Deyrul Zafaran/Deir al-Za'faran Monastery

Alternative Names

Dairo D-Korkamo, Monastery of Deyrul Zafaran, Deir Za’afaran, Saffron Monastery


6th century AD

MMM Documentation Dates
Spring 2015
Site Type
Religious Buildings and Complexes
Mardin (Turkey)
Mardin Province (Turkey)

    Surrounding Landscape & Monastic Dwellings

    Monastery Facades & Southern Entrance/Courtyard

    Southeastern Building (Interior)

    Church of the Virgin Mary (Interior)

    Beth Qadishe Forecourt

    Basement/Remains of Ancient Temple

    The Deyrul Zafaran monastery is located 5 km east of Mardin, halfway up the side of a mountain ridge on which are sited a number of smaller, abandoned churches (both built and rock cut). The monastery was first named after its original founder, Shleymon (6th century AD) and was later renamed after the metropolitan bishop of Mardin, Mor Hanayo, who refounded and renovated the monastery (793 AD). The Monastery of Mor Hananyo remains its official name today, though the local population refers to it as Deir Za’afaran (Arabic for 'Saffron Monastery'). The name has been in use from the 15th century for various reasons, including the saffron-colored stone of the buildings, the saffron-colored dye used in the plaster, and the saffron flowers growing around the monastery.1 


    • 1. DelCogliano 2006, 327.

    The monastery's earliest buildings date to the early 6th century AD and include the main church, the church of the Mother of God, and the Beth Qadishe ('Crypt of the Saints'). The foundations of these buildings were sited upon a Mesopotamian temple dedicated to the sun god; the remnants of this earlier structure can be seen today in the basement underneath the Beth Qadishe (see the panorama). The ceiling of this vault is built of stones without mortar. 

    The monastic buildings are organized around a cloistered courtyard (see the panorama). The main church is set on the east side of this courtyard. The building's interior is square in plan (see the panorama). Entered from the west, its three other sides feature deep apses, the eastern apse being the largest and containing the altar (the present altar was set in place in 1941). A richly decorated frieze runs around the church and springs up into an archivolt over the apses, and over a western bay leading to the western door. The arch of the eastern apse is set higher up than those of the other three bays, and the frieze forms a ramp on the eastern end of the north and southern walls and projects forward over the acanthus capitals on either side of the chancel arch. This frieze incorporates a type of ornaments known as “harvest baskets” along with vines. On either side of the archway leading to the door on the western side there are niches with acanthus capitals carrying enriched arches. Similar arches and niches are found on the exterior of the building on either side of the western entrance, as well as in the small court to the south of the church. Because of its dome with an engraved cross, the structure is sometimes referred to as the “Domed Church.”1 The main church houses the patriarchal throne, the korsi of Antioch, carved in the 6th century AD. 

    The small church of the Virgin Mary is located to the north of the main church (see the panorama). It preserves an original stone altar of a simple cubic form, covered by a carved wooden canopy with a Syriac inscription. On the church's north side, there is an octagonal baptismal font made of stone, still in use today. In addition, the church houses the litters used for the journeys of the patriarchs, borne by horses. 

    The Saints’ House or Beth Qadishe is found to the south of the main church (see the panorama). Along its walls are 15 niches in which the sarcophagi of the saints are kept; each sarcophagus contains the remains of multiple patriarchs in full regalia. The walls of the structure are decorated with motifs including schematic peacocks, scallop shells with palms, and jars with emerging vines. In addition, the exterior lintel of the portal features a cross surrounded by two sea monsters attempting to swallow a pearl; this motif likely symbolizes the triumph of Christ over death and Satan.2 The building is crowned with a dome, which probably dates to the Ottoman period. 

    The monastic complex includes a fourth church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul.3 Here, the elected patriarchs were once consecrated. Today the church is no longer in use, but it houses an altar, made of polished limestone, from the ancient Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate in Antioch. Some identify this stone as the back of the so-called “Throne of Antioch”the patriarchal throne of the archbishop of Antioch before the exile of Severus. Whatever its original function, the altar is carved with a cross supported on a triangle base and sprouting a peacock-like palm above. The cross is flanked by two horses bowing in reverence and a Syriac inscription that record the words spoken by Jesus to Peter.  

    Building and renovation activities have proceeded continually throughout the long history of the Monastery of Deyrul Zafaran. The earliest known renovations date to the 8th century AD, carried out under the metropolitan bishop of Mardin. Since the early 20th century, several buildings have been added to the monastery complex; these include guest rooms and other facilities designed to accommodate visitors from around the world.

    • 1. DelCogliano 2006, 327.
    • 2. Hollerweger 1999, 352.
    • 3. DelCogliano 2006, 328.

    'Description & Iconography' general sources: Preusser 1911, 49–53; Bell and Mango 1982, 69–70; Hollerweger 1999, 340–359; DelCogliano 2006, 326–331.

    The monastery was built on the foundations of a pre-Christian temple dedicated to the sun god (Shamash), probably built sometime during the first millennium BC. The site remained in use into the Roman period.

    The monastery’s earliest history is uncertain; it is said to have been founded by a certain Shleymun about whom nothing more is known. The main church and Beth Qadishe are dated to the 6th century AD on the basis of construction methods and carving styles. The monastery was refounded in 793 AD/CE as the seat of the metropolitan bishop of Mardin and Kefertuth Mor Hananyo (Ananias), after whom the monastery took its official name. This monastery was again abandoned but was refounded once more around 1125 AD. Since then, it has continued to flourish. From 1293 until the early 20th century, it was the seat of the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch.

    'History' general sources: Bell and Mundell Mango 1982, 132–133; Balicka-Witakowski et al. 2001, 165–166; DelCogliano 2006, 326–331.

    Balicka-Witakowski, Ewa, Sebastian P. Brock, David G. K. Taylor, and Witold Witakowski, eds. 2001. The Heirs of the Ancient Aramaic Heritage. Vol. 2 of The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian Orthodox Church and Its Ancient Aramaic Heritage, edited by Sebastian P. Brock and David G. K. Taylor. Rome: Trans World Film Italia.

    Bell, Gertrude, and Marlia Mundell Mango. 1982. The Churches and Monasteries of the Tur ‘Abdin. London: Pindar. Reprint, with new preface, notes, and catalogues, of Gertrude Bell’s The Churches and Monasteries of the Tur ‘Abdin (1910) and Churches and Monasteries the Tur ‘Abdin and Neighboring Districts (1913).

    DelCogliano, Mark. 2006. “Syriac Monasticism in Tur-Abdin: A Present-Day Account.” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 41: 311–349.

    Hollerweger, Hans, et. al. 1999. Turabdin: Living Cultural Heritage. Linz: Freunde des Tur Abdin.

    Mundell, Marlia. 1977. “Monophysite Church Decoration.” In Iconoclasm: Papers Given at the 9th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, edited by Anthony Bryer and Judith Herrin, 59–74. Birmingham: Centre for Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham.

    Preusser, Conrad. 1911. Nordmesopotamische Baudenkmäler: Altchristlicher und Islamischer Zeit. Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichung der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft 17. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs'sche.

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