Monasteries and churches of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East
Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Sednaya
As far as the number of visitors to the religious places in the orient, the Patriarchal Monastery of our Lady of Sednaya ranks second in importance after Holy Jerusalem.
The monastery is located at a high hill overlooking the Village of Sednaya. It's library comprises many precious manuscripts which indicate that it was built in about 547 A.D.
Story of the Monastery's construction:
Historians narrate that when the Byzantine Emperor Justine I went out with his soldiers to attack the Persians, he crossed Syria and reached its desert where his soldiers, their horses and equipment camped for a rest. Soon they became very thirsty due to the scarcity of water there. While they were in that painful situation the king saw a deer. He chased it zealously until it was exhausted due to its tire and fell down on the top of a rocky hill. Subsequently, it went towards an edible fountain. The deer leave a chance there for the king to kill it but it transformed into an icon of our Virgin Lady from which a great light was radiating …Out of the icon a white hand went out and extended from afar to the king. It said to him: “You will not kill me, Justine … but you will erect a church for me on this hill”…Once again, the Virgin (deer) appeared again (deer) in his dream and guided him to bombastic design of the church. It is said that this design represents the same architecture of the present holy monastery which still preserve its grandeur and Byzantine beauty until today.
This event was embodied through a wonderful artistic portrait. It is now
hung over the Shaghoura Shrine, It was drawn by a Greek artist. It denotes as to how the monastery was built, and the portrait is more expressive than words .
The more important section of this Monastery is Shaghoura Shrine. It is a small dark room, illuminated always by candles and oil. It has an arched roof from which many lights full of oil dangle. At the eastern wall there is an aperture with a silver mesh, above which there are various pieces and chains of gold and silver and crosses endowed by visitors at various times.
Behind this closed mesh and inside an opening which is dug in the wall, the icon of our Virgin Lady is kept. It is one of the four original copies drawn by the hand of the Apostle Luke the Preaching Apostle. It is called in Syriac " Shahoura or Shaghoura", means the well-known, the renown . In the Shrine, there are artistic icons and others for Virgin Lady which date back to the 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries A.D. Old books talked about this place and narrated episodes about this miraculous icon as this icon has cured many sick people.
As for the church, it is big and well constructed. Jesuitical Father Jason I -1660 narrated that this church resembles the greatest and most beautiful churches in France. The temple is separated from the church yard by the stand which carries the iconostasis of colored and engraved wood. It resembles in its grandeur the most beautiful churches in the world. It dates back to the 18th century . In front and behind the temple there is spreading of colored mosaic which represents some animals which is very charming. There are tens of ancient and rare icons inside the church which are considered archeologically a treasure . The church has three beautiful domes, the biggest is in the middle one where it is permeated with light from all sides. In 1728 the Russian tourist Barski found that the church looks like Church of Tor Sinai, but more beautiful. The church was renewed in 1780.
The monastery contains many rooms. The visitor can enter to the monastery through a small thick wooden door overlaid with iron.
Address : Sednaya, Syria
Telephone: +963 (11) 5953342 – 5952399 – 5950547
Fax : +963 (11) 5952900 .
Cherubim Patriarchal Monastery, Sednaya
Cherubim is an Aramaic word means "angels". It consists of the Cherub, that is, angel and Bim which is the symbol of the plural.
The monastery lies on the top the eastern Kalamon mountain at 2000 meter high above sea level. Visitor can get to it through paved zigzag mountainous road. It is 7 k.m. off Sednaya.
This monastery was built in the 3rd Century as a result to the persecution of the Christians by the pagans. It became debris in the 16th Century, and was rebuilt in 1982 during Patriarch Ignatius IV. In his book "Masalek AL-Absar Fi Jumlet Bilad AL-Sham" [Vision paths in whole Great Syria], Author Shihabeddin OMARI said: “It is Masharbin monastery, it is visited for promenading, built of Roman august white stones. It is big and there is a fountain as well as opening and small holes overlooking the Ghouta of Damascus and eastern and western side of it as well. It overlooks what is behind the Ikab Mountain Path. One can see from its northern holes the north of Baalbeck”.
In 1737 when Bokok went up to it, he found it inhabited, and there was a monk and inhabited church. In 1945 Mother Catherine HAIDAR visited it and said: “I found the walls of the monastery supported by Kafri stones. The roof was made of slabs. I saw a line of columns on which vine and grape vineyards painted. There was a big stone on which four angels were drawn, and some of the big stones on which Greek writing was written”. Excavation carried out at the campus of the monastery indicated the existence of wine factories engraved on stones.
The Court :
It lies on the western side of the monastery, about 150 meters away from it. It is engraved on hard rocks. Recently, an orphanage has been built near the monastery, and there is a big building for visitors and receiving guests.
Nowadays, and at the desire of the Patriarch Ignatius IV to revival monasticism in this monastery, elevating it as it was before, and providing it with all that is necessary for monastic life, His Beatitude ordered to deliver the administration of Cherubim Monastery to the monks of the St. Georges Patriarchal Monastery, Sednaya under the chairmanship of Archimandrite John TALLI.
Telephone: +963(11) 5953377
St. Georges Monastery, Sednaya
The monastery is located at the mountain slope, south of the town. It is 1500-meter high. The monastery consists basically of the main grotto and a small church which dates back nearly to the Byzantine period. It is probably built on the debris of a pagan temple. The rest of its current building dates back to the 17th century. It was restored and renewed several times, and its present church dates back to after 1860 A.D.
Church's building was renewed, especially, the ceiling and the current concrete dome at the period of Archbishop Germanous Shehadeh of Selvekias in 1905. Works continued until 1909 as it is obvious from some of the available antiquities of the monastery.
At the western side of the church there is a Lattice extends through the width of the church. It is built directly on rocks also.
The present iconostasis is not old. It was made in 1960's of the past century. There are icons which date back to 1966. Some of the icons of the old iconostasis are kept at the monastery as there are the doors decorated with icons.
