Ain Baydha

Alternative Names

Kaniya Spi


ca. 12th–13th century AD

MMM Documentation Dates
Fall 2013
Site Type
Religious Buildings and Complexes
Nineveh Governorate

    Forecourt/Eastern Facade & Entrance

    Exterior Details



    Historical Photographs

    Supplementary Images

    Ain Baydha is one of the many buildings set in the sacred valley of Lalish. It is found roughly a half kilometer southwest and slightly uphill of the central sanctuary of Shaykh ‘Adī. Probably built in the 12th–13th century AD, the building is sited atop the Kaniya Spi (“White Spring”), whose sacred waters are important to the Yezidi rite of mor kirin (similar to the Christian baptism). All Yezidis living close enough to Lalish will perform this ritual here; otherwise, the waters of the spring are transported so that it can take place elsewhere.

    Ain Baydha is fronted with an elevated, stone-paved courtyard to the east (see the panorama). Closely proximal buildings stand to the west and south sides of the courtyard, while the north side opens into the streets of Lalish by way of a low staircase. The building is constructed mainly of ashlar masonry; these blocks are laid in imprecise courses and are of varying widths. Most of the roofs are barrel vaulted on the interior and flat roofed on the exterior, which is now made of concrete. The building’s elevation is dominated by a ribbed dome constructed of unhewn stone embedded in a soft gypsum mortar (juss).

    The building’s east side serves as its principal facade. Its main entrance takes the form of a pointed-arched portal. To the north is a smaller entrance with a wooden door. Its stone frame is built of several large blocks: two along each jamb and a lintel whose underside is shaped into a segmental arch. Another large block is set directly above the lintel. Poorly preserved bas reliefs are carved along the frame. The faces of the jambs feature different forms of vases; these are replaced by palmettes along the face of the lintel. The block over the lintel appears to have borne decoration as well, perhaps a carved inscription,1 but this has apparently been chiseled away (only a small portion of the design is visible in the lower left-hand corner). The closest parallels for the reliefs are dated to the early 13th century, suggesting that the door was decorated at the same time or shortly after the complex was built.2

    The Ain Baydha building is divided into three sections, each with a separate entrance leading to a rectangular baptism chamber (see the plan; due to the sacredness of the space, only Yezidi people are allowed inside, and thus the documentation of the interior was not possible). The large arch at the southeast of the building opens into a spacious iwan, serving as an antechamber to the Kaniya Spi (from which another of its names is derived). Here, the White Spring wells up into an oblong cistern. This chamber, which lies under the dome, is now the main baptistry area.3 From here, the spring water is channeled underground to the into the other two baptistry rooms. Traditionally, these served as the Kaniya Kurke and Kaniya Keçka—the boys’ and girls’ springs, respectively—though these are not currently in use. The water flows first into the the Kaniya Keçka, directly to the north of the Kaniya Spi. This room was accessed from the building’s northwestern corner, through a rounded iwan and an irregularly shaped antechamber. The water then flows into the Kaniya Kurke, at the building’s northeast—once entered from the courtyard by way of the door with the decorated stone frame—before flowing out of the building to the north, into a collecting basin.  

    • 1. Cf. the similar stone door frame in Drower 1941, pl. 159, with a carved inscription in this same space.
    • 2. Cf. Açikyildiz 2010, 180.
    • 3. It functioned formerly in the purification of religious paraphernalia; see Fisher and Zagros 2018, 204–205.

    See the descriptions of the building in Drower 1941, 159–161; Açikyildiz 2010, 177–180.

    Only one inscription is found within the building. This is written in Arabic on a marble slab near the main entrance. It reads as follows:

    • Top: “White Spring”
    • Inside a rhomboid: “King Peacock”
    • Below the rhomboid: White Spring”
    • Bottom: “I the everlasting king, named seven names, a name written on the gate of the White Spring, alive and superior.”

    Lalish’s Kaniya Spi (“White Spring”) is central to Yezidi cosmogony, believed to represent the primeval source of all later creation.1 These waters are considered extremely pure and ideal for sacred rites; the mor kirin ritual is similar to the Christian baptism.2 The earliest phase of the structure dates to the 12th or 13th century AD; although this is an independent building, its proximity and ritual association to Shaykh ‘Adī’s sanctuary suggests an association between the two sites.3 The building features several later construction/reconstruction phases as well.

    • 1. See Fisher and Zagros 2018, with earlier bibliography.
    • 2. Cf. Kreyenbroek 2005.
    • 3. Açikyildiz 2010, 178.

    Açikyildiz, Birgül. 2010. The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture, and Religion. London: I. B. Tauris.

    Drower, Ethel S. 1941. Peacock Angel. London: J. Murray.

    Fisher, Tyler, and Nahro Zagros. 2018. “Yezidi Baptism and Rebaptism: Resilience, Reintegration, and Religious Adaptation.” In Routledge Handbook on the Kurds, edited by Michael M. Gunter, 202–214. London: Taylor and Francis.

    Kreyenbroek, Philip G. “Yazidies II: Initiation in Yazidism.” In Encyclopædia Iranica, online ed.

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    Matthew Peebles and Helen Malko (2020)