Mar Saba

Mar Saba

Greek Orthodox monastery in Judean Desert, built on hillside of Nahal Qidron, 12 km. east of Bethlehem. Founded in the 5th century by the monk Saba and called after him (mar means holy) . Mar Saba, inhabited by close to a dozen monks today, has been the biggest Judean Desert monastery for 1,500 years. The monastery consists of many structures which seem to be piled one on top of another, and is enclosed by a fortress-like wall. The entrance is through a narrow opening in the west.

Within the monastery: main church with marble floor and many paintings, Church of the Cave which is the oldest church and contains a few Byzantine paintings, and a large burial cave containing hundreds of skulls of monks slaughtered by Persians and Arabs. The skeleton of St. Sabas lies in a glass coffin draped in green silk in the main cathedral. The monastery has had a bloody history. It was destroyed in 614 by Persians and in 788 by Saracens. Rebuilt by Crusaders, it sustained repeated attacks by Bedouin. In the 19th century the Russian church helped in reconstructing the walls and watch-towers.

Stream bed: To the north is a network of stairs descending to Nahal Qidron and a spring in the stream bed. Next to the spring is an ancient cave where Saba lived before he established the monastery. In the walls of the ravine are many caves that were used during various periods as retreats for monks who were accustomed to congregate solely for Sunday prayers. Only men can enter the compound. Women can look into the compound from the 17th-century watch-tower called the Women’s Tower

 

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