Some of modernization took place at the church, such as cladding its dome with red tiles, and raising its bell dome to the third floor, along with cladding its bell dome with tiles, as well. Atop the bell dome there is The Holy Cross, the immortal pride of the Orthodox.
The second and most important site is the grotto of St. Georges. It consists of two stories: Upper chamber and a grotto downstairs. Accessing the grotto can be through stone stairs. This cave has recently changed into a small church equipped with a table, an alter and a simple iconostasis. North of this grotto there is an annexed cave which resembles a rocky semi-cylindrical cavity.
A copious yard covered with a tile roof, and beautiful rocky arches were annexed to the cave. Adjacent to it is a bookshop for selling spiritual books, icons and religious gifts.
The new pavilion and the architectural development of the monastery:
At the end of 1995 His Beatitude Ignatius IV desired to return to the monastery its monastic activities and vitality as an extension to the renaissance that is taking place nowadays all over the Patriarchal See, especially in the field of monasticism. As a result there has been this current Brotherhood under the chairmanship the Archimandrite John TALLI. By the grace of God, and the assistance of the great Saint in the martyrs of the Christ Georges, and by the supplications of His Beatitude and the donation of faithful, the monks were able to awaken the monastery from its long sleep, and the architectural projects ensued, and prayers were sent to the Bounteous God and the Annunciation has activated and developed.
As regards, the most important of the activity of the monastery, viz, the evangelical spiritual activity, the monastery organizes for the orthodox youth and others spiritual retreats for some days. The youth come from all over the Antiochian Archdiocese .
They come to spend several days in spiritual retreat which revolves around prayer, reading and spiritual and theological dialogues, spiritual confession and guidance, in addition to some of the simple but activating works which help the monks also in administering and transacting some of their works at the monastery. The most important of all is to imbibe the spiritual knowledge and experience of the Head of the monastery and his spiritual Father, and the rest of the monks.
These spiritual and theological activities extend to involve clergy men of Damascus Parish, in particular, therefore, meetings are arranged with the prominent spiritual and theological Fathers so as to enrich and develop their spiritual and theological knowledge.
Today, Archimandrite John TALLI, superior and Spiritual Father lives in the monastery with six monks along with number of the brothers who seek sanctification. They are all interested in building, agriculture, and many of other works.
The monastery relies basically on financial or corporal donations presented by many of the faithful, in addition to the revenue and supply and alms given by the faithful at the church and the shrine. Part of this amount is spent monthly as material contributions for the permanent and transitory needy, the rest of the amount is spent on completing the constructional activities at the monastery.
This monastery commemorates St. Georges on the 6th of May every year.
Address: Sednaya - Syria
St. Christopher Monastery
It is located at the road between Sednaya - Maarra Crossroads.
The monastery's garden lies on a rocky hill. It consists of the church of one yard, together with an orchard planted with trees, in addition to a number of caves, and three wells for collecting water surrounded by a stone wall.
The monastery was mentioned in the Syriac manuscripts kept at the Vatican cupboard. The monastery was visited by Bokok in 1737. Its walls were then inclined without a roof.
Nowadays, this monastery is being rebuilt by the benediction of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim.
The monastery celebrates the feast of St. Christopher on the 9th of May every year.
Sednaya - Maarra Crossroads, Syria.
Patriarchal Monastery of St. Elias Shoya, Dhour Shweir
This monastery is the Second Headquarter of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East in Lebanon. It was the headquarter of the Patriarch Erethios after the fire of the Patriarchate See and Mariamite church in Damascus in 1860. At this monastery some of the Holy Synod meetings of Antioch See are held. From time to time ordination of many Priests and Bishops have been held. It has, As well, the headquarter of the Spiritual Supreme Court.
The monastery is located 150 meters above sea level at a beautiful mountain of the Matn Shimalti which is related to Lebanon Mountain. It is 31 k.m. away from Beirut, and overlooks most of the surrounding areas.
The story of building the monastery began with some monks who were seeking piety's life, therefore, they built six hermitages and a small church on a high mountain. In order to have access to them we have to climb natural stone stairs of stone. The date of building this part of the monastery is indefinite, and we have no clear idea about the historical stage in which it was built. The monastery has been influenced by many of natural disasters throughout time.
Hermitages have been changed throughout time into basements and warehouses attached to the monastery. In 1997 the old pavilion has been restored. An entrance was made for it at the eastern side. It is as a Holy Shrine.
At some period of time the movement of restoration and expanding the existing old monasteries was activated. Then the integrated edifice of the monastery was built on the area that consisted of the roof of the old hermitages in addition to a flat broad step of stone. This period of building was completed on the basis of a deliberate design.
The monastery became consisting of two yards surrounded by stone archways. It overlooks the yard through beautiful arches. It has stairs leading to the old hermitages from the northern side. At the southern side there are the walls of the new monastery which is not devoid of the splendor of decoration and engraving in spite of the simplicity of their construction. At the second space there are accurately designed suspended stone stairs leading to the upper pavilion and the famous roof of the monastery.
At the upper pavilion there are the monks' rooms. A part of them were turned to a patriarchal pavilion which is the Summer headquarter. Two rooms were turned to a big reception hall.
The new entrance of the church on the western wall contains all the esthetic elements: the Ghouta Arch and a line of the beautifully made decorations. The beholder stands before a peerless historical artistic miracle. What makes this treasure-trove more valuable is that in all its details expresses holy spiritual concepts, and Anglican symbols that explain the holy verses with engraving, portraits and lively shapes.
The monastery' church is one of the archeological churches. It has stone arches coated with white chalk. Its walls are thick, but what distinguishes its inside is the unique iconostasis. It is made from walnut wood and artistically decorated in a manner that no square centimeter is devoid of decorations which enchants the beholder. It was added recently.
During the last Lebanese Civil War, the monastery was exposed to a destroying shelling with all weapons. Once artilleries and guns were silenced the Bishop Elias who is now the head of the monastery started to restore and repair that damages it was exposed to.
The chairmanship of the monastery exerted its efforts to add to it a touch of pleasure and worship, thence There were religious setting up at night, completing the ceremonies of the holy baptism and matrimony to the inhabitants of the neighboring villages. The groups of the faithful have returned to the monastery on all occasions and festivals as they used to.
