SYRIA: Saidnaya & Ma’lula

SYRIA: Saidnaya & Ma’lula May 26, 2010

This is the thirteenth in a 15-part series of pics from Syria.


On the road again; this time up in the hills near Damascus.

First stop: St George Monastery.

Looking across the way from St George Monastery you can see the Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya.

The monks at St George were very gracious. The first part of or tour was underground …

to a chapel within a cave that was once used for Christian burial.

The courtyard on the way to their main chapel …

From there, we headed to Mar Thoma, a former pagan temple which was later “baptized” (one of the oldest churches in the world).

A view from Mar Thoma of the valley.

Caves where the monks dwelt …

are scattered beneath the temple.

Though a blurry shot: A view of an ancient Salon. Notice the table and “doorway” behind the man? That’s not a door … it where the man speaking would deliver his talk and the “gully” to his right, which circled the Salon, would carry the sound as well as any electronic mic & speaker system.

At the Convent of Saidnaya, in the Salon, with Mother Christina.

The icon which played a major role in my story, The Blindside.

The main chapel at Saidnaya.

There are quite a few steps that lead up the hill to the shrine … What’s housed in the shrine? An “icon of the All-holy Virgin, believed to be one of four icons extant that were painted by St. Luke the Evangelist himself.” Source
No pics were allowed.

Once, on the way, a Muslim woman with oil from the lamps spilled some on a step … leaving a mark that many believe to be miraculous image.

From Our Lady of Saidnaya, we drove up to the top of the highest peak … to Cherubim Monastery.

Next … on to the resting place of St Thekla in Ma’lula.

One commenter wrote about the story of St Thecla and the split of the mountain:

“You’ll be surprise to see the mountain in Maaloula [araimic speaking town], Syria which was split [you could even see the fresh color compare to the outward color of the mtn], thereby a gorge with running water even today, causes one to cross the mountain. The story runs like: Thecla, a very beautiful rich girl was engaged to be married. She happen to hear St Paul preaching and decided to be his disciple, much to the anger of her mother and fiance. The two wants to kill her, so she escape and met some dangers but save thru her prayers. She reached the rugged, unpassable mountain in Maulola and no way for her to escape. She prayed for water and safety, her deliverance came, the mountain split and water gussed out, thus she escape safely. You could see the split clearly today.”

The Russians have installed a huge image of Our Lord at the entry way of the monastery …

But this one is MINUSCULE compared to the one soon to be erected high up on the mount of Cherubim Monastery.

The Saint’s final resting place (no pics allowed), in the distance behind my fellow pilgrims, Michel and Haissam.

A view, descending the shrine.
Our visit to Saidnaya included a wonderful feasting meal for we three pilgrims. This was capped off by yet another visit to the Salon for sweets and coffee. During the repast, Michel wondered around the corner to an adjoining room and came back with a big smile on his face. Mother Christina said, “Ah … you saw our special room!”

She made me go look …

It was not what I expected!

A virtual Christmas wonderland that entertains the younger pilgrims throughout the year.

That night, back in Damascus, we were treated to a fabulous meal at Narange, thanks to a new friend, Issa. It was across the street from the Antiochian Patriarchate. The minaret pictured here is placed right beside the Patriarchate.

After a traditional Middle Eastern breakfast (much better than my usual Grape Nuts), Michel and I headed out for our final tour of Damascus …

Past the famous monument to Saladin in Damascus …

we visited The National Museum of Damascus — and, of course, more shops.

Back down south, in Sweida, I was walking around the shops when my mother, in the South (North Carolina), called my borrowed cell …

a snap while I was talking to Mom.

Then, Danny (Bishop SABA’s “IT Guy”) and I walked over to one of the city’s roundabouts which encircles the remains of one of the world’s oldest churches …

Next: On to Izzra to visit the 6th century Church of St George.

Podcast – “The Blindside” (in Syria); Article – Antiochian website

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