The Euthemius Monastery

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The Euthemius Monastery (Khan el-Ahmar) is named after the Armenian monk Euthemius, who was one of the founders of Judean Desert Christian monasticism in the Byzantine period

Euthemius was born in Armenia in 377 CE, and came to the Land of Israel in 406, at the age of 29. He and other monks established a number of monasteries, including a communal monastery (coenobium) on the cliffs of Nahal Og – Deir Muklikh.

In 428 CE he established here, in Mishor Adummim, a monastery of hermits (laura), where he lived together with his pupils.

Euthemius enjoyed longevity, and died at the age of 97 (475 CE). He was buried in his monastery. Euthemius’ many disciples, who began as young monks in the monastery that he established, founded many monasteries of their own and filled senior posts in the Land of Israel Church in the Byzantine period. The most famous of these disciples were Martyrius, who established the monastery that bears his name, and that is located in the center of the present-day city of Ma’ale Adummim, and the monk Elias, who founded a monastery in Jericho. Each in turn would later be appointed to the position of Patriarch in Jerusalem.

On May 7, 482, the Euthemius Monastery was changed from a monastery of hermits (laura) to a communal monastery (coenobium). During the dedication of the monastery, Euthemius’ bones were reinterred in a crypt built there. The establishment of the monastery, the construction of which took three years, and the miracle that occurred on the day of its dedication, are described in dramatic fashion in the book Vita Euthymii, written by the monk Cyril of Scythopolis (Beth-Shean). Cyril himself stayed in this monastery, and noted that a sliver of the wood from the True Cross, inlaid with precious stones and gold, was preserved in a room in the church.

The Euthymius Monastery archaelogical compound

Photo: Ron Peled

In contrast with many other monasteries in the Judean Desert that were destroyed and abandoned after the Islamic conquest in the mid-seventh century, the Euthemius Monastery continued to exist, and apparently was damaged in the earthquake that struck the region in 660 CE.

The monastery was restored and continued to function as an active Christian monastery until close to the Crusades.

The Russian Abbot Daniel, who visited the Land of Israel in 1106-1108, mentions that the monastery was destroyed and abandoned in the twelfth century.
The Crusaders restored the monastery, and rebuilt parts of it. Beginning in the thirteenth century, the site functioned as a caravansary (khan) until its final desertion in the Ottoman period.

Excavations at the site were begun in 1928 by D.J. Chitty, and have continued to the present. The excavations uncovered a large monastery (65 X 54 m.) encompassed by a wall, that was entered from the north. In the center of the monastery is a courtyard paved with well-fitted stone slabs. What is apparently an inn for pilgrims was discovered in its southern part.

The monastery church that was unearthed in the southeast corner was erected on three vaults, to elevate it above its surroundings. The church from the Byzantine period was destroyed, and has not been preserved. The last phase of the church to be uncovered was built partly in the Islamic period, while the remainder was constructed by the Crusaders. In the center of the monastery is a crypt containing many built and rock-cut tombs covered by stone slabs. This is most likely the resting-place of the monastery father Euthemius.

The water cistern by Euthymius monastery

Photo: Ron Peled

One of the most interesting aspects of the Judean Desert monasteries are their water systems. These attest to the thought and great labor invested in the collection of the scant rainwater that fell in the region. The existence of the monasteries in the Judean Desert was dependent upon the accumulation of water, and in dry years in which rain did not fall, their inhabitants were forced to leave the monasteries.

This is the reason for the great investment in the construction of rainwater cisterns in the monasteries. The less the precipitation, the larger these receptacles had to be. Four tremendous cisterns were discovered in this monastery the largest of which, uncovered on the eastern side of the monastery, was filled by rainwater from around the monastery.

The excavations of the monastery from the 1970s to the present, its preservation, and its development were conducted by the Archaeology Staff Officer and the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria.

