1900-1999 A.D. Assyrian History

1909: Letter, dated May 6, from Gertrude Bell
by The Gertrude Bell Archives - Robinson Library
Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2000 02:26 pm CST


Thursday May 6. [6 May 1909] It was blazing hot again on Wed. We were off at 6 and rode for a couple of hours to a Xian village called Karakosh where there are 5 exceedingly interesting Jacobite churches. I did not plan them because they have been done, I think, but I photographed and made notes for 3 hours. As they stand they are probably of the 14th century (I'm guessing, but that can't be far out) but they are built upon the ancient place that was probably invaded in the 3rd century and their relationship with Coptic churches is close and very remarkable. I shall have much to say on this head some day. I lunched in the house of a charming priest and then rode on towards the hills. As the ground began to rise we got into exquisite meadows of grass and flowers and on the hills there were even a few trees - we have seen none since the journey began. Just before we got into camp we crossed a rippling mountain stream running between banks rosy with oleander - I could have wept with joy at the sight. We reached camp at 4, it was pitched below a steep rocky mountain high up on the slopes (or rather precipices) of which is the Jacobite monastery of Sheikh Matti. I had tea and rested for a little and then walked up to the monastery by a rocky hill path thick with flowers. The monastery has all been rebuilt; there is nothing ancient in it but the tombstone of the saint, and the bishop. With him I sat in a high chamber above the gate and looked out over the wonderful plains of Assyria while the sun set and the bishop told me the legends of all the monasteries. In the dusk, my soldier and I ran down the path again and got into camp at 7. We had come up 900 ft above Mosul [Mawsil, Al] and already the world was quite changed. Today we rode again across the foothills and over a wonderful valley where the storks were wading wing deep through flowers. When you remember that for 2 months I never saw a blade of anything green you will realize what it is like to have the whole world full of the smell and the beauty of growing things. So in the afternoon we came to Bavian and camped by its river under the Assyrian stelai [sic] for which the place is famous. They are cut in the cliffs over the river, but some have broken away and lie half in and half out of the water: winged beasts, and gods standing on lions and kings in adoration before them. I walked up the valley to a point where the cliff bends round and holds the stream in the curve of its arm; and here I found a deep still pool, the banks set with daisies and poppies and the rocks with campanulas and orchids. The river was all brown after the rains and the pool lay like a bit of polished bronze in a setting of green and white and scarlet enamel. I sat for a little in the delicious solitude, listening to the birds nesting and singing in the rocks above and the stream rushing over the stones below, and then I bathed in the pool and came away rejoicing. I had not gone far before I met two Dominican monks who had dropped out of some neighbouring monastery. They were charming well informed people; I invited them both to tea and they gave me a lot of useful news of ruins and churches ahead. They have just ridden away on their mules and I shall now dine.



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