Located 20 miles north-east of Nineveh, Mar Mattai monastery lies tucked away on top of Maqlub Mountain known to the Assyrians as Tura D’alpayeh.
It is considered to be the most important Assyrian monastery in Iraq, due to its religious, historical and geographical significance. Located at the top of the famous ‘Maqloub’ Mountain, the monastery overlooks the magnificent fields of the Nineveh plains.
To the left of the monastery is a large cave with natural mountain spring water dripping from the ceiling.
Mor Mattai Dayro is the oldest Syrian Orthodox monastery in north-east Mesopotamia. In 629 the monastery received the primacy over the monasteries of Persia.
It is said that Saint Mattai was born near Amid (Diyarbaker) around the beginning of the 4th century. After the persecution of Julian the Apostate (c.361) he settled on a mountain near Nineveh, (near modern Mosul). He healed the sick. According to tradition, he converted the son of the king of Assyria, Behnam, and his daughter Sarah, to Christianity; consequently Sarahâ€™s leprosy disappeared.
The monastery became a well known learning center from the 7th century to the 12th century when many of its monks had to flee during the Salah Al-deen Al-ayoobi battles. The monastery returned to its past splendor in the 13th century until its partial destruction by Taimorlang [Tamurlaine], the Mongol.
In the present buildings of Mor Mattai monastery, some of the lower church walls apparently date back to the 12th and 13th century. The main church is dedicated to Mor Mattai and another one is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
The monastery has been renovated many times but the inner building of the church dates to the mid-4th century.
The monastery remained abandoned till 1795 AD when Basil Gargis II Al-Mosuli renovated it and built the fence walls around it. In 1845, additional wings were added.
The monastery is still considered to be one of the most sacred places of Christian worship in the Middle East. Christians belonging to the Assyrian church of the East, the Chaldean Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as other Assyrian churches frequently visit Dair Mar Mattai for spiritual healing and meditation.
By Maj. Amanda Emmens-Rossi
11th Public Affairs Detachment