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The Mar Saba Monastery is a Greek-Orthodox monastery located in the Kidron valley in the Judean Desert, southeast of Bethlehem. It is the most renownedmonastic complex in the Holy Land, active continuosly since the 6thh century AD.

History of Mar Saba Monastery

During the Byzantine period (4th to 7th centuries AD), many devout Christian monks headed into the Judean Desert. They believed that living as a hermit in this wilderness fulfilled God’s will, especially in the wilderness where John the Baptist and Jesus passed. Over the centuries, these monks established more than 50 monasteries in the Judean Desert, especially around Jesus’s baptism site and the road from Jerusalem.

Saint Sabbas was a Cappadocian-Syrian monk who arrived in the Holy Land in the 5th century. He joined the Euthymius Monastery and later the Laura of Gerasimus. In 484 AD, Sabbas settled in solitude in a cave along the Kidron Valley. Monks that joined him led to the foundation of a monastery bearing his name – Mar Saba (In Syriac: Master Sabbas). By local tradition, a spring was discovered beneath the monastery, providing essential water to the hermits. Later, Sabbas founded additional monasteries, but after his death, he was buried in the Mar Saba monastery. The monastery was attacked by Persians in 614 AD but was restored a few years later. The Crusaders maintained it but carried Sabbas’ body to Venice. Only centuries later, in 1965, the catholic church consented to return his body to the monastery where he is buried to this day.

Touring Mar Saba Monastery

mar-sabaIn its heyday, some 300 monks lived in Mar Saba Monastery. Today, less than 20 maintain the site. Reaching it on paved roads is possible only through an area under the control of the Palestinian Authority. An off-road vehicle can also reach the monastery, through dirt roads crossing the Judean Desert. These desert paths also lead to a stunning monastery viewpoint from a hill on the opposite side of the Kidron Valley. Following a rule from Sabbas’ time, women are not allowed into the monastery. They can view it from the adjacent women’s tower (by local tradition, Sabbas refused even his mother’s visit to the monastery).

A visit to the monastery or its viewpoint can be combined with a full-day Jeep tour in the Judean Desert.

“After the long drive in the mountainous terrain, the view from the lookout over the monastery is full of grandeur and excites me time and time again”    (Team Member Pini Refael)

Contact us to inquire more about a private off-road tour to Mar Saba Monastery:

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