Gaza's St. Hilarion Monastery: When stones tell stories

The St. Hilarion Monastery, known in Arabic as Tell Umm Amer, was built by the fourth century monk for whom it was named.

Gaza's St. Hilarion Monastery: When stones tell stories

World Bulletin / News Desk

On a hill located a few kilometers from the Gaza seashore lay the stone remains of the 1,700-year-old St. Hilarion Monastery, Palestine's oldest Christian monument.
It's quiet amid the ruins, save for the sound of the wind.

"This is why St. Hilarion chose this remote, hilly area to build his monastery," Hayam al-Bitar, head of research at Gaza's Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, told Anadolu Agency during a tour of the ancient complex.

"An atmosphere of serenity and repose was a necessary ingredient of monasticism," she added.

The St. Hilarion Monastery, known in Arabic as Tell Umm Amer, was built by the fourth century monk for whom it was named.

St. Hilarion was born in southern Gaza in 329 AD, during the Byzantine era.

The monastery, thought to be the first Christian edifice built in Palestine, quickly became one of the most important sites in the Holy Land.

"The monastery's entrance featured a square court with a fountain at the center," al-Bitar said, walking through the remains of the 8,000-square-meter rectangular structure.

"The southern wing had a number of rooms in which the monks resided," she noted, pointing to a hallway that led to Saint Hilarion's mosaic-floored chamber and chapel at the heart of the monastery.

The chapel, replete with corridors and marble columns, was built according to the Corinthian style of architecture, known for its elaborate entablature.

These features of the monastery, however, are barely discernable to the modern visitor.

All that is left of the ancient complex are its stone walls, marble floors and a handful of Corinthian columns.

In one of the rooms, a brown mosaic floor has survived, bearing the words "With the blessing of our father, Hilarion."

"The monastery was abandoned after being severely damaged by an earthquake in the seventh century," al-Bitar said.

"Some of the stones from the ruined monastery were later used in the Islamic era to build fortifications around the complex during the rule of Caliph Omar Abdel-Aziz," she added.

Before it was damaged by the earthquake, she noted, the monastery had boasted as many as 220 rooms.

The monastery's ruins were unearthed in 1993.

Al-Bitar said the most remarkable part of the monastery was the crossed-shaped sanctum in the eastern side of the complex, which had been reserved for Hilarion and other senior monks.

Gaza's Tourism Ministry has said that much of the ruins were stolen during Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip from 1967 to 2005.

The Gaza authorities, for their part, have tried to preserve the ruins, which the Global Heritage Network has put in the "Rescue needed" category.

Last Mod: 19 Ocak 2014, 12:36
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