San Simon Monastery, Jerusalem
The San Simon monastery, situated 5 km southwest of Jerusalem’s Old City, is a hisotric religious complex dedicated to Simeon the Righteous. By local tradition it is his burial site, making it a pilgrimage destination, especially for Christian Eastern Orthodoxy. The current monastery dates to the 19th century, and built over ruins of a Georgian monastery from the Middle Ages.
Saint Simon in the New Testament
The Gospel of Luke records the parents of Jesus taking him to the temple in Jerusalem as an infant, when Simon “righteous and devout” person approaches him. Simeon takes Jesus in his arms, blesses him, and states –
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).
Although not often presented in Christian theology or art, Simon’s blessing of Jesus is an important testimony to Jesus’ messianic role already as an infant. The New Testament does not provide any further details about Simon, and no other historical source mentions him. The San Simon monastery maintains a local tradition of his burial site.
San Simon Monastery in the 1948 Israeli-Arab War
Set on a hilltop in western Jerusalem, San Simon was in a dominating position. Held by Arab forces, they used its vantage point to shoot at Jews living in the surrounding neighborhoods. On April 27-29, 1928, Israeli forces managed to get a hold of the monastery, but the Arabs launched seven continuous counterattacks. Despite the heavy casualties and running out of ammunition, the Israeli forces held out. This pivotal battle ensured Western Jerusalem would be of the state of Israel. To this day, Bullet holes can be seen in the Patriarch’s summer residence in the monastery.
Visiting San Simon Monastery
Today, a single Greek monk named Theodoritos maintains the monastery. It is open only by appointment and for pilgrimage purposes. The Israeli neighborhoods that developed around the monastery after 1948 are named “Katamon,” a place name based on the Greek term “Kata Monhs” – “By the monastery.”
A visit to San Simon Monastery can be combined with a day tour of Jerusalem.