Name of Monument:
Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (Monastery of St Moses the Ethiopian)
Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi is located amidst the rock-cliffs of the Qalmun mountain range 7 km east of Nebek, a city 80 km north of Damascus. The area is vernacularly known as Jebel al-Mudakhan, or “the Smoky Mountain”, due to the misty atmosphere, Qalamun Mountains, East of Nebek, Syria
Date of Monument:
The oldest part of the monastery (currently serving as the kitchen area) was originally a pre-Islamic Byzantine tower dating back to the AD 5th or 6th century. The monastery’s church dates to AH 450 / AD 1058
Architect(s) / master-builder(s):
The architects of the monastery’s church, which was built during the AH 5th / AD 11th century, were called Musa and his brothers (known as the sons of Abu al-Asad) and Mazhlum bin Tuma al-Nebeki. The fresco painter of the topmost layer was Sarkis ibn al-Qassis Ghali bin Barran and the calligrapher was Hunayn.
Period / Dynasty:
Byzantine, Seljuq, Ayyubid
Since the AD 6th century the monastery was cared for by the Eastern Christian communities and the residing monks. After much neglect and damage, especially during the 1970s, the task of restoring the monastery was undertaken by Italian Jesuit Paolo dell’Oglio and the Syrian Catholic communities, taking care to maintain the old and indigenous methods of art and architecture.
The monastery grew around an abandoned Byzantine watchtower dating back to the AD 5th or 6th centuries. According to legend, the King of Ethiopia's son arrived to Syria after he rejected royalty to seek out a spiritual existence. After travelling though Egypt and Palestine, attaining his priesthood along the way, he became a monk and settled in the Qalamun Mountains of Syria, living in the caves and the nearby abandoned watchtower and leading a devout life. He was martyred at the hands of Chalcedonian Byzantine soldiers in the early AD 7th century and the monastery was thus named after him.
View Short Description
This monastery is located in the cliffs overlooking the Qalamun mountains, near the route connecting Damascus and Homs. While the oldest part of the monastery is pre-Islamic, an AH 5th- / AD 11th-century church displays in situ the most complete survival of medieval Christian mural paintings. The three layers of these distinctive local paintings are dated to the Atabeg and Ayyubid period of Syrian rule. They indicate an artistic renaissance among the Syriac Christian communities, in keeping with the tradition of Islamic tolerance towards communities of different faith, even at the height of political militarism and Crusader warfare.
How Monument was dated:
Through excavation, massive dome-shaped constructs in the monastery's foundations were discovered and attributed to the pre-Islamic Byzantine era, dating to the AD 5th or 6th centuries. There is also a manuscript in the British Museum in London attributed to the Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi and dated to AD 575, implying that the monastery was well-established prior to that date. As for the church, a carved inscription dates its construction to 450 / 1058. There is also an inscription above the entrance indicating that renovation works were completed in 902 / 1497.
Cruickshank-Dodd, E., “The Monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi near Nebek, Syria” Arte Medievale: periodica internzionale di critica dell 'arte medievale, 2nd series, 6:1, 1992, pp.61–132.
Citation of this web page:
Dina Bakkour "Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (Monastery of St Moses the Ethiopian)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;sy;Mon01;23;en
Prepared by: Dina Bakkour