Mausoleum of Shaykh Shams

Alternative Names

Shaykh Shamsi Temple


ca. 12th century AD

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

    and Surrounding Area

    Upper Terrace

    Eastern Courtyard

    Courtyard: Entrance to the Antechamber of the Mausoleum

    Courtyard: View toward Mausoleum of Malik Naser Dīn

    Supplementary Images

    The mausoleum of Shaykh Shams is one of the many sacred buildings that stand throughout the valley of Lalish in northern Iraq. The structure is dedicated to a 12th-century saint who was later identified with the Yezidi god of the sun. It is found southwest of the central sanctuary of Shaykh ‘Adī, just uphill from the Kaniya Spi. The mausoleum, probably founded shortly after the saint’s death, is among the most venerable shrines of Lalish. An important communal ritual performed here involves the sacrifice of a bull during the annual Feast of the Assembly (Cejna Jema’iyye).1

    • 1. The sacrifice occurs on the fifth day of this festival and takes place at a basin in front of the mausoleum (Açikyildiz 2010, 105–106). Another bull sacrifice is performed at the festival called the Forty Days of Summer (Chilê Havinê; ibid., 110).

    The mausoleum of Shaykh Shams is accessed from the valley by way of a flight of steps leading up from the sanctuary of Shaykh ‘Adī. The building, flanked by an open courtyard, is laid out according to a rectangular plan oriented east-west. It is entered by way of a vestibule to the east, built in the 1990s.1 This vestibule stands adjacent to the small mausoleum of Malik Naser Dīn, which is entered through a simple door with a triangular pediment bearing an inscription in Arabic.2 On the west side of the courtyard, a low portal with a segmental arch provides entry into the main part of the building. At the time of the MMM team’s documentation, flowers and colored eggshells had been daubed to the arch in celebration of a recent festival.3

    The arched doorway leads into a rectangular, barrel-vaulted room oriented east-west along the building’s north side. This room runs adjacent to the oldest part of the shrine: to the west, the mausoleum chamber of Shaykh Shams—viewable through a window from the northern room—and to the east, an antechamber. The antechamber, entered from the north room through an arched door with a step, is roughly square in plan and barrel vaulted. A low door set in its western wall leads to the tomb chamber. Ethel S. Drower, visiting Lalish in 1940, made note of several carvings on this wall: an incised conical dome above the door, as well as astral symbols and other motifs on the surrounding stones.4 As these carvings no longer exist, the area must have been rebuilt subsequent to this time. The tomb chamber is also roughly square in plan and is covered by a dome, as with the tomb chamber of Shaykh ‘Adī.

    The flat roof of the mausoleum is accessible (see the panorama). This platform allows for a close view of the conical dome that covers the tomb chamber. The lowest course of the base is square, the next course is octagonal, and the upper two are round. The golden ball on peak the peak of the cone, along with the 32 ribs, refers to the rays of the divine sun, shams. In addition, the terrace offers a view down into the valley, with the similar domes of Shaykh ‘Adī’s sanctuary visible in the distance.

    • 1. Açikyildiz 2010, 164.
    • 2. Drower (1941, 163) describes an earlier version of this mausoleum.
    • 3. This ritual is practiced during the festival of the New Year (Serê Sal) in April; the decorations are applied to the doorways of homes and holy sites alike. In Lalish, the clay used to apply the decorations to the holy buildings is made with water from the spring of Zemzem. See Açikyildiz 2010, 108–109.
    • 4. Drower 1941, 161–162.

    Little is known about the historical personage of Shaykh Shams (full name: Hasan ibn ‘Adī Shams ad’Din), but he is said to have been in Lalish when Shaykh ‘Adī arrived there to preach in the 12th century AD.  He went on to succeed his father, Ezdina Mir, as the leader of the Yezidi community. He was eventually deified—becoming one of the seven angels meeting annually at the shrine of Shaykh ‘Adī to determine the course of the year—and was identified with the god of the sun.1 Five mausolea dedicated to Shaykh Shams are known throughout different Yezidi sanctuaries.2 

    The chronology of the structure documented by MMM in the valley of Lalish is not entirely certain. The core of the building—the antechamber and mausoleum—was likely constructed in the 12th century, with the northern hall and other features added later. Even the structure’s core has been modified since the 1940s, as it differs from the shrine described by travelers of the early 20th century (see further in “Early Publications”).

    • 1. On the divine aspect of Shaykh Shams, see Victoria Arakelova, “Three Figures from the Yezidi Folk Pantheon,” Iran and the Caucasus 6 (2012): 57–73.
    • 2. Açikyildiz 2010, 166.

    Shaykh Shams’ mausoleum is described by several of the travelers who visited the Lalish sanctuary in the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Austen Henry Layard (mid-1840s), Cecil J. Edmonds (1930s/1940s), and Ethel S. Drower (1940).1 The latter observes a number of features along the shrine’s portal which are no longer extant, including carvings of a star, crescent, and cone-spire, as a well as a snake to the right of the door. Most early photographers at the Lalish sanctuary focused on Shaykh ‘Adī’s temple, but Shaykh Shams’ dome was photographed by Wilfred Patrick Thesiger in 1950 (see the historical photograph).

    • 1. Layard 1849 (1): 289–290; Edmonds 1967, passim; Drower 1941, 161–162.

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

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

    Edmonds, Cecil J. 1967. A Pilgrimage to Lalish. London: Royal Asiatic Society.

    Layard, Austen Henry. 1849. Nineveh and Its Remains. 2 vols. London: J. Murray. 

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