This ancient Catholic monastery houses world renowned wall frescos and promotes religious acceptance in a region ravaged by intolerance and war.
The structure of Deir Mar Musa (The Monastery of St. Moses The Abyssinian) has had many incarnations since it was first built by the Romans in Byzantine times. Originally intended for use as a Roman watchtower to monitor and control illicit trade, it was repurposed as a medieval hermitage site, a Catholic monastery, and eventually it was left abandoned for several centuries until it was reclaimed in 1991 by a local Syrian-Catholic monastic community.
The modern-day Catholic community is founded on the premise of religious tolerance. It works to convince local Christians to remain in Syria and to work with their Muslim neighbors to build a multi-religious community. It also embraces a wider audience, and any wandering traveler is welcome to enter the monastery and stay the night, so long as they participate in community chores and respect the monastery rules.
While camouflaged among the burnt brown stone of the towering valley walls, the site itself remains an imposing edifice. The monastery is built high onto the mountains rimming the valley, and it takes 30 minutes of walking up a path of narrowly stacked stairs to reach the entrance gate. Each step creates a sensation of walking back in time, with only a single cable cord (used to transport food goods from the valley floor) marring an image that has remained largely unchanged in the last thousand years.
However, the medieval ambiance is misleading, for inside the ancient stone walls is a community that has seamlessly woven both modernity and tradition into their lifestyle. Electric lights are turned on following the daily hour of silence, and the ancient rugs outside the chapel are piled with a mix of Nike athletic shoes and leather sandals. Inside the chapel, the Monastery’s leader preaches in a room decorated with 800-year old frescos of Christ, but uses translators to reach out to a modern congregation of international travelers on their iPhones. Deir Mar Musa is a beacon of hope in a war-torn country, and offers an inspiring layover for travelers who wish to better understand and appreciate the nuances of Syrian culture.