Divine Lunchin' (Mar Mattai)
by Joe Scarangella
Allow me to begin by saying that despite the title of this blog entry, it has nothing to do with restaurant critiques or Iraqi recipes. My idea of a great meal is not about service or even menu selection, but instead about the company. So i was not about to turn down my most recent lunch invitation.
Perched on top of the "Upside Down Mountain" (Jabal Maqlub), 20 KMs north of Mosul sits Mar Mattai (St. Matthew's Monastery). Dating back to the 4th century A.D., Mar Mattai is yet another example of Iraq's magnificent, diverse history. St. Matthew (not to be confused with the Biblical Apostle) bounced his way around the region, performing miricles like curing an Assyrian King Behnam's daughter, Sarah, of leprosy. Using many of the caves on Jabal Maqlub as a temporary home, eventually the monastery was built to make life a little more comfortable. But more pertinent to the hero of our story, me, it was the place that i was invited to have lunch. A recent graduate of the seminary located at the Mar Mattai site extended the offer from the Mar Mattai's sitting bishop for lunch. And as the old saying goes "When a Bishop is invitin', it'll be excitin'" Ok, it might not be that old a saying.
The monastery and seminary are in full swing, or at least as swingin' as the current climate in Iraq will allow. With around 8 full-time students on premises and pilgrims visiting all the time, the building is alive. The bishop was a nice guy. Lunch was great. But beyond the opportunity to ingest my recommended daily caloric intake was the chance to learn like the days of yesteryear. In our days of internet and instant access to any information we want with the click of a button, we have forgotten how knowledge was passed throughout the centuries. Academic used to actually seek out sages and scholars to learn first-hand the events which make defined the passage of time. It beat the heck out of a National Geographic documentary.
For the average traveller, there's good news and bad news about a visit to Mar Mattai. The good news is anyone is welcome. Beyond that, you can stay in the rooms for a day or week or as long as you wish. there are basic toilet and cooking facilities. The bad news is, it's in the middle of nowhere. There is no public transport, meaning a private taxi will run around $100.
Mar Mattai is a beautiful building. And the setting on Jabal Maqtub overlooking the Ninevah plains is awesome. And the monks are friendly. The place has every makings of a great destination, if it weren't for the location. But for those with a few extra dollars to burn, or are lucky enough to snag an invite, Mar Mattai will be an unforgettable destination in Iraq.
You can read more by Joe here: http://www.joestrippin.blogspot.com/.
More by Joe ScarangellaIraq (Kurdistan Region)
Stumblin' over History
Goin' without Knowin'
Fallin' in Northern Iraq
Charmed by Koya
Doublin' Up on Dohuk
Za-kho, Za-kho, Off to the Bridge I Go
Shaqlawan Sugar Coatin'
Al Kosh, of Course!
A Day at the Museums (Erbil)
Parkin' it in Erbil
Suly the Sequel (Sulaymaniyah)
Duckin' into Dukan
Crackin' the Citadel (Erbil)
Takin' the High Road (Dohuk - Erbil)
Iraq's B-Side (Amedi)
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