I never thought of myself as one to drop everything and go live in a monastery, but this past weekend, it crossed my mind. A few days ago I took a well needed break from the honking, smog and the crowdedness of Damascus and headed to the mountains. Less than $5 and an hour and a half later, I was staring up at steps winding along a dry riverbed descending a mountain rocky mountain into a vast barren valley, with the monastery blending in on top. The monastery was built, according to the legend, in the 6th century. By Moses the son of the King of Abyssinia, from modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea. He gave up the throne in search of a monastic life, and some how ended up in the Syrian mountains. The monastery, home to a church built in the 11th century, flourished until about the 15th century, and was finally abandoned in the 1830’s. In the 1980s an Italian Jesuit discovered the monastery and has literally brought it back to life.
The beautiful views and intense quiet were necessary and relieving. There were no fees for anything, we only had to help work and clean and prepare meals. The stars were amazing at night, something I haven’t seen in a long time. Also impressive was the inside of the church, which has frescos from different eras all over. You could see where a newer (re: couple hundred years old) fresco had fallen away to reveal an even older fresco behind it. The contrast was great with the colors and the people as well. All types of Christians and even Muslims came to pray and enjoy the relaxation.
They also had an amazing three story, underground library, with a beautiful study room at the bottom. I really wish I had come earlier, either to come back and visit or to stay for a couple weeks. It would be a great place to live for a while. Beautiful expanses of hills to run around in and explore, a library to devour, a an amazing church and wide array of interesting people, not to mention the Arabic practice.
The Italian who resurrected the place was an impressively large and intelligent man. He spoke perfect Arabic as well as French and English, not to mention what else he has hiding up his sleeve. His main goal is to provide a safe place for inter faith dialogue. He wants to develop discussions and hear ideas, while at the same time sharing his own. While I would definitely recommend Damascus as an amazing place to visit, if you end up out there, this is another must.