St. George Church in Mangeshi
“Peace be to this house, and to all who enter here”
By Francis K. Khosho
Summer was a busy season in the village of Mangeshi. The village was alive, hot and rain free. This was just what was needed to bring the crops to harvest. With more than a hundred different crops in Mangeshi, almost every day something was being harvested. The harvesting demanded a lot of working hours and great physical effort utilizing traditional methods of harvesting wheat, barley, lentils and grapes.
It was the first week of October in 1935 that the raisin-grape harvest began. It was the number one crop throughout the history of Mangeshi. Raisins have always played a huge role in the villager’s diets. “During that year’s grape harvesting the village was almost deserted,” stated Kato Odo be Daweth, who was only eight years old at the time. At the east front range of the Mangeshi Mountain in the Sar Dashti vineyards, groups of seven to eleven families built small canopies (Qoprana) with a fence enclosure of closely woven oak tree branches on the velvety green grass open at the front and sides. She remembers that these canopies were practical and multi-purpose: a sitting area, beds and a place to eat.
“The harvest typically lasted about a month with perfect conditions,” she continued. The families all worked together to complete the harvest before the rain would set in and ruin the harvest. The raisin-grapes were harvested with all the family members picking and laying grapes on baskets (Salikyatha, Qartali and Pathoryatha), then the grapes were dipped on an emulsion dip that was prepared by boiling wood ashes (Zareki). They were then placed under the sun to dry (Mashtaha). After the drying process was complete, the raisins were shaken and removed. The stems (Desqa) however, were not removed. Raisins were eaten as a snack, full of nutrients, and were exchanged for other crops with other villages. Kato continued, “I remembered that year we had to hurry and finish the work because we were going home the next day for the consecration (Mqadoshi D’Eta) of the new church.”
When I spoke with aunt Kato, it was remarkable how much she remembered of this significant moment in our village’s history. She told me that on the morning of the consecration of the St. George church in 1935, the people streamed to the church in a huge crowd waiting outside for its
opening. All the Mangeshnayi: old, young, men and women, came early to participate in the opening ceremony of the new church. The clergy and people gathered with His Beatitude Mar Francis Dawood, metropolitan of Amadia on the east side of the church. When all were ready, the church bells began ringing and the procession approached the door of the church, singing hymns and praises to the sound of cymbals (Sanoji). Standing at the door of the church, the Bishop said, “let the door be opened”, and the door was opened with Rabi Hermes and the deacons. The Bishop marked the threshold with the sign of the cross saying “Peace be to this house, and to all who enter here: In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“As the procession moved into the church, we were all singing,” said Kato. The people filed into the church in crowds until it was literally full to capacity. While the congregation was standing, Mar Francis began the prayer for the consecration of the church. The Gospel that was read was likely one of the following:
Mathew 7:13-14, 24-25, a house built on rock.
Mathew 16:13-18, on this rock I will build my church.
Mathew 21:12-17, my house shall be a house of prayers.
After the sermon, Mar Francis while praying, went to the table with his arms extended (Paesh Mqodsha Shemokh Mari w Alahi). Mar Francis then laid a hand upon the table, and continued praying (Paesh Mqodsha Shemokh, Bab, Brona, w’Broha Dqodsh, Deha W’l Khlasta D’ Alma, Amen). The sound of the bell and cymbals rang through the church as the candles were lit. Mar Francis concluded the consecration by saying to the people, “the Peace of the Lord be always with you,” and the people replied, “also with you.” The Bishop then blessed the people and concluded mass. Mar Francis, Rabi Hermes, and the deacons then met with all the people outside the church to greet one another and discuss the blessed moment.
The St. George church (Eta d’ Markewarkis) was the oldest building in Mangeshi and was larger than any other house in the village. It was built of the most durable material limestone cut directly from the Mangeshi Mountain. These limestone blocks were also used in the foundation walls (Asas) of most houses in Mangeshi. Dr. Abdolla Rabi, a professor of sociology, did a comprehensive study about the history of the village of Mangeshi in his book entitled “Mangish, Past and Present, a study in social changes, 1999.” Also his series of episodes entitled, “Mangish Beauty and Tender” have been published on Mangish.net. See links https://www.mangish.net/forum.php?action=view&id=5037 and https://www.mangish.net/forum.php?action=view&id=5243
Long before Christianity, our ancestors had established themselves in the Mangeshi area. St. George (Eta d’Markewarkis) church is an ancient church dating back to the beginning of the Christian presence in the area. It was built on the same plot of land of the old Zoroastrian temple (Beth Mkoshi). The church had even attracted Christians from other villages and estates in and around the area.
