The PEF and early Christian Monasteries in Iraq

By Penny Butler, PEF Committee Member and volunteer

For the last year or two I have been archiving the photographs of Olga Tufnell. Born in 1905 of comfortably off parents, she moved in well connected upper-middle class circles. She went to finishing school, and then her mother sent her off to help Flinders Petrie in Egypt. Thus began an extraordinary and successful scholarly career, achieved without an academic degree – a role model for women and an example of what you can do if you want to, even if you start off without qualifications.

In 1955 she spent a season at Max Mallowan’s excavation at Nimrud, in company with his wife Agatha Christie, who used to wash the newly excavated ivories in face cream, and many others who became archaeological luminaries. The group amused themselves by going on expeditions in the surrounding countryside, which was very remote and mountainous.

Imagine my amazement when I came upon a batch of snaps of what looked like monasteries high up in the mountains and their priests. The names were vaguely familiar to me and then I realised that some of these places had been destroyed by Islamic State just a few weeks before (Figs. 1-5). These were early Christian or Assyrian Christian establishments (Assyrian because they were situated in ancient Assyria), also called Syriac Orthodox, near modern Mosul and Qaraqosh, founded incredibly early, in the 4th century AD (CE). Just think that Christian proselytizers plodded all the way across modern Syria and modern northern Iraq. Even today the area is pretty isolated and then, as now, they served as sanctuaries from persecution. Up until recently, the monks were taking in people escaping from warfare as well as receiving many tourists and pilgrims. Now the only visitors are Kurdish troops taking a break from fighting.

The monastery destroyed by IS was Mar Behnam. Luckily, Mar Mattai has not suffered the same fate, though others have. In August 2014 the IS forces were moving on Mosul only 20 miles away, but they were stopped by Kurdish peshmerga fighters, who now hold the road to the monastery.

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Figure 1. the Assyrian Christian monastery of Mar Behnam with a young European — presumably one of the archaeologists from Nimrud, but we don’t know who. (PEF/P/TUF 954). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Another shot of Mar Behnam with priest and the same young European. (PEF/P/TUF953). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 2. Another shot of Mar Behnam with priest and the same young European. (PEF/P/TUF953). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

TUF 1314 An Assyrian Christian monastery (we don't know which) with a priest, a woman and a child. (PEF/P/TUF1314). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 3. An Assyrian Christian monastery (we don’t know which) with a priest, a woman and a child. (PEF/P/TUF1314). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Yazidis gathering in a town somewhere in northern Iraq. Note the characteristic steeple of their worshipping place. (PEF/P/TUF1302). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 4. Yazidis gathering in a town somewhere in northern Iraq. Note the characteristic steeple of their worshipping place. (PEF/P/TUF1302). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Figure 5. Qaraqosh, a Syriac Nestorian village near Mosul. This is the area IS swept through. (PEF/P/TUF994). Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

 

Introducing… Our Committee

Our second featured profile is of PEF Committee member Penny Butler.

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Although she claims to be the least academically qualified member of the Committee, Penny gained a BA Hons at Cambridge in Archaeology and Anthropology and Medieval History, and then pursued a lifelong career in publishing as an editor, now working freelance.

On retiring she returned to the study of archaeology, doing courses at Birkbeck and attending lectures. She met Felicity Cobbing in 1996 when the BM Travellers Company organised an archaeology study trip to Jonathan Tubb’s dig at Tell es Saidiyeh in Jordan. They kept up with each other from time to time and Penny joined the force about five years ago when Felicity advertised for volunteers in the PEQ.  At present she is compiling the database archive of Olga Tufnell’s photos taken between the 1930s and around 1980.

Introducing… Our Committee

Since its foundation in 1865, the PEF has had an active Executive Committee who are committed to ensuring the PEF continues to support research in the Levant.  In this running series, we will feature profiles of our Committee members and volunteers. Their broad range of expertise and experience help make the PEF what it is today!

Our first profile is of PEF Committee member John MacDermot.

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John MacDermot is a retired Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics from Imperial College London and has worked as a volunteer at the PEF for the last few years. When he first arrived, he was given the task of sorting the documentary archive of Miss Olga Tufnell (1905-1985), who made many important contributions to archaeological research and was a firm supporter of the PEF. He was invited to join the PEF Committee in the summer of 2014, and he has contributed to the organisation of the Fund’s 150th anniversary celebrations and assisted with applications for external funding to support the activity of the PEF. Most recently, John has been working on the PEF’s photographic archive of the late 19th century.

