same outcome is to draw the outlines of the figures and the shapes onto the cloth and then painting them by hand.

Most sutore are approximately 2 metres square. Each suturo has one or two large images in the centre of the cloth, typically of Mary, the last supper, the crucifixion or the resurrection. Almost without exception, in small circles at each of the four corners, are images of the four evangelists together with their symbols: John with an eagle, Matthew with a man, Mark with a lion and Luke with an ox. Other images include seraphim or angels. Figures on the sutore are usually surrounded by decorative floral arrangements or elaborate scrollwork. While some sutore are subdued in tone because of the use of different shades of brown, many are bright and vibrant because they employ deep reds, blues, yellows and greens. Although most sutore in Tur Abdin are not very old, they appear to be based on designs from an earlier age.

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Sunday Service, Syriac Orthodox Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin, Turkey.

It was Sunday and I wanted to observe a church service. I walked to a Chaldean church on Cumhuriyet Caddesi, Mardin, but it was locked. I entered the narrow side streets to the north of Cumhuriyet Caddesi and arrived at the entrance to the Syriac Orthodox Church of the Forty Martyrs. The door into the compound was open and I could hear chanting from the church below (the slope of the mountain on which Mardin’s old town is built is so steep at the point where the church is located that the buildings within the compound have ground floors at three different levels). A man smiled and urged me to come inside. He pointed down a flight of stone steps to the door of the church itself.

The service had begun about half an hour before my arrival. Altogether, the service lasted about two hours. At first, only twenty or so people were present. Most of the people were elderly and female. Females inclined toward the left side of the nave and males to the right, but no one was worried if females or males strayed into the “wrong” half of the church. However, more people arrived as the service continued and, by its conclusion, males were as numerous as females. About thirty children were present, and about a quarter of the congregation comprised of young adults aged twenty to thirty. In all, about a hundred and fifty people were present when the service concluded.

The priest, whose bright and elaborately embroidered vestments suggested that he was a senior Syriac Orthodox cleric, was assisted by about six or seven males aged from about fifteen to thirty, themselves dressed in albeit more modest vestments. About half way through the service, a group of women assembled at the front of the nave just to the left of the main sanctuary and joined in the singing and the chanting initiated by the male clerics. The women wore white embroidered headscarves and loose-fitting white surplices not dissimilar to those favoured by choristers in the Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches. Lay members of the congregation had very little to do because, due to their training, skills, knowledge and understanding, the priests in Syriac Orthodox churches monopolise all aspects of the service. However, lay members of the congregation regularly got up and down from their seats. They rose from their seats at key moments during the service, those associated with the preparation, the presentation and the sharing of the eucharist being supremely important, of course, but they also rose to engage in prayer, singing or chanting. Once the service had concluded, everyone quietly lined up to receive the body of Jesus in the form of bread and to kiss a copy of the Bible resting on a lectern in front of the main sanctuary (many adults also kissed the hand of the priest leading the service), then women in particular went to light candles (anyone who was ill, frail or had a special need such as impaired sight or mobility problems also lit a candle, usually helped by a relative or friend). Men did not cover their heads, and nor did boys or girls aged up to about fifteen. Roughly a third of young women aged about sixteen to thirty wore a headscarf, as did all women aged fifty or more. However, the headscarves were quite small, and a majority were so veil-like that every woman’s hair could easily be seen. Most women wore clothes such as trousers, long skirts and tops with long sleeves so that most of their body was covered, but some women aged about eighteen to thirty wore tight-fitting clothes that would have been totally unacceptable to their pious Muslim neighbours. Young women applied make-up and made sure that their hair looked attractive. It occurred to me that some young women saw Sunday’s church service as an opportunity to look their best, perhaps with one eye on securing a suitable husband. In fairness, some of the young men presented themselves with equal care, no doubt also in the hope of attracting a partner.

Toward the end of the service the priest wearing the most elaborate vestments delivered a sermon lasting about fifteen minutes. Adults listened intently, but young children talked quietly among themselves or walked around the nave. Although services in Syriac Orthodox churches appear to be highly structured events that adhere rigidly to well-established practices and procedures, some no doubt dating from the early centuries of the Church itself, there is something delightfully informal about the way that members of the congregation conduct themselves. People come and go during the service, they walk around the nave and quietly greet relations and friends, children engage in exploration of the compound and the buildings within it, and adults chat about their day-to-day successes, trials and tribulations. In this respect I am reminded of worship in Orthodox Jewish synagogues. But to suggest a link between Syriac Orthodox Christianity and at least one manifestation of contemporary Judaism is not as silly as some people might think, because the Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the Christian denominations that has changed least since its inception and therefore has more in common with Judaism, the faith from which is sprung, than the majority of Christian denominations. The fact that the liturgy is conducted in Aramaic, and that the Syriac Orthodox Bible is written in the same language, only reinforce the Syriac Orthodox Church’s Judaic roots (small parts of the Jewish Bible are written in Aramaic, a language closely related to Hebrew).

