For 1400 years, St. Elijah’s Monastery in Iraq served as a place of worship for Christians, weathering onslaughts by man and time. It is now only a memory: the monastery was reduced to rubble by the Islamic State group which continues to destroy cultural sites and relics that don’t line up with its form of Islam.
“I can’t describe my sadness,” said the Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, according to an Associated Press report, Wednesday. “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.”
ISIS destroys Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery. 1400 years of faith erased. (Photo ctsy: AP) pic.twitter.com/clty89SrBp
— Varney & Co. (@Varneyco) January 20, 2016
— The Jewish Press (@JewishPress) January 20, 2016
VIDEO: “That’s it. It’s gone.” Heritage conservationist on IS destruction of Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery https://t.co/5zEV2slMyW
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 20, 2016
After the extremists came through the area in 2014, many wondered about the fate of the historic site — and satellite photos obtained exclusively by the Associated Press confirmed their worst fears. The destruction of the monastery left many U.S. servicemen and advisers who had served in Iraq emotionally devastated.
As a State Department cultural adviser in Iraq, Suzanne Bott worked on restoration of the monastery for more than two years. “Oh, no way. It’s just razed completely,” Bott said, tearing up when she saw the pictures. “What we lose is a very tangible reminder of the roots of a religion.”
Dair Mar Elia, as the monastery is called, was named after the Assyrian Christian monk St. Elijah, who built it between 582 and 590. It was part of the Mideast’s Chaldean Catholic community and a holy site for Iraqi Christians for centuries, the AP reported. U.S. soldiers even observed Easter mass at the monastery in April 2010.
ISIS extremists have destroyed over 100 historic and religious sites in Syria and Iraq, defacing or demolishing ancient monuments, shrines, tombs and churches, as well as looting museums and libraries.
Imagery analyst Stephen Wood assessed the photos for AP: “Bulldozers, heavy equipment, sledgehammers, possibly explosives turned those stone walls into this field of gray-white dust. They destroyed it completely,” he said, “there’s nothing to rebuild.”
Army reserve Col. Mary Prophit remembered her encounters with the ancient site, which the military worked to preserve and honor for future generations.
“I would imagine that many people are feeling like, ‘What were the last 10 years for if these guys can go in and destroy everything?’” said Prophit.
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