Our First Hundred Years (and fifty more)*

By Adam Fraser and Amara Thornton**

2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the Palestine Exploration Fund.  To kick off the celebration (as a preface to the events that are to come throughout the year) we will be looking at our first hundred year celebration in 1965.

Held at the Victoria and Albert Museum initially from 1 October to 28 November, “World of the Bible” featured a wide range of goodies from the PEF’s history.  In addition, the PEF benefitted from the skills of its co-sponsor the British Council’s art and graphics department.  The 3D maps of the Holy Land they made for the exhibition are still held in the PEF today.

The exhibition highlighted various phases of the PEF’s history, beginning with the initial surveys by Charles Warren and Claude Conder and Herbert Horatio Kitchener in the 1860s and 1870s.  It showcased a century of excavations in the Holy Land, culminating in Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in Jerusalem. A folder in the PEF archive is devoted to press cuttings from “World of the Bible” – one of the most publicised displays was a reconstructed rock-cut tomb from Lachish, discovered during the Wellcome-Marston Expedition in the 1930s. The Queen Mother was among the visitors!

The archaeologist Olga Tufnell organised the exhibition – her detailed journals in the PEF’s archive chronicle her efforts to arrange the displays. Loan material was gathered from around the UK and beyond.  After its debut at the V & A, a pared-down version of “World of the Bible” went on tour to cities in Britain and the Middle East.

Thanks to Olga’s efforts, there is a substantial collection at the PEF commemorating this exhibition. Here are some of the treasures we’ve found.

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Exhibition publication from the PEF’s archive – from the notice at the bottom obviously this was not the copy offered for sale to the public. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Labels from the exhibition archive.  Some highlight items on display, while others indicate key moments in the PEF's history. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Labels from the exhibition archive. Some highlight items on display, while others indicate key moments in the PEF’s history. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

This telegram from the British Consul General at Beyrout to PEF Secretary Walter Besant shares the news of the attack on PEF surveyors at Safed, near the Sea of Galilee. It was mounted for exhibition in 1965. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

This telegram from the Consul General at Beyrout to PEF Secretary Walter Besant shares the news of the attack on PEF surveyors at Safed, near the Sea of Galilee, in July 1875. It was mounted for exhibition in 1965. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Philanthropist and traveller John Macgregor was an active member of the PEF.  In his canoe, “Rob Roy”, he sailed the Jordan River in 1868/1869, identifying its source.  Olga Tufnell chose to exhibit his original sketchbook in the 1965 exhibition.  This image from the sketchbook showcases Macgregor’s considerable skill as an artist.  His best-selling book “Rob Roy on the Jordan” was published in the autumn of 1869.  Macgregor donated his sketchbook to the PEF in 1880.

Philanthropist and traveller John Macgregor was an active member of the PEF. In his canoe, “Rob Roy”, he sailed the Jordan River in 1868/1869, identifying its source. Olga Tufnell chose to exhibit his original sketchbook in the 1965 exhibition. This image from the sketchbook showcases Macgregor’s considerable skill as an artist. He donated his sketchbook to the PEF in 1880. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

The page following this peaceful watercolour in John Macgregor’s sketchbook lists supplies for an expedition to Huleh, in the north east of modern day Israel.  The items listed include tea, soup and brandy, a pistol, flannel trousers, money and quinine. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

The page following this peaceful watercolour in John Macgregor’s sketchbook lists supplies for an expedition to Huleh, in the north east of modern day Israel. The items listed include tea, soup and brandy, a pistol, flannel trousers, money and quinine. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Charles Warren’s shafts tunnelling through the ground in Jerusalem are deftly captured in this line drawing in John Magregor’s sketchbook. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

Charles Warren’s shafts tunnelling through the ground in Jerusalem are deftly captured in this line drawing in John Magregor’s sketchbook. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

This annotated V&A museum letterhead was pasted inside one of Olga Tufnell’s exhibition notebooks. It lists the admission details for exhibiton visitors. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

This annotated V&A museum letterhead was pasted inside one of Olga Tufnell’s exhibition notebooks. It lists the admission details for exhibiton visitors. Copyright Palestine Exploration Fund.

*Our title derives from eminent Victorian Egyptologist Margaret Murray’s colourful autobiography My First Hundred Years, published in 1963 when she was 100 years old.
** With special thanks to John MacDermot.