The monastery owns many farms. The land of the monastery was a laboratory for obtaining original and hybrid agricultural production. The monastery used to secure nursery-plants for Afforestation of arable lands so as to yield good agricultural crops.
The monastery is now an important center for holding spiritual meetings and activities. Its meeting halls have witnessed important meetings of the Holy Antioch Synod, as well as a number of conferences have been held, some of which are for the youth. Every year the monastery witnesses official meetings of the parliament representatives, ministries, and orthodox personnel under the chairmanship of His Beatitude.
On the artistic level, the monastery is rich of its assets. It combines a rare group of important and different icons which date back to the 15th and 16th Centuries. The library of the monastery contains 63 manuscripts. There are also chalice with gold and silver lid.
Patriarchal Monastery of St. Takla, Maaloula
Monastery of St. Takla, Maaloula&catname=Patriarchal Monasteries
Maaloula an Aramaic word. Its original pronunciation is "Mou'loula" which means the crossing or the entrance through which Saint Takla passed cross to the mountain.
It is 60 k.m. away from Damascus. It is a Kalamonian town like the eagle’s nest. Its houses are built on rocks gradually one over the other in a unique architectural structure (how often it enchanted artists, and they embodied it in their art). The beholder may imagine that the houses are built one on another. Its inhabitants speak both Aramaic and Arabic.
The monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the Greater Syria. It dates back to the 4th Century A.D. We can emphasize that the monastery was built on two phases. It is the widening cave which is located at the eastern part of the mountain which overlooks the present monastery.
At its southern side is the Saint’s shrine and sepulcher. Great Antioch Patriarch Macarios son of Zaim had previously substantiated that it was entombed there. On the side of the eastern cave there is an old closed church which contains a stone table, and its alter is engraved on rocks. Between the shrine and the church there is fountain of water which the faithful get benediction from it when drinking its water and wiping their foreheads with the signal of the Holy Cross. At the north eastern corner of the cave water drops from the ceiling of the cave on to a dish which is elevated about one meter on the base that resembles a column. The ill people would wipe their bodies in search for cure. Beside it is a tree which dates back to very old ages. It is noteworthy that the tree has grown up at the cave.
Archways at the western side of the cave were built and they overlook beautifully on the present monastery and town.
Access to this holy shrine can be through the stairs which lead to the inner yard of the present monastery.
Undoubtedly, the present monastery was built at the end of the 18th Century where nuns living at the monastery had built their rooms from their own money, then they donated them to the monastery after their death .These rooms are located at the northern side, and they were built on rocks. At the southern side the church of the monastery is situated. It is modern and beautiful and it may date back to the second half of the past century.
Now, there is at the monastery a nucleus of an internal school for orphan girls. It was established by the present head of the monastery, Mother Bilagia SAYAF. It is hoped that this school will be expanded in the future. She has founded , as well, a workshop at which solitary girls and pupils practise embroidery, beads and woman arts. She has amended the systems of renting the properties of the monastery with an eye to increase the revenue that may be used in the restoration and other wroks in the monastery.
The monastery is currently headed by the Mother superior. and the town’ priests are sponsoring spiritual and youth activities according to the instructions of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV.
The monastery celebrate St. Takla's feast on September 24th every year.
Address: Maaloula, Syria
Telephone: +963 (11) 7770003
Patriarchal Monastery of St. Paul the Apostle's Vision, Tal Kawkat
His Beatitude Patriarch Theodotos VI was interested in a land parcel 18 k.m. away from Damascus, at a site known as Kawkab. He intended to erect a gigantic building there after the old Roman or Byzantine style. It was a volcanic hill on which black stones spread. It was located to the left of the main road leading to the south, and through which a traveler passed, and cast only a careless look as there is nothing today that reminds us of St. Paul’s dream and his guidance to Christianity nearly two thousand years ago.
“ There and after five or six days of walking, when Chaol and his companions arrived at the suburbs of Damascus, a lightning around him illuminated the area and he fell to the ground. The Holy sound and dream could change the pagan to a devout Christian”.
The ancients knew the sanctity and importance of the place, therefore, they built a monastery known as St. Paul. Nothing has remained of it except traces, some polished stones (a Corinthian column head, two wells for collecting rain water) as there are trenches and uncovered foundations of a big building and some of those walls have still some chalk . There are also stone seats .There are remains of a church that lie between the volcanic hill and the Roman road. One may also see pieces of tiles which were used in the building. The inhabitants of the nearby villages mention that many of the rocky masses were extracted out of the walls and reused in new buildings of those villages. Thus nothing has remained of the ancient monastery. Some of the villagers found among the debris a golden thuribe (censer). Finding it is a definite proof that the building was Christian and not a pagan temple. The existence of this monastery was substantiated by affidavits from Medieval centuries from the Crusaders’ period like the book "History of Jerusalem" by Jack Fitri, and "Description of The Orient" by Bokok and others.
The inhabitants of the neighboring villages of Kawkab are still calling that place "the Hill of St. Paul" . It is a holy place for them, and they visit it and vow to baptize their children at the top. This place has become very important, even the Russian Patriarch Alexis I, Patriarch of Moscow and Pan Russia donated money for building a round church at his own expenses in 1965. That indicates the holiness of the place.
Upon insinuation from His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV, and due to his interest in this deserted monastery and renovating it. He has appointed Archimandrite Mathews Rizk to headship the monastery, so as to be an Orthodox light-house out of which the light of Christ illuminates and manages his affairs by God's will, and to render spiritual and moral service to the faithful.
Tal Kawkab, Judaidet Artouz
Telephone: +963 (11) 6816496.
St. Georges Monastery, Christian valley, Syria
St. George monastery of Homeyra lies in Wadi An-Nassara. Kadha Tel Kalakh, between Horns and Tripoli, and close to the knights Castle (Krak des chevaliers).
According to arabic and western sources, the history of the monastery goes back to the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Justinian. It was consecrated to St. George, the glorious martyr (Jirjis according to the historian At-Tabari), called by non Christians as our lord Al-Khodr Abou-L-Abbas.