I stood at the back of the church for most of the service, but walked around to take photos throughout. At one point incense in considerable quantity burnt for about fifteen minutes and filled most of the nave with its smoke and its pungent smell. On arrival, because all the lights in the nave were out, I had assumed that services unfolded during the day with whatever natural light penetrated through the doors and the small windows. But I was wrong in my assumption: the church and the surrounding houses were suffering a power cut. About half an hour after I had arrived the electricity returned and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling bathed parts of the nave in bright light, especially in the area closest to the main sanctuary.

Some very interesting paintings hang from the walls, but I doubt that they are very old. There are also some attractive sutore d’madbho (sanctuary veils), but their bright colours suggest that, in common with the paintings, they are not very old. This said, the bulky piers that support the roof of the church, the many shadowy corners in the nave, the arrangement of artefacts in the deep main sanctuary, the paintings, the sutore d’madbho and the order of the service create an aura of great age. The clerical vestments, the incense, the candles and the respect directed toward the Bible and the clerics enhance the sense that you have somehow time travelled to a much earlier age, the contemporary dress of the laity notwithstanding.

I found it uplifting and encouraging that a church in Mardin is in such buoyant health given the hostile environment which has existed for Christians in Turkish Kurdistan for so long. This said, it would be incorrect to get too excited just yet. As far as I could tell, this was the only church in Mardin holding a service the Sunday of my visit (although I knew that at least one service would be conducted at nearby Dar Zafaran Syriac Orthodox Monastery). Moreover, in the Middle East things have a nasty habit of changing for the worse very quickly.

The church compound now has two entrances, one along the west wall and one along the north wall. The entrance from the north wall opens onto the flight of stone steps leading to the church. A house, which has a south-facing wall with carved stone characteristic of many old houses in Mardin, lies to the right of the steps. To the south of the church, at the lowest point of the compound, is a volleyball court complete with a net. I suspect that the volleyball court used to be a landscaped garden or somewhere to grow fruit and vegetables. A few flowers, bushes and trees hint at more glamorous or useful exploitation in the past.

I sat in the sunshine overlooking the volleyball court and chatted with a Syriac Christian woman aged about fifty. She was a teacher who lived and worked in Mardin. She was up-beat about the region’s future prospects. She believed that peaceful co-existence would prevail among the region’s ethnic and confessional groups, despite Kurdish demographic dominance and overt expressions of Kurdish nationalism. For this happy state of affairs she felt that the European Union (EU) deserved the greatest thanks. She believed that it was EU pressure on the Turkish government which was largely responsible for improvements for all the ethnic and confessional minorities living in the Turkish Republic. I suspect she may be correct.

N.B. Here is some useful background information for teachers (and, indeed, others) who may wish to use the post for educational purposes.

The church featured in the photos below belongs to the Syriac Orthodox Church, a church which in the old days used to be misleadingly called “monophysite”. The churches most often deemed “monophysite” (Christ has one nature, the divine) are the Armenian Apostolic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox churches. These churches are distinct from the “dyophysite/diaphysite” churches (the Protestant, the Roman Catholic and the “mainstream” Orthodox churches such as the Greek, the Russian and the Serbian Orthodox churches) which subscribe to the idea that Christ has two natures, the divine and the human.

However, the Armenian Apostolic, the Coptic, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syriac Orthodox churches are better described as “miaphysite”. The “miaphysite” doctrine derives from Cyril of Alexandria who described Christ as being of one incarnate nature in whom both the divine and the human are united. While the prefix “mono” refers to a singular one, the prefix “mia” refers to a compound one.

The “dyophysite/diaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing oil and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, are present in Jesus, but do not mix), while the “miaphysite” concept of Jesus can be equated to a glass containing wine and water (the two natures, the divine and the human, mix).

One last point: along with the Coptic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church played a key role in the early development of Christian monasticism. The Syriac Orthodox Monastery of Mor Gabriel near Midyat, Turkey, can claim to be one of the oldest still functioning Christian monasteries in the world, roughly contemporary with the four ancient Coptic monasteries of Wadi al-Natrun, Egypt, whose origins also lie in the late 4th century. Mor Gabriel’s foundation precedes Mar Saba Monastery in Palestine by about 80 years, St. Catherine’s Monastery immediately below Mount Sinai by about 150 years, and the earliest monastery on Mount Athos by at least 400 years. Thus, Mor Gabriel is one of a handful of monasteries carrying on a tradition that has continued, apart from periods of desertion, for over 1,600 years.

It is very sad that the importance of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the history of early Christianity generally, and Christian monasticism in particular, is so poorly appreciated in most of the West. It is also sad that the distinction between “dyophysite/diaphysite” and “miaphysite” Christianity is so rarely acknowledged in classrooms, whether in schools or universities.

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