Six Months in a Syrian Monastery

Oswald Hutton Parry “Six months in a Syrian monastery; being the record of a visit to the head quarters of the Syrian church in Mesopotamia, with some account of the Yazidis or devil worshippers of Mosul and El Jilwah, their sacred book” [Horace Cox, London, 1895]
Much of what is known of religious life in the Middle East up until the mid 20th century comes from works published by travellers, explorers, adventurers and missionaries. One work notable for its influence in the late 19th and early 20th century was Parry’s “Six Months in a Syrian Monastery”.
syrian monastery saint moses
“The Syrian Patriarchate Educational Society was among several little missionary societies that sprang up in England at the end of the nineteenth century to help the Oriental churches with education and clergy training. It was never strong financially and its work was modest. If it is not quite forgotten, it is because of this book, written by the young priest who the Society sent out to eastern Turkey to inspect the work in 1895. Oswald Hutton Parry was then twenty-six years old, and had never written for publication, but his book is an expert description of the Syrian Orthodox Church, and all the more important for being practically the only book of its kind even now. Parry is also among the best writers in the genre of ecclesiastical tourism. (His only other book was The Pilgrim in Jerusalem, illustrated like this one with his own sketches.) Parry was later head of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Assyrian Mission (1897-1907) and Bishop of Guiana (1921-36).”–J. F. Coakley, Harvard University Author of The Church of the East and the Church of England (Oxford, 1992)

Table of Contents

Through the Syrian Gates
From Aleppo to the Euphrates
Birejik to Diarbekr
Mardin – The Patriarch’s Diwan
Mardin and the Syrian Inhabitants I
Mardin and the Syrian Inhabitants II
Mardin and its Moslem Inhabitants
Deir el-Za’aferan
Life in the Monastery
Two Syrian Villages
Jebel Tur [Tur Abdin] – The Mountain of the Syrians
Bisheri, and Northern Jebel Tur
Midhiat, And Dier el-Omar
Across the Plain from Mardin to Mosul
The Two Cities of the Tigris
The Yezidis
The Monastery of Sheikh Mattha, and the Syrians of Mosul
“Oswald Hutton Parry was Bishop of Guyana from 1921 until 1936. Born into an eminent ecclesiastical family, he was educated at Charterhouse and Magdalen College, Oxford. After a curacy at St Ignatius, Sunderland he was appointed Head of Archbishop’s Mission to the Assyrian Christians. From 1907 until 1921 he was Vicar of All Hallows East India Docks when he ascended to the Colonial Episcopate. A significant author, he died on 28 August 1936.”

Available on-line at and in a digital format at
parry 2
A modern edition is available at
For nearly 800 hundred years Mardin was the residence of the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church: he lived in the Deyr az Zafaran, a monastery four miles out of town; in 1932 because of the limitations imposed by the Republic of Turkey on religious activities, the Patriarchate was moved to Syria.
mardin patriarchate
See also
patriarchal throne
The 6th century Patriarchal Throne in the main Church of the Monastery
syrian patriarch 3
“It was a true Eastern picture, especially as one’s eye fell on the three mattresses covered with rugs and Damascene silk pillows on which the aged Prince reclined like a lion, watching all that passed. He smoked a ‘^shibuk^’ of beautiful Mosul workmanship, some six feet long, as he listened to the news of his priests, or some tale of a mountain Syrian seeking redress for robbery or murder. A more imposing sight it would be hard to imagine than this head of a persecuted Church, the descendant of Ignatius, “Moran Mar Ignatius Peter III., exalted Patriarch of the Apostolic See of Antioch, and of all the Jacobite Churches of Syria and in the East.”

The Queen, whom he had the honour of visiting twice when he was in England, saw in him the embodiment of her idea of Abraham; such he looked with his ninety-four years, ” his eye not dim nor his natural force abated.” He sat there hearing every word that passed, seeing to read as clearly as men fifty years younger. Only his brow betrayed many a trouble gone through; something too of the impatience as well as of the dignity and power of the lion showed there. But a peculiarly soft smile overcame the slight sign of pain as he rose to his full height of six foot and more, and, stroking his long silvery beard, spoke in courtly Arabic his words of welcome, leaning on his monk’s shoulder as he paid the delicate compliment of shaking hands.

His Holiness knows how great a line he represents and is proud of his title. Nor is it an empty one ; for besides two hundred thousand subjects of the Porte that acknowledge him their head, he counts under his rule three hundred thousand or more of the Queen’s subjects on the Malabar coast, and in Ceylon, It is little enough that the majority know of him, or he of them, for times are evil and communication slow; but there is enough of unity left to justify the hope that one day we may again see a great and Apostolic Church acknowledging Antioch as its head as one of the chief powers of the Catholic communion in Christ.

The Patriarch had been suffering acutely from influenza, and was too tired to receive us for long. I took a seat near to him, and Yakob next to me ; for, having visited Jerusalem and been tatooed with the sign of the cross at the Syrian church, he was a Haji, and treated with a Haji^s honour. A large brazier stood in the middle of the room, into which a deacon threw some broken berries brought from Antioch, and smelling much like incense. Candied fruit was handed round, followed by sherbet, cigarettes, and coffee ; after which we retired to my room to be received by the chief Syrians of Mardin. It is in Turkey a mark of politeness to call on a newcomer as soon as possible, and stay as long as you can ; also to hover about your friend when he departs, impeding the packing and generally getting in the way.
When practicable it is usual to ride out several hours to meet or escort an arriving or departing friend, sometimes sleeping a night away from home.”
Oswald Hutton Parry “Six months in a Syrian monastery; being the record of a visit to the head quarters of the Syrian church in Mesopotamia, with some account of the Yazidis or devil worshippers of Mosul and El Jilwah, their sacred book” [Horace Cox, London, 1895]
pp. 61-2
syrian patriarch 2
Moran Mor Ignatius Peter IV or Ignatius Pathros IV (also called Peter III without counting St. Peter the first Patriarch), was the 116th Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Little is known on the early life of this Patriarch, who is regarded by many as the architect of the modern Syriac Orthodox Church.
syrian patriarch
Mor Ignatius Abdul Masih II was the 117th Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church, reigning from 1895 until his excommunication in 1906. The excommunication, which was carried out by the Ottoman government, was highly controversial and caused great disruption in the church.

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