Monastery of Mor Gabriel of Qartmin

Alternative Names

Dayro d-‘Umro, Dayro d-‘Umro d-Mor Shem ‘un of Qartmin, Monastery of Mor Shmuyel, More Shem ‘un and Mor Gabriel, Dayr ul-‘Umr (Arabic)


397 AD

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

    Monastery Exterior & Surrounding Landscape

    Entrance Gates

    Main Church (Exterior) and Adjacent Courtyard

    Main Church (Narthex and Interior)

    Antechamber to the Dome of Theodora

    Vaulted Passageway

    Church of the Mother of God (Interior)

    Beth Qadishe (Interior)

    Kitchen Wing

    The Monastery of Mor Gabriel is located about 2 km north of Qartmin in the district of Midayt in southeastern Turkey. This sizeable monastery complex, originally established in the 4th century AD, includes churches, crypts, guest rooms, and barns. The ancient structures have been built and rebuilt, and new buildings and sections were added to accommodate the monastery’s evolving functions and needs over time.

    To better understand the fabric of the monastery complex, it is useful to categorize its structures into two groups: the first includes buildings dating from the 4th to the 6th century AD, comprising all the buildings that are at ground level or below. The second group includes structures that were built in the mid-20th century and later.

    Buildings dating to the 4th–6th centuries AD:

    The earliest structures include the main church (Church of Mor Gabriel), the Dome of Theodora with its adjoining rooms, the corridor to the west, the crypt (Beth Qadishe), and the Church of the Virgin Mary with its adjoining rooms. Other ancient buildings are located outside the monastery complex, including the Arches of Mor Gabriel, Dome of the Egyptians, and the Great Cistern.

    The Church of Mor Gabriel was closed for renovation when the MMM team documented the monastery complex in June 2015. However, it has been described in detail by Gertrude Bell and Hans Hollerweger.1 The church consists of a narthex and nave, three sanctuaries, and three burial chambers. The narthex, built by the benefaction of the emperor Anastasius in 512 AD, is located to the west and is covered by a tiled gable roof. From the narthex a single door opens into the nave, which takes the form of a large barrel vaulted hall; small windows in the southern wall allow light into the nave. A great stone slab with inscriptions dating to the 8th century once stood in the middle of the nave as a lectern (it is now placed in the Dome of Theodora).

    Three doors lead from the nave into three barrel vaulted sanctuaries, each of which contains an altar. The central sanctuary's thick wall has been hollowed into a curved apse, in which stands the church's main altar. The floor and the vault of this sanctuary are decorated with mosaics. While the floor mosaic consists only of large stones, the vault’s mosaic is more elaborate. At its center, it features a rayed cross laid upon a golden ground. At each of the four corners, vines spring up from a double-handed vase, the body of which is divided into two decorated zones. Three bands of ornament border the vault: the first is a forked pattern worked in three colors, the second is a row of hollow, eight-pointed stars, each with a white dot inside, and the third is a series of rhomboids separated from each other by a cross band of three jewels. The decoration has parallels in certain early Byzantine mosaics. On the southern and northern walls of the chamber, under the vault, there are additional mosaic fragments. Local tradition suggests that the whole church was once adorned with mosaics, and that Tamerlane destroyed all of them except this small portion in the sanctuary. The southern sanctuary has a rectangular niche built into the eastern wall. In the third sanctuary a small door leads into a burial chamber containing an altar. To the west there are two more burial chambers, which are completely dark and approached by a door so small that is only just possible to squeeze through it.

    Opposite to a door leading to Mor Gabriel's atrium is a large octagonal chamber known as the Dome of Theodora. On each of this remarkable building's eight sides, there is a large rectangular arched niche. Above the arches rises a shallow, brick-and-stone dome about 10.5 m in diameter. The dome is invisible from outside; the building’s exterior has the appearance of a square block with a flat roof. The current building is dated to the 6th century AD and functioned as a baptistry. The aforementioned stone slab stands in the middle of this building; here, it was a table for preparing the monastery's bread, suggesting that the building also functioned as a kitchen at one time. A Syriac inscription on the slab indicates that it was made by Zechariah of ‘Ayn Wardo and that it was set in its place in year 776/77 AD. Since then, the stone slab seems to have switched location between Theodora's Dome and the nave of Mor Gabriel Church (where it also served a different function).

