The largest and most important of the still-functioning monasteries in Tur Abdin and one of the oldest monasteries in the world, Mor Gabriel is situated in the hills 20 kilometers southeast of Midyat; it is also sometimes called the Qartmin Monastery after name of the nearest village. An important pilgrimage center for Syrian Orthodox Christians, the monastery is 150 years older than even St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.
The monastery was founded in 397 by Saint Samuel of Eshtin and his disciple Simeon; and by the fifth century, the monastery had expanded enough to house several dozen monks. The main church was built in 512 and takes its name from Saint Gabriel, the seventh-century bishop of the monastery said to have performed miracles. Saint Gabriel greatly expanded the monastery during his time there, developing it into one of the most important monastic centers in the region. A local legend reports that in the year 774, the area came down with the plague. After 30 monks from the monastery died in one night, monastery residents exhumed the body of St. Gabriel and placed him in the church to pray for an end to the plague. His arm was then removed and taken to another nearby monastery to stop the plague.
A sprawling complex combining ancient buildings with more recent structures, the monastery houses a number of significant sites: among these are the main church, containing magnificent Byzantine mosaics; the Dome of Theodora, an impressive domed building of red brick; and the vaulted Church of the Virgin Mary. Mor Gabriel serves as an important connection between past and present: it remains the center of the Syriac-speaking community and is able to boast preservation of consistent liturgical practices for 1600 years.