- S. Walsh, "War
exposes history," in [Gary] Post-Tribune
(Indiana), February 6, 2005, with a sidebar by F. Deblauwe: "A
neglected monastery lies next to a
graveyard of rusting Russian tanks on Forward Operating Base Marez, the
home for some of the Indiana National Guard’s 113th Battalion. Capt.
James Gazaway, the chaplain for the 113th Engineers, has visited the
site at least twice. He’s an amateur archeologist, trained in Biblical
history." "Local Chaldean leaders place its history back to the fourth
century, Gazaway said. Most of the chaplain’s information comes
secondhand, from units that had been in Mosul early last year. ...
Looking at the monastery’s construction, Gazaway is skeptical about the
age. He believes it’s more likely that the stone and mortar building is
more recent, perhaps 16th century or as recent as the 18th century.
'There is no telling what’s underneath all of this. If it is of
fourth-century origin, it’s underground,' he said. ... Marez was an
Iraqi base before the Americans arrived. At one point, someone cut a
road through the hillside, exposing another set of stone walls. Outside
the existing walls, a beehive stone dome a set in the ground, with a
tiny doorway at the bottom. ... A crumbling portion of the east wall
shows where Americans fired a missile to dislodge Iraqi forces. Gazaway
pointed to the outer stone and plaster, which fell away in the blast.
The inner wall, the oldest part of the building, was still relatively
intact. 'Those people were the ones who knew what they were doing,' he
said, of the original builders. Later work is more haphazard, using
local mud. Buildings in the outer part of the city still use the same
techniques. But the inner walls are finely sifted, creating a mortar
more like concrete, he said. Inside the courtyard, the 101st Airborne
Division left its mark. Commanders used the fortress-like compound as a
headquarters in 2003, shortly after the unit arrived in Mosul. Someone
has since tried to scrub and spray paint away the Screaming Eagle logo
they painted over the entrance to the chapel. Underground chambers are
stuffed with empty 1.5-liter plastic water bottles and other trash from
two armies. ... The west wall is a row of 10-foot-by-10-foot cells,
which seem the perfect size for a monk. Each room has a small vaulted
ceiling and a tiny alcove that could have housed a crucifix or statue.
Very little decoration remains. Some of the doorways are encased in
10-inch-wide marble. The ceiling of the chapel rises two stories.
Gazaway spotted a single alcove, 14 feet up the wall, which has an
elaborate clay inlay. The clamshell style is Islamic, but after
examining a few digital photographs, the chaplain sees a faint stylized
cross traced into the clay. In the inner chapel, Sgt. Joe Collins of
Gary used his flashlight to find the dim outline of one corner of a
painting, hidden beneath layers of whitewash. ... Where a missile hit
the chapel, the outer wall has bowed as much as a foot, cracking the
plaster. ... Gazaway hopes eventually to attract American interest in
excavating the site, from a university, church or some other private
my sidebar: "The monastery Capt. Gazaway brought to our attention is
the Dair Mar Elia (St. Elijah Monastery). Originally a monk at the
great monastery at Ezla Mountain in Turkey, Mar Elia established this
monastery 4 miles southwest of Mosul during the reign of the Persian
king Hurmizd IV in the 6th century. In the 17th century, the monastery
was renovated. In 1743, the Kurdish [sic; see below] leader Tahmaz
Nadir Shah ransacked it and murdered the monks. The complex saw many
renovations again in the early 20th century. For instance, some halls
and rooms were rebuilt during World War I and used as refuge. Thousands
of Chaldean Christians from the region used to celebrate Mar Elia Day
there at the end of November. There is a natural mineral water spring.
However, a military camp (Muaskar Al-Ghazlani) was built around the
monastery a couple of decades later and this curtailed those visits.
Remnants of the original church are built into the current church."
[with thanks to ChaldeansOnline.net;
in an e-mail dated February 7, 2005, Édouard
Méténier (Université de Provence, France) kindly
sent me an important correction:
"Nadir Shah was not a Kurdish leader, but a
Persian whose family's origins laid in Khurasan, among the
tribesmen: his genuine name was Nadir Quli. He began his
helping Shah Tahmasp, the last of the Safavid pretenders, to
throne from the Afghan invaders of Persia. He thus gained the
Tahmasp Quli Khan (1727). In 1736, he himself 'assumed the plume
diadem of Persia' so that, in 1743, when he besieged Mosul, he was the
entitled sovereign of Persia known under the name of Nadir Shah.
... The correction is important since I think
that, in Iraq's present context, the question is quite sensitive. As
far as I know, there has never been in modern time Kurdish
expiditions west of the Tigris in the area south of Mosul...";
actually, Christians in Mosul are currrently coming under attack from
Sunni extremists and some are fleeing to the safety of
Kurdish-controlled Irbil as reported just now in, for instance, The
Photo 1: "Stone and mortar walls line the courtyard of the abandoned
monastery. Its location inside a U.S. military base may make it the
only ancient religious site in Mosul potentially open to Westerners.
Photo 2: "Sgt. Joe Collins of Gary surveys the courtyard of the
Photo 3: "Local religious leaders say the history of the site dates
back to the fourth century."
Photo 4: "Looking down at the vaulted chapel, beyond the darkened
doorway, is an inner chapel with the faint outline of a painting."
Photo 5: "A monastery doorway resembles an Egyptian tomb's entryway."