Church of Sultan Madokht


4th century AD

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

    Exterior Views & Details

    Baptism Chapel

    The church of Sultan Madokht is found in Aradin, about 150 km from Mosul and 50 km from the city of Dohuk. The village lies in Wadi Sapna, surrounded by Mount Matin to the north and Mount Gara to the south. Its Assyrian name means 'Land of Eden,' expressing its beautiful natural setting. Situated about a half kilometer south of the village, this famous church stands next to a tell likely formed from the ancient settlement. In 1987, Aradin was completely destroyed with the exception of the Church of Sultan Madokht. The church remains in use to the present day, and people from around Iraq come to visit and pray here.

    Dating to the fourth century AD, the Church of Sultan Madokht reflects the simple style and construction methods of early eastern churches. The barrel vaulted structure is made out of roughly hewn blocks of limestone. Although the standing structure has been recently renovated, it still maintains its original floor plan as well as some ancient architectural elements throughout the building. A modern wall surrounds the church; an outer gate leads into the open courtyard (see the panorama); this is used for religious ceremonies and celebrations (especially those performed yearly on May 15th, commemorating the village’s patroness, Saint Sultan Madokht).   

    The church’s main entrance is on the south side and leads into the first chapel, the baptism chapel (see the panorama). This is a long and narrow space with the floor consisting of two levels: a higher level starting from the main entrance and extending west and east, and the lower level, probably the original, at the easternmost end of the chapel. A stone baptistry basin is found in the southeastern corner of the lower level. Opposite to the basin, there is a small arched doorway that leads to the church’s main altar and chapel to the north. Carved into the northern and southern walls of the upper level are eight arched niches, four in each wall. In the second niche of the southern wall, the remains of a human skeleton are displayed. These include a skull and a mix of bones along with some artifacts. Above this niche and embedded in the southern wall is a modern marble slab bearing memorial inscriptions, both in Arabic and Neo-Aramaic, of Bishop Abd al-Ahad Smano Rais (1879-1916), who was buried in this church.

    The church’s main space consists of a vaulted nave (see the panorama), which is larger and wider then the baptism chapel. The roofing of the main nave consists of a tall, pitched barrel vault with transverse arches. Its northern and southern walls have several square niches. Windows of various sizes were opened in the western wall of this space. The eastern wall divides the nave from the space of the altar, with small square doorways to its right and left. Inside the right doorway, there are remains of what appears to be a column that probably belonged to the ancient structure. An arched portal provides access from the nave into the altar chapel (see the panorama). The present altar chapel is decorated with modern wooden furniture as well as modern photos and paintings showing Jesus and mother Mary. The centerpiece, however, depicts the story of Saint Madokht and her two brothers and their encounter with the St. Abda, who cured her brother and brought him back to life. Inside of the altar chapel, square and arched niches are carved into the northern wall, while several square niches are found in the eastern and western walls. Some of these have crosses and flowers inside; while others have traces of soot indicating that they were places for votive candles. Several worn stone door sockets, no longer in use, are located both inside and outside of the church. These door sockets most likely belonged to the ancient structure, and they are kept inside the church as relics from the early building. Almost nothing remains of the imagery that might have adorned the original church. We do have a single bricka loose find from the vicinity of the altar’s southwest cornerdecorated with a typical eastern cross.

    In recent years, under the leadership of Bishop Rabban el-Qas, the church building was heavily renovated: its main entrance and inner doorways were enlarged, its walls plastered with white gypsum, and its chapels lit with electricity.

    Entrance Inscription: 'Sultan Mhadokht Church / From the fourth century 319 AD'

    Memorial Inscription: “A luminous lamp and a grain of mustard in God's generosity. The late father Abd al-Ahad Smano Rais, born in the village of Aradin in 1879. Entered the Institute of St. John the Beloved in Mosul in 1894. He was ordained as a priest on May 15th, 1904, along with his colleague, Yousif Ghenemeh, the patriarch, by the patriarch Mar Yousif Amanuael II. He built the monastery of Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Aradin on August 15th, 1911. He died on February 16th, 1916, and was buried in the Church of Sultan Madokht in Aradin.”    

    An inscribed stone that was presumably found within the Church of Sultan Madokht allows us to date the construction to the 4th century AD (and more specifically, to the years 319–325). Although no systematic documentation of the church has been conducted previously, the local tradition maintains that the structure was built on the exact location where Saint Sultan Madokht was executed along with her two brothers. Sultan Madokht and her brothers were the children of Prince Pholar, who was in charge of the Dorsas principality during the reign of King Shapur II of the Sasanian Empire. On their way back home, Sultan’s youngest brother fall off his horse and went into a coma. While in this dire situation, St. Abda, of a nearby village, helped restore the prince to life. This prince then told his siblings about a dream he had during his coma, in which he saw a bishop kneeling in front of the throne of Christ asking for the prince’s life. As a result, Sultan Madokht and her siblings embraced the Christian faith and asked to be baptized. As the news reached her father, soldiers where sent out to find the three siblings and bring them back for interrogation. After three years, the saint and her brothers were found in a cave near the village of Aradin. The tradition informs us that the three were executed on the spot and were buried in what is now the Church of Sultan Madokht. Today, Sultan Madokht is believed to have performed many miracles, including granting prayers of women unable to conceive and healing many sick people. On May 15th of each year, people of different beliefs gather to celebrate Sultan Madokht and her faith.        

    Abūnā, Albīr. 1985Shuhadāʼ al-Mashriq [Martyrs of the East]. Baghdad: Maṭbaʻat al-Khulūd.

    Scher, Addai. 1900. Kitāb Sīrat ashʹhar shuhadāʼ al-Mashriq al-qiddīsīyīn [History of the Most Famous Eastern Martyrs]. Mosul: Impr. des Pères Dominicains.

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