With sky-blue domes and red-tiled roofs, the Monastery of Mar Saba is a striking example of the monastic communities that made their homes in the Judean wilderness. The mountains are honeycombed with caves where early Christian hermits retreated into solitude. Slowly they came together, carving communities out of the rock, and the first monasteries were built in the early centuries of the first millennium. Mar Saba was established by the 5th century saint, director of all the hermits living in the Judean desert. Attacked during the Persian invasion of 614, forty monks were martyred here. Twenty more were killed during Mar Saba’s “Golden Age”, two hundred years later. This led to the construction of protective towers. The Crusaders brought a short-lived peace that was replaced by the constant harassment of marauding bandits. And if the hand of man had not done damage enough, an earthquake destroyed almost the entire complex in 1834. It was rebuilt in its present form with Russian help in the 1840’s.
Inside, heaps of skulls of the martyred monks can be seen. Also worthy of a visit is the cell of the 7th century church scholar, St. John Damascene – a mighty defender of Orthodoxy and mysticism. His persuasive arguments in favor of using images in religious places promoted the tradition of Eastern icons, and led to the nurturing of some of the West’s most gifted artists by the Renaissance Church.
This page is part of the book The Holy Land of JesusShare this page with your friends
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