From the Holy Mountain – William Dalrymple 

I’ve had a great urge to re-read From the Holy Mountain for some time – the first time around I was an eager Medieval Studies student blown away by it, recommended it to everyone and gave my copy away. This time, the copy is for keeps as I feel sure this is now a book I’ll come back to regularly.

Dalrymple journeys in the 1990s in the Footsteps of John of Moschos visiting the areas in the Near East where Christianity was surviving and searching for traces of Byzantium. I’ve never travelled to the region and really all I understand is from the news which has it’s own bias.

What is particularly clear from Dalrymple’s book is how history and archaeology can be used to write out large sections of the past and that for many Christians at the time they certainly felt that. They were being pushed out of the history of the region from both Islamic and Jewish authorities.

However the zeal that communities (in broad and narrow senses) were holding on to their pasts comes through strongly. From individual monks living out the days as the last of their monasteries to Christians watching their families emigrate or be victimised if they stay heritage is strong but may not be lasting.

I’ve learnt so much about the desert fathers and the varieties of Christoanity that we rarely think about in the Uk – different orthodox traditions, Copts, Maronites, and many more. It seems that diversity is at the core of the faith but that message has been lost.
I’d love to read an updated version, but I fear the roads Dalrymple travelled are even more dangerous now. Oddly the hope comes from the long memories of the people he encounters – when a seventh century massacre feels like yesterday – what are the troubles of today?



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