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The Syrian monastery of Saydnaya: Faith and resilience

Saidnaya, Syria - March 7, 2011: Convent of Our Lady Monastery in Saidnaya (Saydnaya or Sednaya), Syria

Shutterstock | DunkelbuntStudios

Daniel Esparza - published on 11/29/23

Despite the Syrian civil war, the monastery has stood as a symbol of resilience and faith, still drawing believers both local and from across the Christian world.
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The monastery of Saydnaya, in southern Syria, is one of the most ancient monasteries in the world. Traditionally held to have been founded by Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 547, the monastery, also known as the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Saydnaya, holds a significant place in Christian history and tradition. It is renowned for its spiritual significance and for a Marian apparition associated with it.

Since its foundation, the monastery has weathered the turbulent currents of time, witnessing innumerable historical events and political changes in the region. But it has always served as a place of worship, pilgrimage, and refuge for Christians in the Middle East.

One of the most captivating aspects of Saydnaya is a reported Marian apparition. According to local tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to emperor Justinian I not once, but twice: The first time, to show him the place where he should build the monastery, the second, to give him the blueprints. The exact details of the apparition vary. Some say Justinian was so afraid that his first reaction was to try to kill Mary, but she stopped him and told him to build a church for her “here, on this rock.” Some others claim that Mary’s presence in the monastery is not due to an apparition, but to an ancient icon preserved in the monastery, the Shagoura (meaning “the Illustrious”), allegedly painted by St. Luke himself.

In short, devotees believe that the Virgin Mary’s presence lingers within the monastery, making Saydnaya a destination for pilgrims seeking spiritual guidance – and divine intervention. The monastery’s main chapel is, as expected, covered with ex-votos.

Over the centuries, Saydnaya has faced numerous challenges, including invasions, wars, and political unrest. In fact, it has been heavily damaged since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, which has posed a threat to the monastery, its surrounding areas, and to the community of believers. The ongoing instability in the region has raised concerns about the preservation of cultural and religious heritage. Efforts to protect sites like Saydnaya are crucial to maintaining the historical and spiritual legacy they represent.

Despite these trials, the monastery has stood as a symbol of resilience and faith, still drawing believers both local and from across the Christian world.

Christians in the Middle EastMonksSyria
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