Photos show destruction of oldest Christian monastery in Iraq by ISIS

St. Elijah’s Monastery joins a list of more than 100 historical and religious sites that have been demolished by Islamic State, including mosques, churches, tombs, and shrines.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP/File
St. Elijah's Monastery on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. St. Elijah’s served as a center of the regional Christian community for centuries, attracting worshippers from throughout the region to pray with its priests.

St. Elijah’s Monastery, the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, is no more.

New satellite images obtained by the The Associated Press showed that the 1,400-year-old Christian monastery that stood on a hill near the northern city of Mosul, has completely been destroyed by Islamic State (IS), becoming yet another victim of the group's destruction of religious and historical sites that contradict its interpretation of Islam.

In the past, Islamic State has released videos showing the demolition of ancient sites on social media. However, the destruction of the monastery was unknown until the pictures were taken. An image expert estimates the demolition to have taken place between August and September 2014, two to three months after IS captured Mosul and expelled Christians who remained in the area. High-resolution images obtained this month were compared with earlier images from the same spot, and revealed that the building was missing a roof before it was destroyed.  

“Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of gray-white dust,” Stephen Wood, imagery analyst at the US-based Allsource Analysis told the AP. “They destroyed it completely.”

The partially restored 27,000-square-foot stone building had 26 distinct rooms, including a sanctuary and chapel that served as a place of worship recently for US troops in Iraq, but fell into IS hands in June 2014, according to the BBC.

Historically, generations of monks lit candles and prayed in the chapel. The Greek letters chi and rho, representing the first two letters of Christ’s name, were carved into the entrance of the monastery.

Islamic State, which controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has destroyed religious and historical sites that they deem contrary to their interpretation of Islam. St. Elijah’s Monastery joins a list of more than 100 sites that have been demolished by IS, including mosques, churches, tombs, and shrines.

"I can't describe my sadness," Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, who is in exile in Erbil, Iraq, told the AP. "Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land."

St. Elijah's Monastery was built by Assyrian monks between 582 and 590 A.D, according to the AP. In 1743, Persian forces attempted to convert the monks to Islam, and massacred 150 of those who refused.

In the 1970s, the monastery became a base for the Iraqi Republican Guard, and in 2003 during the US invasion in Iraq, one of its walls was smashed by a tank turret blown off in battle. The US Army’s 101st Airborne Division took control of the site and began painting over the murals, but a chaplain recognized the significance of the site and initiated a plan to preserve it.

"It was a sacred place. We literally bent down physically to enter, an acquiescence to the reality that there was something greater going on inside," military chaplain Jeffrey Whorton, told the AP.  

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.