    A second church, located at the western end of the monastery complex, is dedicated to the Virgin. It occupies two large blocks of buildings set around two courtyards. A long vaulted passageway leads from the atrium of Mor Gabriel to the small courtyard to the north of the Church of the Virgin. Along this courtyard's western side is a vaulted arcade from which a door leads into the church. Following the form of a basilica, the church interior is divided into three sections and is roofed with three parallel barrel vaults over the nave and aisles. On the northern side of the arcade, a small door leads into the crypt known as Beth Qadishe ('House of Saints'), where the tombs of several monks are located.

    Remains of a third church dedicated to Mor Shemun are located in the vicinity of the complex, along with remains, to the monastery's north, of what is known as Dome of the Egyptians. This is a small octagonal domed chamber, square on the outside. The niches of the eight sides contained the tombs of various monks. The dome is similar to the Dome of Theodora. Further west is found the Great Cistern, still in use today, with its three vaults measuring 24 x 20 m.2

    Buildings dating to the mid-20th century and later:

    As a result of a long series of raids, wars, famines, and persecutions in the area, the Monastery of Mor Gabriel was destroyed and deserted several times throughout its history. The latest episode of violence occurred when the monastery, along several others, was destroyed in the aftermath of the Kurdish uprising in 1926.3 Since then, it has been renovated, and several additions have been added to the original complex. The added features include a new roof for the Church of Mor Gabriel, along with two bell towers—one erected in 1971 and the other in 1979. A completely new wing was built to to house the sisters and the schoolmasters’ families as well as the schoolrooms and guest rooms. East of the monastery, a new vault has been built on ancient walls using traditional techniques. The recent renovations uncovered hidden ancient artifacts and spaces, including rooms located behind the Dome of Theodora and possibly a crypt under the Church of the Virgin.

    • 1. Bell 1982, 6–10, 31–35; Hollerweger 1999, 60–91.
    • 2. Hollerweger 1999, 67.
    • 3. Palmer 1999, 46.

    'Description & Iconography' general sources: Bell and Mundell Mango 1982, 8–9, 33–35; Hollerweger 1999, 72–74.

    The Monastery of Mor Gabriel has a long history dating back to the 4th century AD, if not earlier (there is some evidence for pre-Christian religious activity at the site). The monastery was founded around 350 AD by two monks, Shmuyel of Eshtin and his disciple Shem ‘un of Qartmin. By 397 it had gained the attention of the eastern Roman emperor Arcadius, whose reign was marked by benefactions to a certain monastery in the east, presumably this one. Between 395 and 397 the Great Cistern and the main vault had been built, and funds were granted to the monastery every year. During the reign of Theodosius II, the “House of Saints” (corresponding to Dome of the Egyptians), the Church of the Virgin, and the Beth Qadishe (crypt) were built.

    The emperor Anastasius directed further care and attention to the monastery. According to the Syriac records at the monastery, gold and craftsmen were sent for the construction of a splendid prayer hall, built in the middle of the abbey and surrounded by porticos on the north, south, and west. The altar in the main sanctuary was constructed using marble and images depicting a lion, an ox, an eagle, and a man were sculpted on its four sides. An image of a cherub is said to have been above the altar. A bronze dome overhead was supported by four pillars. In the sanctuary there was a lamp of gold suspended on a chain of silver. The description refers further to floor mosaics with gilded tesserae and bronze trees on either side of the entrance to the sanctuary.

    The monastery's later history is characterized by intervals of persecution and other challenges, but it has survived them all. Today, its active community that is involved in farming and schooling and, on certain occasions, providing protection for the local Christian population. However, it is currently facing another round of political turmoil.

    'History' general sources: Palmer 1999; Barsoum 2008.

    Barsoum, Ignatius Aphram I. 2008. The History of Tur Abdin, translated by Matti Moosa. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias.

    Bell, Gertrude. 1924. Amurath to Amurath. London: Dutton.

    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).

    Hollerweger, Hans, ed. 1999. Țur ‘Abdin: Living Cultural Heritage. Linz: Freunde des Tur Abdin.

    Palmer, A. 1999. “The 1600-Year History of the Monastery of Qartmin (Mor Gabriel). In Țur ‘Abdin: Living Cultural Heritage, edited by Hans Hollerweger, 37–46. Linz: Freunde des Tur Abdin.

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