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Monastery of Raban Hormizd

This old monastery is located high up a winding road near alQosh. The monks there now live in the monastery down the hill. There are spectacular views overlooking alQosh. There is the main chapel, with a complex of caves behind a door inside it. There are also numerous caves on the hillsides near the chapel. Some caves have well-known names.

Towards noon the desert gradually vanished away, and we found ourselves hemmed in on every side by sand and limestone hills, bounded by craggy, perpendicular rocks. In a chasm of one, rose the gloomy walls of the convent Rabban Harmiuza, the seat of the Chaldean Patriarch. Stern (1848), p 112; in alQosh

It is said to have been founded by one of the early Chaldean patriarchs, in the latter part of the fourth century. The saint, to whom the convent is dedicated, is much venerated by the Nestorians, and was, according to tradition, a Christian martyr, and the son of a king of Persia. ... Rabban Hormuzd was formerly in the possession of the Nestorian Chaldeans; but has been appropriated by the Catholics since the conversion to Rome of the inhabitants of Alkosh, Tel Kef, and other large village of the plain. ... Six or eight half-famished monks reside in the building. They depend for their supplies, which are scanty enough, upon the faithful of the surrounding country. Layard 1867, p 172-173

The ascent to the convent, from the entrance of the ravine, is partly up a flight of steps rudely constructed of loose stones, and partly by a narrow pathway cut in the rock. We were, therefore, obliged to dismount, and to leave our horses in a cavern at the foot of the mountain. ... The spot is well suited to solitude and devotion. Half buried in naked crags, the building can scarcely be distinguished from the natural pinnacles by which it is surrounded. There is scarcely a blade of vegetation to be seen, except a few olive trees, encouraged, by the tender care of the monks, to struggle with the barren soil. Layard 1867, p 172

The convent is partly excavated in the rock, and partly constructed of well-cut stone. Since it was plundered by the Kurds, under the Bey of Rowandiz, no attempt has been made to restore the rich ornaments which once decorated the chapel and principal halls. The walls are now naked and bare, except where hung with a few hideous pictures of saints and holy families, presented and stuck up by the Italian monks who occasionally visit the place. In the chapel are the tombs of several Patriarchs of the Chaldean church, buried here long before the secession of a part of it to Rome, and whose title, carved upon the monuments, is always 'Patriarch of the Chaldeans of the East. Layard 1867, p 173

Around the convent, in almost every accessible part of the mountain, are a multitude of chambers cut in the rocks, said to have once served as retreats for a legion of hermits, and from which most probably were ejected the dead, to make room for the living; for they appear to have been, at some remote period, places of burial. The number of them must at one time have been very considerable. They are now rapidly disappearing, as the rocks are crumbling away, and have been so doing for centuries. Still the sides of the ravine are in some places honeycombed by them. Layard 1867, p 172

During another excursion in 1843 we visited the Chaldean convent of Rabban Hormuzd ... We were met at the gate by the old abbot and by several of the monks, who ushered us into the convent, and spread carpets for us in the churchyard. The abbot was the same who twenty-three years before had entertained Mr. and Mrs. Rich, and he betrayed evident emotions of interest as he led us into one of the chapels and showed us the names of these travellers engraved on the walls. Since Rich's time, however, the convent has been twice plundered by the Coordish pashas of Rawandooz and Amedia. Traces of the excesses wrought by the infidel soldiery on these occasions were yet visible in the broken altars and disfigured walls of the chapels which they had converted into kitchens and stables. Everything of any value was carried away, several of the monks were inhumanly murdered, and the manuscripts which had survived the inundation recorded by Rich were torn in pieces or burned with fire.

At the time of our visit the convent contained thirty-five lay brethren and four priests including the abbot; the former are almost exclusive engaged in cultivating the fields, and in other manual labour connected with the establishment, or in collecting contributions from the villages around. The priests with one exception were illiterate men, who seemed to have no other occupation than that of reciting the daily prayers. They knew hardly anything of the contents of a few Syriac manuscripts which formed the library, and confessed that the only book in common use among them was Antoine's theology in Arabic, printed by the Propaganda for the use of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome. Badger 1852, p 102

The church appears to be the only relic of the original structure, and like all the ancient edifices of the kind in these parts is of an oblong form, with an arched roof and entirely destitute of windows. Light is admitted into it from an upper chapel reached by a passage opening into the church, in which are the tombs of many Nestorian Patriarchs. This passage serves as the Beit Kaddeeshe, and an adjoining apartment is still called the Beita d'Amadha, or Baptistery, though not now used as such by the Chaldeans. Badger 1852, p 102

The remains of Rabban Hormuzd are buried at the eastern end of the church called after his name, where his tomb now serves as an altar. In the ground below there is a deep hole from whence earth is taken, and after being mixed with after is made into small balls of clay which are carried away as a charm by such as attend the commemoration of the saint's festival. Badger 1852, p 102

The tombs of the Nestorian Patriarchs are covered with elaborate epitaphs in the Estrangheli character, each containing a short declaration of the faith of the deceased. Wherever the confession of "two persons" in Christ has been inscribed on the marble, the zealous Chaldean monks have taken the pains to erase it, thus forcing the dead as it were to utter a doctrine which, while living, they professed to disbelieve. Badger 1852, p 103

There are two other chapels at Rabban Hormuzd of modern foundation, dedicated to the Holy Trinity and the Four Evangelists. These are simple structures, each consisting of a nave and sacrarium, the walls and altar of which are decked with tawdry pictures and other ornaments imported from Rome. Badger 1852, p 103

The rocks around contain a number of natural caves which form the cells of the monks. The monastic order professed is that of S. Anthony, but the discipline observed is very lax compared with that of similar establishments in Egypt and Palestine. At the time of our first visit the monks were only allowed to eat meat twice a year, viz., on Christmas and Easter Day; wine and spirits were also prohibited. Since then, however, the revenue of the convent has been increased by the plunder of the property belonging to the old patriarchal family, as will be related hereafter, and the Chaldeans themselves now say that none enjoy the good things of this world as much as the monks of Rabban Hormuzd. Badger 1852, p 103


Reverend H A Stern, 1848. Jewish Missionary Intelligence, Volume 14, Journal of the Reverend H A Stern.

Layard, Austen Henry. 1867. Nineveh and Its Remains.

Badger, George Percy. 1852. The Nestorians and their Rituals.