Author’s update: The same day I wrote this post, I received the magazine National Geographic in the mail. A photograph of Deir Mar Musa was featured on the cover! Read more at National Geographic.
Deir Mar Musa is a desert monastery in Syria. It was named after Saint Moses the Abyssinian, and is notable for its remote mountain location overlooking a desert valley. The monastery was founded in the mid-sixth century A.D. by the Syrian Antiochan Rite. The frescoes in the church date to the 11th and 12th centuries. In the first part of the 18th century, the monastery was abandoned and remained so until 1984.
In 1984, restoration work began through a common initiative of the Syrian state, local churches and a group of Arab and European volunteers. Today an Italian priest named Father Paulo leads the ecumenical group of nuns and monks who live and work at the monastery. Their work focuses on inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue and sustainable agriculture, among other things.
The monastery is a place designed for reflection, and it extends hospitality to all who wish to remain there, on the conditional that they partake in the community’s work. I had the opportunity to visit Deir Mar Musa in April 2006, and was particularly taken by a piece of calligraphy hanging in the chapel. It says, “In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate,” and reflects this community’s desire for peaceful religious co-existence in the Middle East.
This calligraphy composition features the signed work of several of the most highly reputed Ottoman calligraphers: Seyh Hamdullah, Hafiz Osman, Hafiz Yusuf, Mehmed Rasim and Mahmud Celaluddin.
Turkey. Early 19th century. 65.8 x 53.2 cm. Thuluth and naskh scripts. Courtesy of the Nasser D Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.