It is probable that the name of the monastery «Homeyra» is related to an historic monument called «Homeyra» close to it or to an ancient village which bore this name in regard to the god of rain among the primitive peoples.
Some scholars say that the word «Homeyra» derives from the Greek «Homyros» which means the «torrent» and we know that, during winter, the region is open to heavy rains and to great torrents.
Others say that the monastery is built over the ruins of a pagan temple dedicated to the god «Homeyra». This temple became the foundation of the present monastery known as the «old monastery» (it is actually the first floor). Did the word «Homeyra» derive from «Homyra»?. If we give an affirmative answer this means that the old monastery is built upon the temple «Homyra» in the 6th century and is contemporary to the patriarcal monastery of Saidnaya. This fact led scholars to say that the Byzantine emperor Justinian had built both monasteries together.
There is another possibility that the word «Homeyra» is an Arabic translation of the Greek term «Klomyros» which means «the spiritual brotherhood of common life».
St. George monastery was built near the public Roman Highway which leads from the maritime coast to the interior land like Horns, Palmyras and through the desert.
The monastery was originally a cave surrounded by some cells of simple monks. It has a southern Byzantine facade with the main entrabce. The gate and the fresholds are of 93cm x 64 cm and sculptured from vlackstons.
Near the gate, there is a stony window used by monks to distribute bread and food to the needy and to those passing - by. On the other hand, one of the cultural monks used the same window to teach the gathered people the basics of ethics and religion.
The second floor was built in the 12th century during the Crusades. Its door, made of black stones, is as large as that of the first floor opens to the west. A cross is sculptured on it and is called the door of the horse because, in spite of its nsrrowness, a horse use to enter throught it.
On this floor, there is a church called the « old »in regard to the new one the 3rd floor, this old church has a semi - circular arch and a wooden Iconostasis, accurately and strictly carved, has a group of Icons painted by an 18th century Arabic school of painting which inherited the byzantine art, giving it a local tint. This art attracted a group of Icon admirers who stole the Icon of St. George and sold it in London for 25000. Fortunately the Internatunal Police (Scotlandyard) found the Icon and a few years ago, it was brought back to the monastery.
The modern 3rd floor has a splendid church which goes back to the 19th century. The church has a magnificent wooden Iconostsis, considered one of the most important in Syria and Lebanon. It took 34 years to be carved and its Icons are painted by the Jerusalem school in the 19th century.
Among the treasures of the monsatery, we find ecclesiastical vessels like cups, trays, crosses and others which are unique in the Christian world. We find as well, manuscripts, documents, wills and priviliges from the Arabic era and gifts from the Armenian, Georgian and Russian Kings.
The monastery is registered among the most important monument in Syria. With the Knights Castle, it is considered as a famous touristic center. Above all, peoples of different races and religions visit the monastery, bring their vows and offerings and venerate the miracles of its patron Saint.
There are about 55 rooms in the monastery to welcome the crowded visitors, namely on two accasions a year: The first on the 6th of May. the feast of St. George, and the 2nd on the 14th of September, the elevation of the Holy Cross.
The monastery, which lies in a valley surrounded by the perennial green hills, has a park and a famous and miraculous bubbling spring close to it.
Address: Christian valley, Syria.
Tel: +963 (31) 731101 – 730113 , Fax: +963 (31) 730324
St. Lady Monastery, Balamand, Lebanon
Situated eighty kilometers north of Beirut on a plateau overlooking the blue Mediterranean lies Balamand Monastery, where over ten centuries of endeavor to learn and teach have flourished. It is on this ancient site that the Cistercian monks built Balamand Abbey in 1157 A.D. on existing Byzantine ruins after the end of the second crusade.
The Cistercians abandoned the Monastery of Balamand before the capture of Tripoli by the Mamlouk Sultan Qalawan. Three hundred years after the departure of the Crusaders, Antiochian Orthodox monks took possession of the monastery. Along with their life of prayer, the monks also cultivated the soil, copied manuscripts and hosted guests who sought refuge in difficult times.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the monastery acquired estates in the whole region of Koura and Tripoli and became an important center for agricultural production.
Being a center of radiance for the Orthodox faith for four centuries, the monastery acquired a great number of icons, manuscripts, and liturgical objects. Its two churches are decorated with rich iconostases and icons reflecting a diversity of styles.
As a spiritual center that housed monks and pilgrims who came seeking spiritual guidance, the monks cultivated the land of Balamand and became a spiritual source for the neighboring inhabitants. They took care of both the mind and the soul of man. Throughout the years, the worked on copying beautifully illuminated manuscripts and protected liturgical objects. They added new parts to the monastery that perfectly blend with the old. Balamand remains a center of pilgrimage and a place of refuge for those seeking divine truth, faith and loveHeritage Manuscripts:
One hundred and seventy manuscripts represent a collection of great value. This treasure is witness to the well-established spiritual and monastic life in Balamand, as well as a support for its cultural and pastoral work. Most of the valuable manuscripts are of the 17th-19th centuries while some of the oldest ones, dating back to the 13th-15th centuries, bear bilingual Arabic and Syriac writings. In spite of the preeminence granted to the Greek language by the Patriarchate of Antioch since the Schism of 1724, we find only a few manuscripts written in Greek. Illuminated Gospels dating from the 17th century were stolen in 1976 and have not yet been found.
The Icons of Balamand are the work of a multitude of painters from several countries who came in different times to contribute to the iconographic patrimony of the Monastery. The miraculous icon of the Virgin (Hadigitria) from 1318 actually dates back to the 10th century. The icons of the Monastery were acquired or produced during two essential periods in the life and blossoming of Balamand. The first extends from the end of the 17th to the 18th century. Most of the works of this period are signed by the Aleppine painter Nehmeh al-Musawwir. The second period is the mid-19th century and is marked by the school of Jerusalem. Other icons were imported by, or offered to, the Monastery. Some of them come from Russia and date from the end of the 19th century.
