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From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East

4.27  ·  Rating Details ·  2,351 Ratings  ·  182 Reviews
In the spring of A.D. 587, John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist embarked on a remarkable expedition across the entire Byzantine world, traveling from the shores of Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. Using Moschos’s writings as his guide and inspiration, the acclaimed travel writer William Dalrymple retraces the footsteps of these two monks, providing along ...more
ebook, 512 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Vintage (first published April 7th 1997)
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Oct 05, 2015 Markus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 587 AD, John Moschos and his acolyte Sophronius started on a journey that would take them all across the Byzantine world, exploring the vast lands of Eastern Christianity. Almost 1500 years later, Scottish writer William Dalrymple follows in their footsteps, through a landscape that has been ravaged by time, fate and a succession of different civilisations.

There is something strangely compelling about travel books. Reading about someone else’s journeys can give you the opportunity to join in
As in the previous book I reviewed, a traveler decides to go on pilgrimage. Inspired by the writings of the monk John Moschus (ca. 550-619), William Dalrymple, a Scottish journalist and travel-writer, sets off to retrace the route this pilgrim and his friend Sophronios of Jerusalem had traveled so many centuries before.

Dalrymple's book is an attempt to rediscover the traces of ancient Christian history in the Middle East, some of them surviving in unexpected ways, some of them tragically disappe
Update: For those who enjoyed this book or are interested in the Byzantines, don't miss this CBS News-60 Minutes documentary on the monasteries of Mt. Athos, online at

Most Westerners know little about the varied ancient communities that date back to the great Christian Empire of Byzantium. As I write this review, nearly twenty years after this book was first published, Eastern Christian communities as old as the religion itself are under siege yet again a
Jun 26, 2010 Shovelmonkey1 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: armchair time travellers, historians and aesthetes
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: Paul Theroux
Shelves: travel-books
Travel is a good thing to do. It broadens your horizons, lets you see all manner of crazy things and frequently allows you to get a tan and wear outlandish clothing which you would under no circumstances wear at home in the midst of your own community ever. The wearing of odd garb and putting together your own eclectic holiday wardrobe is a bit like wearing a disguise. You can meet new people and because of your clothes you can be all "hell yeah, look how alternative/cool/zany/ in-touch-with-the ...more
Feb 29, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travelogue
This was a book which came to me from two totally disconnected directions; a recommendation from Shovelmonkey but then almost on the back of her gentle nudge I was given a sharp kick in the pants by the bookshelf elf who is evidently steering my reading habits when this was also given to me quite independently as a good book to read in preparation for my, then, upcoming visit to the Holy Land by a priest friend of mine.

In the event, though I began it before heading Middle-east-side, I did not co
Apr 23, 2008 Bettie☯ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Hana has done some fab research into things. Her review here

'Mor Gabriel is an ancient Syrian Orthodox monastery in Southeastern Turkey, founded in 397 AD on the ruins of a Zoroastrian temple. When Dalrymple visited in 1994 the monastery was already under siege. In 2008 Erdogan's government attempted to seize the monastery and its farmland on the pretext that the monks were "occupiers" who had built the monastery on top of a mosque--an especially strange claim since the monastery predates both
Apr 25, 2007 Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most engrossing and moving travel essay I've ever read. Once you read this, you'll want to read everything else Dalrymple has written.
Oct 22, 2013 Wanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie
7 MAR 2015 - This book comes very highly recommended by Dear Bettie. A five-star review from hergoodself.

I received a coupon from Barnes & Noble via email. I used the coupon to order this book. I have waited a very long time to read this book (since 2013). Now, I have only to wait 3 days and victory will be mine! I am very excited! Thank you Barnes & Noble.

10 MAR 2015 - my copy is scheduled to be delivered today. HUZZAH! I am very excited.

21 MAR 2015 -- Exquisite! I loved reading this
Very promising beginning which soon detoured into ruminations on geopolitics and along the way found it self stretched in the muddy fields of scripture and doctrine. The geopolitics appears dated, of course, which is no one's fault. The scripture and doctrine appear methodical, which I regard as alarming.

