U.S. Army soldiers tour Saint Elijah’s Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq, Jan. 23, 2009. • Staff Sgt. JoAnn S. Makinano/U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia Commons
By John Martin
News has reached the West that ISIS has destroyed Iraq’s oldest monastery. The monastery, founded in 595 by Mar Elia (Elijah) and located in Mosul near the ancient city of Nineveh, was attacked in 2014. Its fate was discovered only this month with the release of satellite pictures. ISIS destroyed the monastery sometime between August 27 and September 28, 2014.
For centuries the monastery served as the regional center for the local Christian community. It was the custom for thousands of Christians to visit the site to celebrate the Mar Elia holiday on the last Wednesday of November.
A long history of persecution is associated with the site. In 1743 a Persian force attacked the monastery and 150 monks were killed after they refused to convert to Islam. It lay in ruins until the early 20th century when part of it was rebuilt and came under the care of the Chaldean Church.
ISIS has left a trail of destruction and looting, most notably the Temple of Bel is in Palmyra, designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Closer to Mosul in July 2014 it dynamited one of the claimed tombs of the prophets Jonah, Daniel, and the local prophet Jirjis (George).
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have been displaced by ISIS. In his Christmas message Archbishop Justin Welby warned that Middle East Christians faced elimination at the hands of Islamic State, which he likened to King Herod: “To all who have been or are being dehumanized by the tyranny and cruelty of a Herod or an ISIS, a Herod of today, God’s judgment comes as good news, because it promises justice.”