Situated some 22km southeast of Midyat, a couple of kilometres east of the İdil/Cizre road, the monastery of Mar Gabriel (Deyrulumur) is the geographical and spiritual centre of the plateau.
Founded in 397 AD, Mar Gabriel is the oldest and most vital surviving Syrian Orthodox monastery in Turkey. It’s the seat of the metropolitan bishop of Tür Abdin, who is aided by thirteen resident nuns and three monks, as well as a fluctuating number of local lay workers, guests and students. A working community, set among gardens and orchards, its primary purpose is to keep Syrian Orthodox Christianity alive in the land of its birth by providing schooling and ordination of native-born monks. Visiting hours are 9–11.30am & 1–4.30pm, with a lay person giving visitors a guided tour of the monastery. The glittering, mosaic-covered ceiling of the apse of the main Anastasius (512 AD) church is particularly memorable, though Tamerlane stripped the gold ceiling of the nave. The tour also takes in the circular dining room, surmounted by a dome donated by the Byzantine empress Theodora early in the sixth century AD, and the Church of the Mother of God, dating back some fourteen hundred years.
Recent restoration work has given the monastery a new lease of life, and there’s a tangible aura of prosperity, a sign that securer times have returned again to the Tür Abdin. Unfortunately, local Kurdish villagers and the Turkish State have contested the ownership of some of the monastery’s land, and the ongoing court case is seen as a litmus test of Turkey’s commitment to minority rights by some European bodies.