Bringing New Life to an Old Monastery.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on delicious
Share on digg
Share on stumbleupon
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on print

PHOTO: Maj. Jeffrey Whorton, a Roman Catholic chaplain, celebrating Mass at St. Elijah’s Monastery near Mosul in northern Iraq.

The United States Army hopes to restore St. Elijah’s Monastery, an ancient site of Christian worship stuck in the middle of a base in northern Iraq (New York Times December 18, 2009) | Photo Tour of St. Elijah’s Monastery in Iraq.

  • In the years of American occupation, St. Elijah’s became a curiosity, a diversion for soldiers and contractors.
  • The site has never been studied or excavated. Before the war, Iraq’s Republican Guard occupied the base and, according to the Americans, used the cistern as a latrine.
  • The monastery is believed to date from the late 500s, when Elijah, an Assyrian monk, traveled from what is now Turkey. It later became part of the Chaldean Catholic Church.
  • The goal, Sergeant Miller explained, is to give St. Elijah’s “another 100 years of life — in whosever regime it is then.”

More to explorer

Carbonis Laetitia


The Monsignor and the Communist

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as

Bishop Sheen to be Beatified on December 21 in Peoria

    Great news:   PEORIA, Ill. —The Diocese of Peoria announced Monday that Venerable Fulton Sheen will be beatified Dec. 21


  1. Bravo to the Army! May the monastery again become a citadel of Christianity in an Islamic land.

  2. It is amazing to me how seemingly novel it is to see a warrior priest. The last episode of “V” on ABC had someone telling the Catholic priest that he has to choose whether he is going to be a solier or a priest.

    It seems to me our priests always have been soldiers.

    What a great picture!

    May God bless our priests, our soldiers and the poor persecuted Christians in all of the Muslim-occupied middle-east and Israel.

  3. It’d be nice if those foolish soldiers hadn’t damaged the site with their war toys in the first place. And if they hadn’t placed their pagan insignia on the walls after doing so.

    This looks to me like a case of clean-up/damage control after a really embarrassing (but standard) act.

    [Editor’s note — blanket and unjustified speculation about the motives of the military in general edited for the sake of civility. Michael, while I’m not at all surprised that you disapprove of this action, I’d request that you maintain focus on the specifics of the story and elaborate further, if need be, on why you disapprove and condemn the restoration of a erstwhile Christian monastary as “Christo-Facism.”

    P.S. Given the increasingly polarized and problematic atmosphere that typically inhabits the comboxes, it’s my hope that you can help us carve out a space, perhaps only a small corner of space, in which our passions do not get the best of us — and in which we can truly be a “new voice” that reflects the possibility of a new Catholic blogosphere in 2010. – Christopher]

  4. Michael — granted, your overall preference would be for the complete cessation of the U.S. military from Iraq and perhaps the disbanding of the U.S. armed forces altogether. We get the hint.

    That said, in the spirit of a worthy commenting policy and call for moderation and Christian charity, I’d like to pursue this further.

    Given the immediate situation, we have a Christian monastery formerly occupied by the Iraqi Republican Guard as a military base (and the cistern used for a latrine); subsequently damaged in a tank battle between U.S.-Iraqi forces, further vandalized by looters, and then re-occupied by United States troops . . . until a Roman Catholic Chaplain instigated a restoration of the establishment to its rightful purpose.

    At this point in time, would you agree with the intentions and actions of the Chaplain to restore the monastary?

    If not, why not?

  5. At this point in time, would you agree with the intentions and actions of the Chaplain to restore the monastary?

    If not, why not?

    The monastery should be restored. But the u.s. Army should have nothing to do with it. Referring to it as a potential “citadel” — as Donald has done — is positively disgusting.

  6. This is a fascinating a human story, which is probably why it draws ire from someone who sees the world with all the subtlety and humanity of an (anarchist) comic book. A couple more complete articles are:

    Some of the interesting points:

    – Dair Mar Elia was occupied as a monastery for nearly 1200 years before all 150 monks living there at the time were massacred by a Persian leader in 1743 for refusing to convert to Islam. The monastery has been a ruin ever since.

    – The local Christian population used to visit yearly on the feast of St. Elia, but this practice has mostly been abandoned since the 70s, when the Republican Guard built a major tank base around the monastery.

    – During their 30 year occupation of the site, the Republican Guard used the monastery’s sistern as a latrine and Iraqi soldiers carved graphiti on the walls through the standing buildings.

    – The area was the site of a major tank battle in 2003, and the eastern wall of the chapel was damaged at that time by a turret blown off an Iraqi tank (which was positioned right next to the chapel).