If it wasn't for the encounter with Robert Fisk I would've aborted the book while it was in Lebanon. It is a revealing view into the incestuous proximity between Islam and Christianity, even if
Nov 17, 2007 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in travel, religion, or the Middle East
This is one of the best travelogues that I have read. Following in the footsteps of a late Byzantine Monk Dalrymple gives a fascinating and all too often heartbreaking view of the Middle East from an entirely new perspective -that of the Greek Orthodox Christians who represent the shattered and scattered remnants of the third major monotheistic religion to come out of the Middle East. Ironies abound. The author uses as his basic "tour guide" the mixture of travel account and collected "miracle t ...more
Richard Thomas
This is an excellent book worth the time needed to take it steadily. It is a fascinating account of the survival of Christianity in the Middle East now made more timeous by events there is Syria and Iraq particularly. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the book gives a real perspective to what is becoming a real tragedy.
Selim Oz
Jun 17, 2010 Selim Oz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: interest
I think this book is very informative for Westerns who thinks everyone from Middle East is Usama bin Laden however it is very biased on Christianity. It is true that Christians in Middle East do suffer a lot (perhaps as a result of what Christians in the West are doing). However, I didn't enjoy taking this book with me during my tour around the Middle East because in a travel book I don't think every paragraph shouldn't be about how much do the Christians suffer. It should include the culture, e ...more
A brief mention of the classic "Spiritual Meadows", itself a collection of saying from 7th Century Monks in the Middle East, in Sir Steven Runciman's "History of the Crusades" leads William Dalrymple to replicate
the journey, taken long ago, in the late 20th century. This is the story of that journey and of the story of the decline of the native Christian population of the Holy Lands.
The only other book on this topic that comes close to being this well written is "The Body and the Blood" by Charl
Jun 15, 2015 Suzannah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I want to review this in more detail later, but for now suffice it to say that this was magnificent. Learned, witty, endlessly interesting - if this is travel non fiction, sign me up for lots more.

Particularly recommended to those who want to learn about indigenous Christianity in the Levant - and not just in the current day.
Alexander McNabb
A wonderful book that tackles an important issue - the decline of Christianity in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also the marvel of syncretism.

His portrait of Robert Fisk is one of the gentlest and yet meanest filletings I've read in a long time, particularly as our Bob is such a brilliant writer whose moral outrage is so essential a counterbalance to our desire to look the other way.

Chris Ziesler
Apr 28, 2015 Chris Ziesler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Seeking the Oasis

Having previously read Dalrymple's In Xanadu, a book he had written in his early 20s, I had two motivations in reading this book: first of all, I was intrigued to see how his writing had developed over the intervening decade; secondly, I wanted to see if he his idea of following in the footsteps of ancient travelers would work as well with less well known journey than Marco Polo's?

On the first question I can report that his style had broadened and deepened since his earlier book
Nicholas Whyte
Oct 21, 2007 Nicholas Whyte rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition[return][return]It is a tremendous book. Dalrymple travels through Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, the West Bank and Egypt, following the seventhy-century travels of John Moschos, looking for the remaining evidence of Christianity in archtitecture, culture and population. It is a terrifically sad book. Many of the communities he visits were dwindling at the time of writing, in 1994; several of them wonder if they will even still be there in ten years ...more
Diane Ramirez
Apr 14, 2009 Diane Ramirez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Damryple tours the Middle East, seeking Christians in Greece, Turkey, Syria, Israel, and Egypt. He follows the footsteps of John Moschos, a monk who'd done the same thing 1,500 years earlier, at the beginning of what is the unraveling of the Christian presence in the regions, as Damryple says, much like his tour represents the beginning of the end. It took me much longer to read this book than I thought it would, partly because I needed to slow down to appreciate the exactness of beauty ...more
Naveed Qazi
Jun 06, 2011 Naveed Qazi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 587 A.D, two monks from Greece set up a journey that takes them across the Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. John Moshos, and his pupil Sophronius stayed in caves, monasteries and remote hermitages, collecting ancient wisdom of their forefathers before the eruption of Islam. Infact, Karen Armstrong, author of best seller, "History of God" calls it as ' pitting the idealism of the past against hatred, dispossession, and denial of the present'.

The aut
Nov 18, 2013 Raghu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
William Dalrymple sets out with his backpack, pen and paper and a copy of the book 'The Spiritual Meadow' to travel to Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt over six months in 1994, to take a look at the Christian communities that live there and to see what has become of them and their heritage. The inspiration for the journey comes from the book he was carrying, which was written by John Moschos, a sixth century Byzantine monk, who did a somewhat similar journey and recorded his impressions ...more
Steve Hanson
Apr 07, 2013 Steve Hanson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look at an aspect of Middle Eastern history that is not discussed much - the history and state of Christianity in the Middle East. The book is loosely structured as a travelogue built around an account of a journey by two monks it the 6th century. Dalrymple sets out to follow their root and compare the churches, monasteries and Christian communities John Moschos and his companion visited 1400 years ago.
Dalrymple's travels and comments bring up a number of interesting points or thr
Natacha Pavlov
This book may quite possibly be my favorite read on early Christian communities that I've read thus far. Dalrymple's account chronicles his encounters with Christian communities starting from his passage through Greece's Mt. Athos, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories and Egypt. His goal? To walk in the footsteps of Orthodox monk John Moschos, albeit 1400 years later. As Moschos witnessed the increasing threats to the Byzantine Empire (Persian, then Arab Islamic invasions, ...more
Aug 22, 2012 Siddhangana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
William Darymple is a brilliant and sincere author, who puts in a lot of effort to research before he writes a book and that is very evident in From the Holy Mountain.

