Just six kilometers east of Mardin, Deyrulzafaran, translated as the “Saffron Monastery” and also known as the Monastery of St. Ananias, is the most accessible of the monasteries of Tur Abdin. The seat of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate between 1293-1932, it served as the most important monastery of Tur Abdin, and indeed all of Syrian Orthodox Christianity.
Named because of the yellowish hue of the stones used in its construction, the “Saffron Monastery” was founded in 493 by Mor Shlemon on the site of a former sun temple. Today, the immense monastery complex – rumored to have a room for every day of the year – sits in a green area of fields and gardens that testify to its former glory. The complex contains a number of individual historical highlights. One of these highlights is an underground vault, which was apparently used by sun-worshippers but is now venerated as the burial sight of many Syrian Orthodox bishops. The domed main church, which dates to the 6th century and is entered via wooden doors inscribed with portions of the Psalms in Syriac, is another highlight. Other buildings include the Church of the Mother of God, which contains Byzantine-era mosaics, and the ruins of mountain churches scattered in the area beyond the monastery itself.
At its height, the monastery held an important library of Syriac manuscripts; and monks there were responsible for the creation of brilliant illuminated manuscripts in the Syriac language. Steps hewn into the rocks above the monastery point to the caves nearby where hermits used to reside, and the monastery was also the source of 52 Syrian Orthodox Patriarchs throughout history.
The monastery hosts visitors to spend the night and participate in the daily mass, largely unchanged over 1500 years and still delivered in the Syriac language.