Postal address: the Monastery of Balamand, PO Box 100, Tripoli, Lebanon
Tel: +961 (0) 6 930309-10
Fax: +961 (0) 6 930308
1. Mariamie Cathedral ( Mary's Church)
Mary is the name of the virgin lady, mother of Christ. It is originally an Aramaic word which is the female description of the pure or chaste . This Cathedral, named after Christ's mother, is considered to be one the most important and beautiful archeological site in Damascus and Greater Syria. Its deep-routed ancient linked with Damascus history, the most ancient city as its history dates back to the Christian Second Century.
During the Emperor Constantine's rule, the Roman State recognized the free worship to its citizens, therefore, the Christians became able to declare their faith frankly without being persecuted. Churches appeared openly after they were restricted to caves and grottos. At that time the Mariamie s (Christians) exposed their temples which were small compared to the small number of Christians. They devoted it to Virgin Mary.
The first orthodox church was founded by the St. Ananias the Apostle, the first bishop of Damascus, which was in his house and then named after him. Some say that it was founded later on in the second century on the debris of a pagan temple and named The Holy Cross. Christians made it the cathedral of the city, since Damascus Bishop came next after the Patriarch of Antioch in Bishop order.
In 635, the Arab Moslem armies entered Damascus through two gates : The eastern gate under the leadership of Khaled Ibn AL-Walid by force and through AL-Jabiyeh gate under the leadership of Abi Obaida Ibn AL-Jarrah peacefully by the Christian Sergon (St. John the Damascene's grandfather). The two armies met at the White Minaret near the current Antioch Patriarchal Compound, St Mary's church. They closed the church and was considered one of the State properties because it was situated on the demarcation line between the entrance of the two flanges of the Moslem armies peacefully and forcibly. (Churches situated east of the city which had been conquered by force were changed into mosques, whereas the churches situated west of the city where Abou Obaida entered, remained in the hands of their owners. They were fifteen churches including the St. John the Baptist Cathedral and the Diocese House). They remained closed until 706 where AL-Walid returned them to the orthodox by saying: "We compensate you the Church of John by the Church of Mary", and that was as a compensation for changing the Cathedral of The Baptist into the Umayyad Mosque .
At that time the orthodox renovated their diocese and built it near Mary's Church.
Developments affected Mariamie Cathedral:
Since 706 the cathedral has witnessed important events, and its existence is considered miraculous in comparison with what vanished by man and time of churches and Christian houses whose ruin spread all over Damascus.
It remained closed for about 65 years until AL-Walid returned it, then it was destroyed by some ignorants during the reign of the Abbaside caliph ( AL-Muqtader Billah) in 926 A.D. along with the adjacent women's monastery. Mary's Way connects the Arch of Victory near the Patriarchate and AL-Faradis Gate which does not exist nowadays as well as Nestorian Church at Jafar Avenue. Therefore, the said caliph ordered to rebuilt it without the rest .
It was burnt in 950 A.D. during the reign of Ahmad Ibn Toloun the Ruler of Syria and Egypt . It was re-burnt by Fatimide Caliph ( AL-Hakem Bi'amrihi ) in 1009 A.D. together with all churches in Greater Syria and Egypt including Nativity Church in Jerusalem. Then he ordered to rebuild some of these churches, including Mariamie Cathedral in Damascus, Mary's Church in Cairo and Nativity Church in Jerusalem. The Turkish Ruler of Damascus (Khatkin) supervised the rebuilding of the Mariamie.
The parish improved it gradually, especially during the time of the bishop Theophilious who fetched deft artists in decoration and church portraits. It became a wonderful cathedral to the extent that the Arab traveler Ibn Jubeir described it when he visited it in 1184 by saying: " Inside the town there is a church which is very important to the Romans. It is known as the Church of Mary. Its importance comes after the Church of Jerusalem. It is a beautiful building includes miraculous pictures which appeal to mind and eyes. It is in the hands of the Romans and nobody objects to them at it".
In 1260 A.D. a big sectarian disorders erupted, and St Mary's Church was demolished after the Tatars left the country under the leadership of Holako. Because, before conquering Damascus, Holako ordered that its Christian inhabitants be treated humanely as he was Nestorian-Christian.
The parish restored the church in a simple manner according to their hard financial situation, until the Antioch Patriarchal See was moved from Antioch to Damascus in 1342 A.D., when AL-Thaher Bibars destroyed Antioch in 1268 A.D during his war with European Crusaders .
In 1404 , during the period of the Antioch Patriarch Michael III, the Tarter Tumberlain attacked Greater Syria and conquered Damascus by force and his army looted and corrupted the city for three days, day and night. They looted everything including St Mary's Church (which had become rich and luxury). They pulled down its western hallway and the Kiberianus and Justine Church which was west of St Mary's Church. The Patriarch Joachim IV (son of Juma'a) rebuilt the church of Kiberianus and Justine in 1524 , whereas, Patriarch Michael III rebuilt St Mary's Church, little by little, as he re-embellished it before his death in 1410 A.D.
In 1759 a strong earthquake hit most of Syria and Greater Syria which led to the destruction of many cities including Antioch and Damascus, resulting big damages. The earthquake demolished the upper half of Issa's (Jesus) minaret at the Umayyad Mosque and half of the Kiberianus and Justine Church; the walls of Mary's Church were cracked.
Patriarch Selvestros the Cyprian, The Cypriot ( 1724 – 1767 ) rebuilt Kiberianus and Justine Church but did not rebuild St Mary's Church as it was not necessary to rebuild it, until the time of Daniel , the Antioch Patriarch ( 1767 – 1791 ) who obtained a permission in 1777 from the Damascus Ruler Mohammad Pasha AL-Azem (his friend) to demolish and rebuild it. The work lasted two years and people would pray then in the St. Nicholas Church which was situated at the Patriarchate Compound.
