The Monastery of Saint Martyrius is the biggest monastery built in the Judean Desert in the Byzantine Period. Covering an area of 2.5 acres, this monastery once housed hundred of monks. It demonstrates best the flourishing of Judean Desert monasticism in antiquity.
History of Martyrius monastery
Martyrius was born in Cappadocia (in today’s Turkey). In 457 CE he joined the Monastery of Saint Euthymius, but at some point he settled in an isolated cave, living as a hermit. Monks that joined him developed the site into a monastery that would be named after him. Martyrius himself left the monastery to serve as a priest in the Holy Sepulchre. Eventually he became the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The monastery was attacked in the Persian invasion in 614 CE. After the Muslim conquest of the Holy land (636-640 CE) the monastery was abandoned, and never settled again.
The monastery’s remains was excavated in the 1980s when the state of Israel built a neighborhood in the area (Ma’ale Adumim). The complex is almost square in shape. Its walls and gate attest to the protection measurements the monks had to take. The mosaic floors of the monastery’s dinning hall and church are still intact. The monastery also operated a pilgrims’ hostel, as it is along the road from Jerusalem to Jesus’ Baptism site and Mount Nebo.
Visiting the Monastery of Martyrius
Today the Monastery is in the heart of Ma’ale Adumim, a suburb east of Jerusalem. Visiting it must be pre-arranged with Israel’s National Parks Authority. Some of its finds are on display in the Museum in the Good Samaritan Inn.
For a full appreciation of the site it is recommended to combine it with a guided day tour of the Dead Sea.
Points of Interest in the Area
The Martyrius monastery is 5 miles west of Euthymius monastery, and 10 miles from the Good Samaritan Inn. These sites combined illustrate well the Byzantine Period Monastic movement in the Judean Desert. If you are fond of Israeli art, within Ma’ale Adumim is the art museum of Israeli painter Moshe Castel.