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Dair Mar Elia

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Saint Elijah's Monastery 1

Saint Elijah's Monastery, Mosul, Iraq

Dair Mar Elia (known in English as Saint Elijah's Monastery) is an abandoned Assyrian Christian monastery,[1] the oldest in Iraq, dating from the 6th century.[2] It is located south of Mosul.


The monastery was founded around 595 AD by Mar Elia, an Assyrian Christian [3] monk who had previously studied at al-Hirah[4] and later in the great monastery at Ezla Mountain in Turkey.[5] It was later claimed by the Chaldeans.[1]The monastery was the center of the regional Christian community, and for centuries thousands of Christians would visit the monastery to observe the Mar Elia Holiday, which falls on the last Wednesday of November.[6]

The monastery was renovated in the 17th century by Hurmizd Alqushnaya. In 1743, the Persian leader Tahmaz Nadir Shah ordered the destruction of its property and the death of the monks who dwelled there. The monastery laid in ruins until the beginning of 20th century, when some restoration was completed on a few halls and rooms. The structure, along with its neighboring reservoir and natural mineral water springs, were cared for by the Chaldean Church, and Christian pilgrims continued to visit the ruins.[7]

2003 war

Following World War II, Iraq's army placed its headquarters and a tank battalion in the monastery. The military post remained in place into the 21st century. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the monastery was the site of combat. An Iraqi armor unit used the monastery as a command post, they defaced all the rooms with graffiti, and clogged the historical cistern with sewege, but coalition forces were able to secure the site following intensive combat. As a result of the conflict, the monastery suffered some structural damage. It sustained further damage after hostilities ceased when some members of the coalition forces defaced the monastery's rooms with graffiti and set fire to a sewage-clogged cistern.[8][9]

Due to its location, within the current United States Army's Forward Operating Base Marez, immediately south of the city of Mosul, the monastery grounds are under constant observation and are no longer considered to be in harm's way. U.S. military personnel are frequently brought to the monastery on escorted tours, in order to widen their understanding of Iraqi history, and some U.S. military chaplains have coordinated efforts to protect the site from further neglect and potential looting. [2] U.S. Army engineers have surveyed the monastery and created a CAD model to facilitate preservation of the monastery. [1]


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