By Ottoman and Jewish connivance, in addition to external and local and foreign factors a sectarian sedition broke out in Damascus in 1860 which was one of the biggest sectarian disturbances in particularly in Damascus, and Greater Syria in general. The sedition left behind big losses in souls, where the consuls and historians estimated them as 9000 Damascene Christians, along with destruction of all the churches of Damascus, the first of which was St Mary's Church, Kiberianus and Justine Church, St. Nicholas Church, and the Patriarchal House. They all were demolished in addition to the Christian quarters in Damascus. In spite of the efforts exerted by the late, the Prince Abdul-Qader AL-Jaza'iri and many of the distinguished Moslem leaders to stop the disturbances, protect Christians, feeding them and providing them with accommodation after the catastrophe.
The first martyr of the riot was Priest Joseph Mhanna HADDAD, the Iconomus of the Antioch See, who was honored and recognized as an Antiochian by the holy Antioch Synod in October 1993. St Mary's Church remained ruined during three years until the Antioch Patriarch Erethios (1850 – 1885) rebuilt it, thanks to some of indemnities provided by the government and the aids sent by the Antioch Patriarchal Representative in Moscow Mr. Gabriel SHATILA. The areas of Kiberianus Church and St. Nicholas Church were added to the Cathedral, and their stones were used in rebuilding the Cathedral which became largest and most beautiful church in Damascus regarding what contained of marble decorations and inscriptions on the charming marble iconostasis, and it was called Our Lady's Rest.
Hallways, yards and gardens outside the Cathedral in addition to some rooms were annexed to it, thereafter the patriarch Speredon (1891 – 1898) built the current bell dome.
The last renovation of the Mariamie Cathedral took place in 1953 A.D. during Patriarch Alexander III's term. after a crack in its ceiling appeared. Its inscriptions were returned to it . The total money spent on its restoration amounted to 2,322,245 Syrian Pounds collected from utilities and institutions of the Christian community in Damascus and abroad, in addition to the donations of benefactors and financial grants provided thankfully by the Syrian government .
Mariamie Cathedral is considered one of the biggest and the most beautiful churches in Greater Syria. As far as roominess and beauty it equals St. Peter and St. Paul and St. Paul Cathedral in Antioch . Therefore, The Mariamie Cathedral is the oldest living church in Greater Syria. Had it not for the bad circumstances especially those of 1860 it would have contained the greatest ecclesiastical assets of equipment, tools and historical manuscripts .
2.The Holy Cross Church, Kassaa
Considered as the second church in Damascus after Mariamie Cathedral. It is located in the Christian quarter which has been existed since late 19th Century outside Damascus walls. The importance of this church lies in its being the headquarter of four communities that provides this great Christian congregation with intensive spiritual services, in addition to its being the main head office of the orthodox youth crown.
Archimandrite Eustathios Kalila, Head of the Saint Gregory Society, submitted to the Mullah Senate a letter No. 282 of 4 November 1927 requesting its approval to start the construction of an orphanage at Bestan Al-Salib (Cross Garden) in negotiation with its partner The Damascene Society, in view of the fact that its current orphanage which was built at Assieh Alley at one of the endowment (Waqf) domiciles (Waqf) and attached to our Lady of Sednaya was not healthy and did not suit society's objective, especially some of the orphan children's health deteriorated. He requested to form a mixed committee from both societies to work out a building plan, although the portion of the society amounted to 75 acres. The Mullah Senate approved the construction of the three projects which were: the church, the school and the orphanage. The generous people who had desired to build rooms in the orphanage got bored of the time spent of no avail. The Senate allowed forming a committee consists of both chairman of St. John and St. Gregory societies under the chairmanship of Mr. Amin Mamlouk to collect money for the three projects, provided that the orphans stay in the first floor of the orphanage; building a first floor at the school, then all money that might be collected to be spent for building the church .
The construction started: The school and orphanage were built first. The community went on building the school with zeal. The foundations were built from the donations of benefactors and the rest was completed by the donor Mr. Saba Sabbieh. The constructed was completed in 1932 . As regards area, it is considered the second in Damascus after The Mariamie Cathedral. The founding date inscribed in Arabic and Greek on a piece of marble above the main gate .
The church was built on the form of a cross, as it has a main gate in the west, in addition to a right-side gate and left-side gate
The marble iconostasis was built in 1936, consisting three royal gates which have four sub-gates and many of big and small icons. Through its history, the Church has contained many of icons of various technical schools: Syrian, Byzantine, Russian and Roman with grandiose marble iconostasis on the interior circumference, in addition to its columns and additional annexes and accurately inscribed wooden furniture.
Address : Kassaa - Damascus
Telephone: +963 (11) 5427752
3. St. Ananias Church, Midan
There is no accurate date enabling us to know definitely when it was built as there is a disparity of the dates written on the walls of the church. We see on the exterior campus gate the date 1815, and on the northern gate of the church the date 1860, whereas, the Damascene historian, the scholar Mohammad Kurd Ali, specified it in his famous book "The Plans Of The Greater Syria" as 1862.
In spite of this disparity we see that the church was at the beginning, an ordinary house where mass was taking place. It was soon, under cover of darkness, changed to a church. One of the elderly catholic people narrated that building of the catholic church, Our Lady of Niyah Church adjacent to St. Ananias the Apostle Orthodox Church was done in this way so as to show the efforts of building churches at the time where building churches was prohibited.
The summary of the story is that during the Lent the Parish bought two adjacent houses. The followers decided to change them into a church in which the first Mass would be performed during The Easter Night Mass (Hajmeh). the construction started at night by pulling down the walls, expansion and building. Debris was carried out at night with coordination with the alley guard (as the alley had a gate and a guard). That was done without the knowledge of the Ottoman authorities. Thus the parish was enable to inaugurate the church. Building churches had been prohibited since the Islamic Conquest. Restoration of the existing churches had to be done by obtaining a sheriat legal opinion issued by the sheriat magistrate after carrying out the technical expertise that would prove that the church was about to fall down. Having authenticated by Ruler, Ministry of Justice and denomination authorities. It is not strange that our church was about to fall down or was built on an older church, and that might be the reason of allowing it to be rebuilt in 1815 .
In this regard we point out that this church was an integrate complex. In addition to the church, there were The Elementary Mixed School of St. Ananias the Apostle and Mercy Loving Charity Society.
