History in the Hills: Monasteries of Israel
Updated: May 6
Israel is a holy place for almost all religions, which is why you can find many ancient and famous monasteries all across the country.
Here are some of the most famous ones!
A View Into the Monasteries of Israel
Israel is rich with Christian history and holds an immense significance to the Christian world, from the stories of miracles that occurred here to many magnificent historical sites standing to this day.
Learning about Christianity in Israel throughout the years can lend great insight into both the religion's and Israel's development. What better way to appreciate these stories and experience Christian spirituality than to visit some of its historical - and gorgeous - sites? Across Israel, you can find many monasteries and churches leftover from as early as the second millennium, and all brimming with fascinating history and art. Which ones have you been to already?
Northern Israel - Mt. Tabor
Towering at 1,900 feet above sea level, Mt. Tabor is believed to be the site of the transfiguration. Today, besides the remainders of fifth-century shrines and the Church of the Transfiguration - known to be one of the magnificent in Israel, you can find a Franciscan monastery, built over the ruins of ancient churches. Fun fact: this site sits right on the Israel National Trail passing over the mountain.
The Judean Desert
St. George's is a beautiful cliff-hanging monastery in the midst of the Judean Desert, and one of the world's oldest, combining architecture, history, and religion all in one. This monastery started in the fourteenth century by a few monks who sought the same pleasures of nature the prophets before they enjoyed. The monastery can be reached by crossing a bridge over Wadi Qelt and encompasses two churches and the tomb of the first monks to begin the monastery. Definitely worth a visit for those looking to combine a learning experience with incredible views of the Judean Desert.
Another site built on a cliff in the Judean desert is the Mar-Saba monastery, near Jerusalem and Beit Lehem.
This monastery has been active for the past 1,500 years and is geographically isolated, making it look extra impressive against the desert backdrop. Its location also means it can serve as a museum of ancient artifacts such as ancient manuscripts and art objects, that have been collected by monks over the years. Although quite magnificent, this monastery can be hard to access due to its location and prohibits entrance for women.
The Monastery of Silence
The Monastery of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, located in Latrun with a breathtaking view of the Ayalon valley, is known as the monastery of the silent monks, due to the vow its inhabitants took to refrain from idle talk and to uphold silence at all times, apart from during prayers. The site used to serve as a station for pilgrims traveling from Jaffa to Jerusalem and has beautiful gardens, vineyards, and olive gardens to match the views. Think you can match their silence?
Monastery of the Cross
Nestled in the valley below the Israel Museum and the Knesset, legend has it that the Monastery of the Cross was erected on the burial spot of Adam's head (though we should mention that two other locations in Jerusalem also claim this honor) and that in this spot grew the tree that gave the wood for the cross used in Jesus’ crucifixion. The construction of the Monastery dates back to the eleventh century, but it’s rumored to be as old as Constantine the Great (fourth century Roman Emperor, famously the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity). The original crusader-period monastery can still be found in the current complex, as well as mosaic ruins from the fourth-century structure, and a library full of Georgian manuscripts.