    – Coalition troops at first had no idea what the buildings were, and so painted over several areas of the monastery with white gloss paint, painted the 101st Airborne crest over the doorway, and most unfortunately, set the latrine waste in the cistern on fire. (Just for a good time? To get rid of the smell? Who knows…)

    – Since army chaplains and the army core of engineers have set about restoring the monastery and trying to get it on the Ministry of Archeology and Culture’s list of historic sites, they’ve discovered additional graphiti carved in the monastery walls by crusaders in the 13th century, and also the tombs of the monks, which local Christians had believed to be lost or destroyed.

    Whatever one thinks about the US’s mission in Iraq, it’s good to hear about this ancient monastery (long abused and unknown) is receiving some long needed restoration, and may in fact receive it long term through the Iraqi Ministry of Culture. And the Eucharist is once again being celebrated in a chapel which, for many centuries, was left empty, and in recent decades was actively mistreated. The stones once again witness the sacrements for which they were put in place. Those who put those stones in place could little imagine what would follow in the centuries to come. And yet, through it all, the sacramental life of the Church returns, Christ is present on the altar once more.

    How a Catholic can find that romance of the centuries and unexpected (and unintended) consequences uninteresting I do not know.

  7. The notion that God can bring good things even out of what seem to be evil situations ought to be familiar to even the most poorly formed and ill-educated Christians.

  8. I’m flabbergasted that a “self-identified” Catholic such as the Anarchist would find it disgusting to celebrate the sacraments in an ancient monastery is beyond me.

  9. Referring to it as a potential “citadel” — as Donald has done — is positively disgusting.

    A citadel is the walled, central part of a city in which people take refuge in time of attack. Rather than being strictly military structures, citadels were often home to the most important areas of the city, and thus were in a literal sense the heart of the city. (The acropolis in ancient athens, for example.)

    Given that Iraq is a country in which Christians are struggling, to say the least, with much of the local population being sympathetic to the idea of burning churches and driving Christians out of the country, how exactly would a renovated monastery which once again became a center of pilgrimage and sacramental life not be a metaphorical citadel?

    What metaphor would be more appropriate to delicate, pacifist ears?

  10. What metaphor would be more appropriate to delicate, pacifist ears?

    Just call it a monastery. Donald no doubt was intentional in his use of that word, what with its military connotations.

  11. “May the monastery become a monastery of Christianity in an Islamic land.”

    Wow, that’s… Um… Inspiring. I don’t know why it is that pacifist anarchist prose doesn’t get more circulation with wordsmithing ideas like that.

    Or maybe, Michael, if the saints and apostles and even Christ can use military terminology in order to make metaphorical points, we can too. There’s a thought.

  12. The citadel of Jerusalem is more commonly called the Tower of David. Presumably, Christ when mourned the destruction of Jerusalem He mourned the loss of the citadel as well. It’s really hard to believe that God considers citadels offensive or sinful, let alone using the term metaphorically. Aside from things like Communion with God and saints, the Sacraments, and plain old Truth, it’s good to be Catholic just for the reason and moderation.

  13. Wow, that’s… Um… Inspiring.

    I’m sorry you find Christianity itself to be uninspiring, and that you need to drop in militarism in order to make it exciting. What gets you off is no concern of mine though.

    Or maybe, Michael, if the saints and apostles and even Christ can use military terminology in order to make metaphorical points, we can too. There’s a thought.

    The difference between THEM and THIS BLOG is that the former did not have fascist politics and did not idolize the military. They used such metaphors precisely to SUBVERT military violence, unlike Donald, et al. You get the saints DEAD WRONG.

    I guess we need to stop using the term the Church Militant as well.

    If by “we” you mean most of the people who write for this blog, then yes, I suggest you stop using it because you are promoting neo-Constantinian Christo-fascism.

    Christians who take peace seriously will continue to use such metaphors in the way that they were intended.

  14. Just when I thought TAC didn’t have enough meaningless, pointless, fruitless, waste-of-time, self-righteous, self-discrediting, morally stupid arguments to make and points to debate, MI comes along to save the day.

    Do you guys ever get the sense that MI should have his own theme music?

    “Quick! Someone used a vaguely-sounding military word to describe a monastery! Who will save us!? To whom shall we turn!?”



  15. Michael,

    So basically: You don’t think there’s actually anything wrong with the metaphor, you just like to harass people whom you consider to be bad people. If you didn’t consider us to be bad people, there would be nothing wrong with us using the metaphor.

    Got it.

  16. It’s a sad spectacle for someone’s mind to be so bent by ideology that he can’t admit that his hated enemies ever do even one thing right, not even restoring a defiled monastery.

  17. Someone please tell me why after Mass we pray, “St. Michael the Archangel defend us in BATTLE . . .

Comments are closed.