|Photo courtesy of Turkish Daily News|
"From the Holy Mountain: A Journey among the Christians of the Middle East", by William Dalrymple, (Knopf Doubleday, $13, and 512 pages) had the boldness to go where few had gone before.
The journey taken by Dalrymple in the late 1990's took him through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and then Egypt. These were the lands where ancient Christian churches flourished. A 6th Century Byzantine Monk, John Moschos, took this same journey 1,500 years ago.
“I wanted to do what no future generation would be able to do,” Dalrymple, a prize winning British writer, says, “To see wherever possible what Moschos had seen, to sleep in the same monasteries, to pray under the same frescoes and mosaics ... to witness what was in effect the last ebbing twilight of Byzantium.”
Dalrymple weaves together his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure early Christian heresies with his knack for ingratiating himself with their modern day descendants; the result is an elegiac masterpiece, often amusing but ultimately very sad.
William Armstrong, in Turkish Daily News, writes, "Dalrymple carried with him a volume of Moshcos’s masterpiece, “The Spiritual Meadow,” describing the eccentric monk’s own journey across the decaying Byzantine East. Moschos traveled at a time of destruction, when Byzantium was under assault from all sides and the great cities of the East Mediterranean were in fast decay; within 100 years, the Arabs would be capturing swathes of Byzantine territory under the banner of Islam.
"He sensed that he was witnessing the shattering of a fragile world, and his writings make clear the horrifying, almost apocalyptic disintegration that he witnessed around him. This crumbling 6th century landscape has obvious parallels with Dalrymple’s journey 1,400 years later, and even greater parallels today.
"As the author writes at one point: “The ever-accelerating exodus of the last Christians from the Middle East today meant that The Spiritual Meadow could be read less as a dead history book than as a prologue to an unfolding tragedy, whose final chapter is still being written.”
In Beirut, a professor at one of the city’s universities tells him that today “there is a feeling of fin de race amongst Christians all over the Middle East.”
How sad - and how true.