Religious Sites Bethlehem
Mar Saba Monastery Bethlehem
The Mar Saba Monastery is a Greek Orthodox Monastery which was established in the 5th century by St. Sabas, a monk that hails from central Turkey. The monastery is considered to be the oldest abbey in the Holy Land which to this day still conforms to the strictest rules of monastery life. It is located around 15 kilometers east of Bethlehem and it stands magnificently on a cliff’s edge of a deep valley. It has undergone major restorations after an earthquake hit the land in 1834.
In early times, the monastery sheltered more than 300 monks but in the 21st century their numbers have declined to around 20. The Mar Saba Monastery still holds its strict tradition of forbidding women visitors from entering the monastery. The women, however, may enjoy the view of the cloister from a place built especially for women visitors, the Women’s Tower.
Mar Saba Monastery features thick walls and narrow windows. The complex as a whole contains 14 cisterns, a common dining room, kitchen storerooms, cells for monks, two churches, chapels and a hostel for visitors. At the center of the structure, there is a hexagon-shaped cupola that once contained the tomb of St. Sabas before his body was taken to Venice during the time of the Crusaders. Pope Paul VI initiated its return to the monastery where it is now laid in a glass case at the main church.
Life in the monastery still follows the Byzantine way of life which includes prayer, fasting and services. The monks here live without running water and electricity. Instead, they persist through olive oil candles during the night and are sustained by water from a natural spring.
The monastery is open daily from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM except on Wednesdays and Fridays.
They follow a strict rule of allowing only male visitors to enter the monastery. Female visitors are permitted only at the Women’s Tower.