ARADEN, Kurdistan Region – Christians visit the historical church of Sultan Mahdokht in a village located in Kurdistan Region's Duhok Province. It is named after a woman who converted to Christianity from Zoroastrianism, an act punished by death.
Araden village is located between Matin and Gara mountains in Duhok’s Amedi. It is home to both Christians and Muslims.
The story goes that Sultan Mahdokht, daughter of Prince Pholar, and her two brothers were racing in the mountains close to the village. One of her brothers fell and injured his leg. A priest who was in the area came to help, read some prayers, and ordered him to stand up and walk.
The three siblings, having seen the miracle, embraced Christianity and decided to stay in the village.
This happened during the reign of King Shapur the Second (309-379) of the Sasanian Empire. The state religion was Zoroastrianism and King Shapur took a harsh line against other faiths.
Prince Pholar, who had been ordered by the king to find Christians and bring them for judgement, commanded his men to find his two sons and daughter.
The three were found after years of searching. When the siblings chose to keep their new faith against the wishes of their father and the king, they were killed.
Mahdokht is a Persian compound word taken from mah meaning moon and dookhtar meaning daughter.
“She was a beautiful woman, that is why she got this name," Philip George, a Christian resident in Araden said.
"Many people visit this site because many miracles have happened here, like curing some illnesses such as infertility in women. They pray that they will have a baby.”
After the brothers and sister were killed, a shepherd from the village decided to build a church in Sultana Mahdokht’s name. He used milk instead of water to mix white cement and join the stones together, Bishop Yushya of Sultan Mahdokht Church said.
The walls in the 4th century church are about 1.5 meters thick. It is said that 150 people can take shelter within the building.
Christians hold special ceremonies in memory of Sultan Mahdokht, a canonized saint in the Church of East and the Chaldean Church.
People light candles and offer up prayers.
The village remembers Saint Sultan Mahdokht on May 15.