The Monasteries of the Judean DesertPosted by in Israel Tours
Ever since the days when Moses and Elijah communed with God in the wilderness, people have sought out the purifying solitude of the desert. Both prophets and ordinary people seeking spiritual fulfillment have found what they needed here. These desert monasteries offer dwelling caves, freshwater springs and locations close enough to towns and roads in order to purchase provisions, yet far enough away to ensure tranquility. Desert monasteries date back to fourth-century Egypt Byzantine monks who sought to return to simplicity and to emulate the prophets of John the Baptist and Jesus.
Just off the highway east of Jerusalem lies the fifth-century Martyrius Monastery which was built by Patriarch Martyrius of Jerusalem to commemorate the place where he once lived in a cave. Today it contains remains of colorful mosaics and an ancient guesthouse. On the Roman-era Jericho Road, not far from the same highway, lies St. George’s Monastery. Fourth-century monks settled here around the cave where they believed Elijah had been fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:506).
Deir Hijla is off the main Dead Sea-Beit She’an road, named after biblical Beth Hoglah (Joshua 15:6) and founded by the Byzantine monk St. Gerasimos. Its picturesque church and monastery were rebuilt in 1890 and it now houses shaded courtyard picnic tables that are popular with local families.
South of Jerusalem on the edge of the Judean Desert is the sixth-century Mar Elias. It is named after Elijah who legend says rested here after fleeing from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:3). Mar Elias offers a dramatic view of Bethleham, Herodian and the wilderness. East of Bethleham and only accessible by four-wheel drive, is MarSaba which is one of the worlds oldest still-inhabited monastery. Here the monks also lived in caves, building the monastery when their founder Mar (Saint) Saba gained fame. Visitors can hike down to the Cliffside complex where women can view from the Women’s Tower and men can enter to see the church and St. Saba’s preserved remains.
Plan to discover the desert monasteries on your next trip to Israel. Need more information on this and other tours? Click here to contact Israel Tour Connection for more information