Sunday, September 11, 2005

Der Mar Mousa

The monastery

Elements of geography and Hystory The ancient Syrian monastery of St. Moses the Abyssinian (Deir Mar Musa el-Habashi) overlooks a harsh valley in the mountains east of the small town of Nebek, 80 km north of Damascus, and about 1320 metres above sea level.

The area was first inhabited by prehistoric hunters and shepherds because of its natural cisterns and pastures ideal for herding goats. Perhaps the Romans built a watchtower here. Later, Christian hermits used the grottoes for meditation, and thus created the first small monastic centre.

According to local tradition St. Moses the Abyssinian was the son of a king of Ethiopia. He refused to accept the crown, honours, and marriage, and instead he looked towards the kingdom of God. He travelled to Egypt and then to the Holy Land. Afterwards, he lived as a monk in Qara, Syria, and then as a hermit not far from there in the valley of what is today the monastery. There he was martyred by Byzantine soldiers. The story says that his family took his body, but that the thumb of his right hand was separated by a miracle, and was left as a relic, now conserved in the Syrian church of Nebek.

From the archaeological and historical points of view, we know that the monastery of St. Moses existed from the middle of the sixth century, and belonged to the Syrian Antiochian Rite. The present monastery church was built in the Islamic year 450 (1058 AD), according to Arabic inscriptions on the walls, which begin with the words: " In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate".

The frescoes go back to the 11th and 12th centuries. In the fifteenth century the monastery was partly rebuilt and enlarged, but by the first half of the nineteenth century it was completely abandoned, and slowly fell into ruins. Nevertheless, it remained in the ownership of the Syrian Catholic diocese of Homs, Hama, and Nebek. The inhabitants of Nebek continuously visited the monastery with devotion, and the local parish struggled to maintain it.

In 1984, restoration work began through a common initiative of the Syrian State, the local Church, and a group of Arab and European volunteers. The restoration of the monastery building was completed in 1994 thanks to cooperation between the Italian and Syrian States. An Italian and Syrian school for restoration of frescoes has been created at Deir Mar Musa and will complete the work in the context of Syrian European cooperation.

The new foundation of the monastic community started in 1991.

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