A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Deir Mar Elia was Destroyed by ISIS in 2014; but it's Making Headlines this Week

There has been a lot of publicity this week about the destruction of what is believed to be Iraq's oldest Christian monastery, Deir Mar Elia (St. Elijah) near Mosul, by ISIS. It is, like all of ISIS' destruction of ancient sites, a barbarous act. But what may be missed by those who read only the headlines, is that it was destroyed in August-September 2014. Iraqi Christian sources from the Assyrian and Chaldean churches throughout last year. What is new is the publication by the Associated Press of DigitalGlobe satellite photos that confirm that the ruined walls of the monastery have been obliterated. It provides a dramatic visual, but the destruction had been reported long before.
Mar Elia was founded as an Assyrian (Nestorian) monastery in the AD 590s. Much of the structure was built from the 11th century onward,  and destroyed in  1743 by the Persian Nadir Shah. Is ruins, though roofless, were cared for by the Chaldean Catholic Church and was a site for pilgrimages. The ruins were used as a military base by Saddam Hussein,  and during the US Occupation a Catholic chaplain celebrated Masses on the ancient altar.

It's another crime against antiquity, but it's not fully new news.

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