Mercimekli, near Midyat, Mardin, Turkey.

To find Mercimekli, access Google Maps and in the search engine type “Midyat, Turkey”. From the centre of Midyat, follow the road to Mardin to the westernmost extremity of the town (you will be directly north of the nearby Ulu Camii in the suburb of Estel). From here an asphalt road leads north to Mercimekli. Mercimekli is only 5 kms from the road to Mardin. Public transport to Mercimekli is non-existent, but regular minibuses run between Midyat and Mardin and the driver will know where to drop you for Mercimekli. Once on the road to Mercimekli, almost everyone with a motor vehicle will provide you with a lift all or part of the way.

Mercimekli (this is the Turkish name for the village. Syriac Christians know it by one of the following names: Habsus, Habsnos, Hapisnas or Hapsenas) is a gem. A few concrete and breeze block buildings exist, but most houses are stone structures of considerable age. The church is in very good condition and has a bell tower of typical Syriac Orthodox design. The church stands at the northern extremity of the village on a low hill, which means that it is the first thing you see if approaching the village from the north. A modern mosque has been built closer to the centre of the village, just above a slope facing east, but it has been built in typical Ottoman style with local stone and has a pretty minaret. The oldest part of the village lies south of the mosque around and just beyond a house built over a narrow road so that the road passes through a short tunnel. Immediately to the west of this small area, in a barren, rock-strewn hollow that leads toward fields and rough pasture, is another area of old stone housing. Because the village has a slightly elevated location, the views in all directions are extensive. Although some houses have been abandoned most are occupied, albeit by families that do not have much disposable income (based on their appearance, only four or five houses seem to be owned by families with a substantial income, and such families have moved into new houses or old houses with large modern extensions. One house combining old and new stands within a high walled enclosure, an enclosure which mirrors the compound in which the church is located). There are hens, cockerels, donkeys and a few horses, and dry stone walls surround gardens, dusty yards, fields and orchards. The fields and orchards are within easy walking distance.

I had a wonderful time in the village, partly because the local people, male and female, are so friendly; partly because the vernacular architecture is so interesting; partly because the church is in such good condition; and partly because large flocks of sheep and goats make their way through the dusty streets. Even the tall water tower standing about 100 metres from the church adds an interesting dimension to the village (I was to find during the few days ahead that many villages in and around Tur Abdin have water towers. There were times I thought I had strayed into parts of Texas).

I knew from past experience that many Tur Abdin villages are very picturesque, but Mercimekli is one of the region’s most photogenic.

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

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.

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