The church, considered to be the oldest in Damascus after Mariamie Cathedral. It is located at Kourashi Alley, an ancient and historical Christian district at Midan Quarter which was located outside Damascus and is now one of its quarters.
If you pass by the church you will not realize that it is a church because it is a conventional Arab house where its southern wall extends (where the gate is) at Kourashi Alley .Undoubtedly, the milestones of this wall have been changed . This is obvious from the black basalt stones with which the church was built disappeared during restoration under a concrete layer which coated with a stark white color.
Above the door, there is a marble stone on which the following is written: "The Orthodox Church of St. Ananias the Apostle, founded in 1815". Without that marble no stranger could know that he/she is passing by a famous church .
You can enter through this gate directly to the Church's southern interior campus and you will find yourself in a simple interspace which resembles its alike at Damascene houses which are classified as (simple and conventional). At the eastern and western sides there are ground and upstairs rooms.
The church is a square shape consisting of a ground floor, lattice and a square dome. Its southern and northern sides are surrounded by a yard. This yard takes the shape of the simple Arab sky lighted house. Its western side is merely a roofed hallway which widens and leads to the stairs of Lattice. Near the stairs there is AL-Jarsiyeh well, and in it is a concrete tower . It was a beautiful wooden tower, but it was about to fall down, therefore it was restored in 1983 by a concrete tower which is visible from afar.
The church has three gates under the hallways surrounded by very beautiful Damascene stone decorations. They are wooden engraved and cut in a beautiful manner. Their color is brown like the color of the rest of the furniture, the iconostasis, windows and benches.
Over the western gate, stone inscriptions are considered the origin among these three gates. Above the gate there is a marble which seemingly held some inscriptions, but unfortunately it was coated during restoration. The end of the hallway, left of the northern side leads t a small saloon . This saloon was the room of the orthodox apostle Ananias school administration . Above it there is a similar room to which you can enter from Lattice.
The church is a beautiful traditional one which has preserved its orthodox Damascene style. Its floor is tiled with big slabs which have black separating lines. The church has three hallways each one is carried on three square columns on which Lattice leans. It has wooden iconostasis which is not engraved as it has three royal doors. Some see that the iconostasis did not belong to this church because it did not touch the southern and northern walls . At the top of the iconostasis and directly below the church ceiling there were two beautiful Russian banners, one for the Mister and the other for the Mistress. The church ceiling resembles the ceiling of the Arab conventional houses which are roofed by cypress and willow trees. In the middle of the church the benches of the faithful people spread in the three hallways, in addition to a row of wooden wall benches all over the church, as there are two crowns : the first is patriarchal and the second is simple bishopric. The patriarchal crown is grandiose and accurately made. It has terms indicating that it was a present from Our Lady Church – Greek Catholic Patriarchate in 1983.
4. St. John Damascene Church
This church (along with Ananias the Apostle in Midan Quarter) is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Damascus if it is not, indeed , the most beautiful of all. It is one of the spiritual and tourist milestones which has the distinguished fragrance of Damascus. It is distinguished by its location, architecture and the beauty of its internal engineering. It is visited by the visitors of the Mariamie Cathedral which is only fifty meters away. Recently, it was subjected to restoration which has shown its ecclesiastical architectural beauty. Its walls were scraped and the chalk layer was removed off its black stones and columns. Thanks to the instructions of His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius IV, where its original Damascene beauty appeared.
The church lies at the intersection of Assieh Alley with Sefl Talleh descent way which is called now (St. John Damascene Quarter). As for the story of its construction, it indicates the story of efforts, patience and pain because its construction coincided with one of the biggest sectarian sedition that took place in Damascus in 1860.
The church was built during Antiochian Patriarch Erethios (1850 – 1885) on a property which was the site of the Russian Consulate in Damascus which was sold by the consulate to the Ottoman Government after moved to another site.
When the Sublime Porte visited Damascus in 1856, Patriarch Erethios requested his approval to have a second church built in Damascus other than St Mary's Church (Mariamie Cathedral), reminding us that the Orthodox Parish had always had many churches before the Islamic Conquest of the city. The Sublime Porte approved to that and granted His Eminence this land which was owned by the Ottoman State in order to construct this project. When the Russian Government knew about that, its orthodox zeal awakened and insinuated to its consulate in Damascus to donate in its name thirty thousand piasters as a contribution for building this church.
From outside, the church is square-shaped resembling all the Damascene houses in their architecture which dates back to the 18th Century. The building materials of the façade of Damascene house are black basalt stone with crossing lines of white stones.
The ceiling is carried on the wood of willow trees. Before the stone façade and from its southern , western and northern sides is a hallway which is carried on square columns of paved black stones and arches. In the center of the western façade, there are two high doors surrounded by Damascene inscriptions and decorations of marble and alabaster and Mazzawi stones. In the center of which is a stone slab on which it was written in Arabic that it was built during the period of the Patriarch Erethios in 1864, along with a door at the southern side and another door at the northern side, in addition to some windows. At the side of the northern hallway there are stairs leading to Lattice which surrounds the church from inside and its yard is overlooked from all sides except the northern side. The upper layer is illuminated by many windows distributed all over it. As for external roof, it is even, and in the east southern side there is a weak beautiful bell. The inner side of the church is divided into three divisions by two rows of various columns; some of which are cylindrical and made of the black basalt stones. Some of which is from the reddish Mazzawi stones. The layer of the white chalk layer was uncovered , and the original black color appeared with crossing white lines which have some Damascene stone inscriptions dispersed in asymmetric geometrical manner.
The inscribed wooden iconostasis of the church is charming and reflects the Damascene craftsmanship which was the specialty Arab Damascene Christian families. It contains nice icons from Jerusalem School. It is, as a whole, and with the cross that is at its top, is typical of the distinguished Syrian art which specializes in making the rows of the icons of apostles, craftsmanship and the chair of each of the patriarch and the bishop which are placed in the church.
Marble icons and iconostasis from the Byzantine, Syrian and Russian arts spread on the internal walls of the church.
