The stunning view of Sednaya, as seen looking down from the top of a set of stairs leading to the rooftop of the Convent of Our Lady.
It’s been a year since mine and Mike’s last trip to the Middle East. Since then time has flown by, but that’s no excuse – I can’t believe I haven’t shared my last set of photos from the trip with you until now! These photos are from a day trip we took to Sednaya and Maaloula in Syria while staying in Damascus; both Sednaya and Maaloula are breathtaking and very rich in lore.
(If you didn’t catch my earlier posts on our Middle Eastern travels, you can explore Middle Eastern spices, take a peek at shopping in Middle Eastern markets, take a virtual tour through Old Damascus, check out what the locals eat, and even learn more about the famous Middle Eastern shawarma.)
Our first stop was Maaloula (also transliterated Maalula, Ma’loula, or Ma’lula), which is about a one-hour car ride northeast of Damascus. One of the most intriguing things about this village is the fact that it’s the only place where the Western Aramaic language (the language of Jesus) is still spoken to this day.
There are two large monasteries in Maaloula: Greek Catholic Mar Sarkis and Greek Orthodox Mar Thecla. Mar Sarkis was built in the 4th century on the remains of a pagan temple in honor of a Roman soldier named Saint Sergius, a Christian martyr.
The second important monastery, Mar Thecla, is named after Saint Takla (Thecla), the daughter of a Seleucid prince and student of Saint Paul. The town is built into the mountainside, and the name Maaloula is derived from the word for “entrance”, which refers to the entrance into the mountain. As legend has it, in the 1st century, Saint Taqla was being chased by her father’s soldiers because of her Christianity; she came to the mountain, prayed for escape, and the mountain split open. Of course, several variations of this legend abound.
(Information on Maaloula was compiled from the following sources: stories told to us by our Syrian tour guide, Ma’loula on Wikipedia, Maalula Monastaries on Sacred Destinations, and Maaloula, Syria on AtlasTours.net.)
The village of Maaloula…
Head this way back behind the convent to go into the mountain (above).
Going inside the mountain…
The entrance into the mountain and the statue commemorating Saint Takla (above).
Our second stop was Sednaya (also transliterated Saidnaya or Saydnaya), a city located in a mountainous region about 17 miles (27 kilometers) north of Damascus. This city is home to many churches, the most renowned of which is the Convent of Our Lady that overlooks the town and was built by Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 547 A.D. as a result of divine inspiration. It is said that while Justinian was crossing Syria with his troops, they came to this desert and camped, suffering from thirst. Justinian spotted a beautiful gazelle in the distance and chased it until the animal stopped on a rocky knoll near a spring of water. Suddenly, the gazelle transformed into an icon of the Virgin Mary (also known as Theotokos) and a brilliant light shone; a hand reached out and a voice commanded Justinian to build a church here. The emperor returned to his camp and ordered the church to be built; however, after some time, his architects were unable to progress and the gazelle again appeared to Justinian, this time in a dream, with a magnificent design for the convent. It is said that the convent’s basic structure still follows that plan to this day.
Scholars believe Sednaya to be the second most important Christian city after Jerusalem, and it is a destination for pilgrims from around the world seeking renewal of faith and healing. Numerous stories of miraculous healings in the shrine have been reported, many of which have been documented.
I really enjoyed walking around the convent; it was incredibly tranquil, with its cool stone walls and shaded areas providing relief from the sun and heat. Its corridors were very labyrinth-like and there were several beautiful courtyards with trees and fountains where you could sit and reflect. My favorite place was at the top of a set of stairs leading up to the rooftop, where you could look out at a breathtaking view of Sednaya and enjoy a truly refreshing breeze (see the photo at the top of this post).
The exterior of the Convent of Our Lady…