The book itself is a treasure with great insight into Middle East and Arab. Darymple makes his journey through what was known as the Byzantine empire. Some may think this book to be prejudiced towards religion but this serves as an excellent history and travel book as well.

The amount of knowledge that I have gained about the hist
Jun 28, 2015 Robin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Oo. Byzantine and early Christian history, I don't know anything about that."

Such was my response when I saw my Dad reading this book. And such were the responses of most other people when they saw me reading it.

It turns out that it is a fascinating period right at the jamb between east and west, antiquity and medieval. Dalrymple takes a 6th century travelogue as his guide to lead him on his own journey through modern Turkey, Syria, and North Africa, following in the footsteps of two monks wri
Nov 25, 2008 Peregrino rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
Magnífico libro de viajes, alrededor de Turquía, Siria, Líbano, palestina y Egipto.

El autor, un inglés del 65, cristiano católico, comienza su viaje en el Monte Athos. Primero consigue el permiso para pernoctar allí y poder revisar los manuscritos de un monje del siglo VI, Juan Mosco. Su escrito "El Prado espiritual" le servirá como guía de los viajes que realizó el referido monje por todo Oriente Próximo. El autor lo emula en el siglo XXI, y nos describe la situación de estos territorios, con
Suzi Stembridge
Aug 28, 2013 Suzi Stembridge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew as this book progressed that I must never be tempted to rush it or scrimp on the detail and I instinctively I knew also that once finished I would need to read it again. What I hadn't allowed for when I started the volume in the New Year was how we would all be drawn into the events in Syria during this violent winter. This is not just a book about Byzantine Christians throughout the Middle East, nor is it just a history and a travelogue. Although it was published fifteen years ago in man ...more
Good descriptions, excellent narration, terrible explanation of facts. Partial, antijewish, antiwestern, clearly pro muslim, his explanation of the Lebanon War is a prodigy of inaccuracy and bigotry. Full of clichés, such as "islamist extremism is in a good deal the result of Western humiliation of Islam" or "Islam was tolerant with jews and christians". Well, that doesn't seem to explain where did the MILLIONS of christians and jews that inhabited the Middle East go, does it? Was Islam so wonde ...more
Apr 26, 2013 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dalrymple heads off in the footsteps of the 6th century monk, John Moscos, from Mount Athos down through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine and finishes in Egypt. Along the way he gives a superb insight on Christianity in the Middle East with all its rich history and present day persecution and insecurities. It’s also surprisingly exciting at times as he encounters various policemen, soldiers etc who aren’t always happy with what he’s doing. Erudite, and by turns amusing and disturbing.
Mar 10, 2012 Kavita rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel, religion
This book takes the route of a monk who lived in the 500s AD and compares how things have changed or remained the same in some parts of the Middle East. I have liked almost all books of Dalrymple, and this was no exception. I also enjoyed some of the stories about old-time Christian monks, and descriptions of a very different Middle East than the one we hear of in the news all the time, but no less chaotic.
Apr 08, 2015 Toby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-and-diary
An absolute masterpiece of travel writing and reflection. At the time William Dalrymple wrote there was something sadly elegiac about the slow destruction of the ancient Christian communities in Syria and Eastern Turkey. Only now do we see how terribly vulnerable these communities were and how terrible the violence and slaughter meted out to them since the so-called Arab Spring.
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William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize.

In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six years
More about William Dalrymple...

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“Across the broken apses and shattered naves of a hundred ruined Byzantine churches, the same smooth, cold, neo-classical faces of the saints and apostles stare down like a gallery of deaf mutes; and through this thundering silence the everyday reality of life in the Byzantine provinces remains persistently difficult to visualise. The sacred and aristocratic nature of Byzantine art means that we have very little idea of what the early Byzantine peasant or shopkeeper looked like; we have even less idea of what he thought, what he longed for, what he loved or what he hated.
Yet through the pages of The Spiritual Meadow one can come closer to the ordinary Byzantine than is possible through virtually any other single source.

Dalrymple, William (2012-06-21). From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (Text Only) (Kindle Location 248). HarperCollins Publishers. Kindle Edition.”
“Finally, at two minutes to three, in the sweltering heat of a Mesopotamian summer afternoon, I crossed the no-man’s land into Syria.” 0 likes
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