Judean Desert Monasticism

During the Byzantine period, a large-scale monastic movement developed in Egypt and Syria, and hundreds of monasteries were built.

The monastic movement also took hold in the Land of Israel beginning in the fourth century CE, probably due to the sanctity ascribed to it by Christian tradition. The purpose of this monastic movement was the adoption of the way of life of Jesus, identification with his life-style, and the quest for a way to realize the message of Christianity.

The monastic centers were mainly in the Judean Desert, the Jericho Valley, and the Sinai Peninsula. Additional monasteries were established in the Benjamin region, north of Jerusalem, in the holy cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and in Eleutheropolis in the Judean Shephelah. The northern Judean Desert, which at the time was called “the desert of Jerusalem”, became a center of Christian monasticism because of the possibility of living in seclusion in the caves and deep clefts that split it, on the one hand, and on the other, the short distance from the holy cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Most of the early monks resided in caves and in rock shelters. They were called hermits (literally, desert dwellers), and the place where they lived in seclusion was called a hermitage. These monks lived a very modest and secluded life, which included fasts and mortifications. For their livelihood they engaged in some agriculture and the weaving of baskets.

As time passed, monasteries were built, with a concentration of hermits around the central compound. A monastery of this type was called a laura (“path” in Greek). In a laura, the monks lived in separate isolated niches for six days of the week, gathering once a week, generally on Sundays, in the central monastery for prayer and to provide themselves with food and the raw materials for their work. Another type of monastery was the coenobium (“communal life” in Greek). This consisted of a large central structure in which all the monks lodged.

The coenobium was essentially different from the laura both in terms of its size and location, and in terms of the way of life conducted within its walls. Discipline was enforced within the coenobium and a daily schedule was followed. At times, those beginning their monastic life came to the coenobium in preparation for ascetic life in the desert.

A Stone Bed in the Euthymius Monastery

Photo: Dafna Gilat

The first monasteries in the Land of Israel were founded by the monk Hilarion in 329 CE in the Gaza region, and by the monk Chariton, who in 330 CE founded his first monastery, Faran (near ‘Ein Farah). In the early fifth century, Judean Desert monasticism was significantly strengthened upon the arrival in the Land of Israel of the monk Euthemius.

In this century the land of Israel replaced Egypt as the center of Christian monasticism.

At the end of this century, the monastic movement reached its peak, under the leadership of the monastery heads Theodosius and Sabas. In this period many important monasteries were established, including the Mar Saba monastery, the Martyrius Monastery at Ma’ale Adummim, the Gerasimus Monastery (Deir Hajla), the coenobium near ‘Ein Qelt (St. George of Choziba), and many others.

The monasteries were constructed with monies contributed by the wealthy, inheritances, and assistance granted by the Byzantine Empire. The monks were greatly aided by the empress Eudocia, who lived in Jerusalem. The emperor Justinian and the rulers who preceded him contributed significantly to the strengthening and establishment of many monasteries in the area of Benjamin and southern Samaria, as part of the Byzantine struggle against the Samaritans. The emperor built many water installations, in order to improve and bolster the monasteries.

Many monasteries suffered damage during the Persian conquest of the Land of Israel, and afterwards by the Muslims, in the early sixth century. Some continued to exist during the Early Islamic period, and some were restored and rebuilt in the Crusader period. Several monasteries are active to the present day.

The preservation and development were carried out by the Archaeological Staff for Judea and Samaria and the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavations, preservation and development were funded by the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria.

The Tomb of Euthymius

Photo: Dafna Gilat

To protect the site and for your own safety:

•    Help to preserve this site. Do not harm the antiquities or mark them in any way.
•    Collecting souvenirs among the ruins is forbidden.
•    Please do not enter areas that have not been prepared for visitors.
•    Always walk on marked paths. Do not cross fences, take short-cuts or move any stones at the site.
•    Please use trash bins and lavatories and keep the site clean.

– All rights reserved to the Archaeological staff for Judea and Samaria –


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