1. St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral, Antioch
St. Peter and St. Paul Cathedral is situated in the mildest of the city of Antioch. It is surrounded by a roomy yard which contains some buildings. The church yard is wide and tiled (approx. 80x60 m.).
This cathedral is considered as on the most beautiful pan-orient orthodox churches. It was built of Byzantine style with a Russian touch. At the beginning, it was a simple wood building. It was erected in 1833 A.D., and was rebuilt after the 1872 A.D earthquake.
The church has a white stone façade carried on two square-shaped stone columns. On the left hand side of the cathedral lies the bell tower. The church has three gates: The main one has big wood door looks like Mariamite Cathedral Door in Damascus. At the top a line of poetry was inscribed saying that it was built by the Patriarch Meletios Doumani in 1900.
From inside, the Cathedral was built after the Russian Byzantine style, consisting of three hallways carried on four columns. Its Altar is traditional clad by engraved white marble with icons. The Alter from behind the middle table has the grandeur stone cathedral, the fashion of which dates back to several past centuries. It is mostly believed that it was not of the origin of the Cathedral.
There is inside the church a magnificent masterpiece which is an archeological chalice with cover and tray. It is accurate in manufacturing made of gilded silver. The church contains, as well, magnificent Byzantine archeological icons including the icons of iconostasis and other Russian ones.
2. Archangels Church, Mercin
The church is located at the corner of Boulevard with a north-south side street called Ataturk Avenue. Its architecture is traditional Byzantine covered with a brick roof as it has a main entrance from the boulevard and another one from the avenue. It is surrounded by a beautiful fence which combines, besides the church, a narrow verdant cordon surrounding the church along with rose bushes, cypress trees and pine trees. It has at the west, as well, two Arab traditional houses. The campus of the church has extended to cover all the boulevard area now.
There is an Intra church appeal to pray and worship. It is a place consisting of one Hallway and has at the west side a Lattice for women only. It contains only wall seats on both sides. The church has a marble iconostasis, as there is in the church many of pure Byzantine-style archeological icons as well as Syrian icons which date back to Aleppo school and the 18th Century, but they need to be restored. Out of these icons is a miraculous one called "Hajalieh" which many ills borrow them and get cured thereby.
3. Nicholas Church, Iskenderon
It is the main church of the City of Iskenderon has the traditional Byzantine style. It was renovated in 1876 A.D. Its iconostasis is wooden agate clad with a layer of plywood coated with a stark white color together with an engraved wooden relief crown and a relief which has the shape of angels, and gilded floor and 85 rich icons. The Patriarchal’s chair is a big wooden chair of the same engraving, and it is gilded.
The church is surrounded with a beautiful yard planted with trees, flowers and cypress trees. Elegant benches and tables were arranged for the peoples' activities. At the northern part of which there is the acolyte's house. There is also tombstones of British soldiers who died in World War II. No one knows why they are there.
4. Monastery of the Sr. Georges, Iskenderon
The monastery is the archeological church of Iskenderon. According to witnesses' testimony, it was a monastery for the monks which dates back to 1574 A.D. where monks practised piety. it was located at the town's countryside, but now it is at the southern part of the city in an area which is dominated by a rural style.
It is now a simple church which has only one door. It is surrounded by the parish cemetery but burial has been stopped 25 years ago. Inside of the church is simple and beautiful dominated by the Syrian rural churches that inspire submissiveness . It is in need of complete restoration. It has a stone baptismal font with a lattice for women and two large ancient jars for wine and oil at one of its corners. Perhaps, the most beautiful thing in the church is the conventional mortal carriage which has retired. It was pulled by horses. It is strong and made of the beautifully and accurately manufactured engraved wood. As for church icons, they are simple.
5. St. John the Baptist Church, Arsoz
The town church lies at the old part within a narrow lane which has a ground macadamized with small slabs in one side and the rest is not paved. Through it we can enter to a wide yard planted with cypress trees along with some fruit trees and flower shrubs. Inside the yard lies the town graveyard .
The church has a Byzantine style with the simplicity of the Syrian countryside. it is merely a hallway with two gates. The church dates back to 1778 A.D. and its iconostasis is beautiful and made of an accurately engraved wood. It contains gorgeous Syrian icons in addition to wall icons, each of which symbolizes the biography of Christ from Gospel to Whitsunday. They need to be restored . its ceiling from the inside is not prismatic but semicircular.
6. St. Georges Church, Sourieh
The church overlooks on the beautiful town and the adjacent mountains surrounded by a beautiful yard planted with damask rose shrubs, basils, cypress and pine trees . It wooden benches on which old people used to sit on . The church has two gates: on one of which the following term is written "St. Georges Orthodox Church", built for the second time in 1897 - Christian. In the middle of the church there are no benches but it has wall benches and it has a lattice for women. In the iconostasis there are iconostasis four traditional Byzantine icons. In the church, as well, there are four liturgical manuscripts dating back to 1805 A.D.
At the side of the church from inside, there is a special room for baptism in which there is a fixed baptismal font.
7. Our Lady's Rest Church, Jneido
It is a Syrian rural church, the church consists of one hallway and has a simple iconostasis that comprises three old Byzantine icons. On the right-side of the iconostasis a term mentioning that it was built in 1950 A.D In the alter, there is an icon of our Lady which needs to be restored since 1891 A.D. There are no benches in the middle of the church but only wall benches.
The church lies at an Arabic house, and it has a western gate leading to the town alley; a northern gate leading to the inside of the yard.
8. St. Elias Church, Sweidieh
It is the main church in town, located at a hill that gives it its charm. From outside it is coated with pink. as for its prismatic ceiling , it is built of tiles. Its carried by four arcs and eight columns.
As for the wooden engraved iconostasis, it is very well made, holds many usual icons of the Syrian icon. There is a Byzantine icon from Jerusalem school. There are no benches in the middle of the church, only wall benches.
The church is dated back to 1879 A.D. and it has in the middle of it a stone baptismal font fixed in the ground of the church.
The church has been renovated recently.