While I was reading news of the new bell (Naqosha) ringing in the Mangeshi sky published on mangish.net: see link https://www.mangish.net/news.php?action=view&id=8309 , my mind produced an image back to what the original event eighty six years ago must have been like. The demolition of the old church took place in 1929. Under the auspices of Father Hermes Keji, and the guidance and endorsement of the people, the construction of the church was completed in 1933 and consecrated in 1935 by Bishop Mar Francis Dawood. Since then the church has served as the home of Mangeshi, and the bell has continued to ring out to the heart of village from its steeple, dome (Qoba). In my lifetime, childhood and youth, that has been the bell heard calling
parishioners to church every day in the morning prayers (Sloth w’raza) and in the afternoon (Slotha d’ramsha). It rang during happy occasions such as the Bishop’s visit and it accompanied times of sorrow as well, with its solemn tone during funerals.
The St. George steeple, dome (Qoba) rose above the church, and the cross atop the steeple was the highest in the village. The height helped the sound travel a further distance and the cross floated out over the village. The bell tower had four columns that supported the bell and the cross. Up through the hatch in the open space by the bell you could see the ground. The bell rope was attached to the outside of the shaft and was rung by pulling on the rope, by which the entire bell would swing. I had the honor of pulling the rope and ringing the bell several times. It made a young child feel quite important and connected to their faith.
The bell has dulled with age, has cracked, and has since fallen into disrepair. However, history has repeated itself, and the community, Father Yoshia Sana and the mayor Hanna Kalo have gotten together and replaced the church bell. It is ringing again as before for another generation and those to come. The original bell has been lowered to the roof where it has been replaced by the new bell purchased from Rome, as seen below.
Reading the news in mangish.net about the bell brought back a flood of memories for me, and a
deep curiosity to learn more about the bell and its history. A band of words embedded around the bell reads: “MARIE ABRAHA, 15 AOUT 1933, HORMEZ CURE DE MANGEH” Who was Marie Abraha? Was she/he the one who donated the bell to the church or was it the company who cast the bell and embedded their company name on the bell. How was such a heavy bell brought to the village in those days? Maybe on a horse from the city of Mosul
The old bell is by far a treasured artifact that rang for eighty six years calling us, our parents and grandparents to worship, and to mark the passing of our cherished loved ones. Perhaps the members of our community in Mangeshi, father Yoshia Sana and Mayor Hanna Kalo can create a small dedication or memorial room in the church to collect these artifacts. Rather than dispose of these cherished items, we should have them on display to remind us of our history.
Besides the bell, there are many other artifacts that I remember that have been replaced. For example, the Baptismal fountain, a fixture that would hold water for baptisms, special glass vessels, throne chairs and stools that the bishop used to sit on during mass. Also wooden book easels, which were perfect for large size prayers books. Having a museum in our village’s church, will give this, as well as, future generations a wonderful opportunity to see how people lived and worked in the village.
The new St. George bell has started its new life with the church, ringing out from the steeple of the church. It will bring with it new traditions and will encourage Mangeshnayi to do what the church bells have always asked us to do, gather as a community in prayer.
Mangeshi has always remained with me and always will. For that reason, it is my hope this year to see the stability and well-being of our people universally. Due to the current situation in our homeland, I am praying, hoping and waiting for the complete liberation of the Nineveh plain. Our innocent people have the right to return to their homes and property and live in peace and security. Our brothers and sisters who are stranded in the camps of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and many other countries living under primitive conditions deserve our prayers. Let’s all together continue to stand with them and pray through these devastating circumstances. Throughout our churches, all across the world, this holiday season you will be in our prayers as we hope to uplift you and send blessings your way.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. God bless.