St. Georges Al- Homeyra Patriarchal Monastery
St. Georges Al- Homeyra Patriarchal MonasterySource: Monasteries of Antiochian Orthodox Patriarchate, University of Balamand Publications, 2007.
The monastery of the most venerated saint in the Near East lies in a magnificent site. Situated on a hill in the Jabal Ansariyah about 350 metres in altitude, at a distance of 60 kilometers from Homs, it is surrounded on all sides by similar hills with rounded summits. The neighboring summit is crowned by the imposing Crusader fortress, the Krak des Chevaliers, which overlooks the whole region, and the monastery of St Georges itself enjoys no less splendid a position. The flanks of the hills are covered with olive-trees, oaks, and vines, creating a mantle of different shades of green. When the weather is fine, the escarpments of Mount Lebanon are visible to the south.
|St Georges Al- Homeyra Patriarchal Monastery|
|Abbot:||Rev. Archimandrite Arsenios Dahdal|
|Postal Address:||St Georges Al- Homeyra Patriarchal Monastery, Al-Mechtaye, Talkalakh, Syria|
|Tel:||+963 31 773 0 113
+963 31 773 1 101
|Fax:||+963 31 773 0 324|
Although within the archbishopric of Akkar, the monastery is directly attached to the Patriarchate of Antioch. Located in the governorate of Homs and the local district of Tell Kalakh, it lies midway between Homs and Tripoli, on the edge of the Wadi al-Nasara, the Valley of the Christians’. This is the northernmost extension of the BekaaValley and forms a strategic passage from inland Syria to the Mediterranean coast. Since ancient times, traders and soldiers have passed through this fertile region. When the Crusaders conquered it, they were struck by the abundance of camel herds that pastured its green fields. Several springs rise from the hills west of the monastery and flow into two lakes watering the convent garden, where the monks cultivate all kinds of vegetables. One of these springs also supplies the monastic wells through a drainage system.
The place-name al-Homeyra was known in antiquity, and an ancient temple once existed beside the monastery. In Aramaic, hamaïra means "powerful" and "invulnerable". Alternatively, the name may designate the fertile reddish soil of the surrounding area. The existence of both the pagan temple and the monastery at this site is connected to the miraculous spring of Fawar, formerly known as the Sabbatical River, which rises from a nearby cave. According to tradition, the spring runs only on Saturdays, and so it was described by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (37-100AD) in his description of Titus’ return journey to Rome after his victory over the Jews in 70AD (Jewish War, 7:96). Long before, in 1990BC, the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, father of Ramses II, had built a fortress called Sheptun, ‘Saturday’ in ancient Egyptian, on the site of the Krak des Chevaliers.
The Monastery of St George al-Homeyra remains an important place of pilgrimage. Christians come to it from all over the Orthodox world, including Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Greece, Russia, and the West. Particularly large numbers of believers come at Epiphany and the two annual feast-days of the monastery, St George on 6th May and the Feast of the Cross on 14th September, in order to baptize their children, especially the first.
Owing to the lack of historical and archeological witness, the date of the monastery's foundation cannot be fixed. It was traditionally founded in the early Christian period (fourth-sixth centuries). The Arab historian al-Tabari (839-923) mentions the monastery under the title of ‘Our Lord al-Khodr Abu l-Abbas’. The Crusaders, who occupied this region for about two centuries, left no record of the monastery. Yet, the old monastery church was probably built in the Crusader period, and there must have been relations between the monastery and the Krak des Chevaliers. The monastery’s history becomes better known during the Ottoman period, and sources become abundant in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
From about 1850, St George al-Homeyra began to grow rapidly in numbers and wealth, as part of a general flowering of the Christian communities in Syria. This development reached its height in the time of the archimandrite Gerasimos the Greek between 1870 and 1900, when the monastery housed eighty monks and laypeople and donated 200-400 Ottoman gold pounds annually to the Patriarchal see in Damascus. Gerasimos undertook the building of two floors in the east wing and two mills, and he purchased more than seven villages with their cultivable land, herds, flocks, and other animals. This was the height of the monastery’s prosperity.
The most remarkable annual events at the monastery during this time were the great fairs that took place during the two monastic feasts. The fairs opened for two weeks and ended on the day of the feast. They were times of pilgrimage, prayer, and piety, which people made use of for all sorts of purchases. Christians and Muslims poured in from all corners of Syria, and merchants of different confessions came to sell their goods. Letters still preserved tell us that the Feast of Khodr (St George) originally took place, not in the monastery, but in the village of Hosn. Only in 1872 was the fair transferred to the vicinity of the monastery; previously, it had not been located in any special place. A letter addressed to the governor of Damascus and signed by the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch asks that the fair not be held near the monastery because of quarrels that may arise among people.
The market where the fair is now held twice a year is located north of the monastery. Containing one hundred shops, it was built in 1913 at the initiative of patriarch Gregorios Haddad, in the time of the archimandrite Cyril, who was of Greek origin. The building consists of a vaulted arcade forming a covered porch, which extends opposite the north wall of the upper church. This construction reproduces the plan of the souks that were so widespread in the region during the nineteenth century. Rugs were the principal merchandise of this fair.
The first half of the twentieth century was a period of decline for the monastery for various reasons, including poor administration, the frequent changing of superiors, and the First World War. Debts increased progressively, and a large part of the monastery’s landholdings was sold. As early as 1899, the deacon Ephiphanios wrote to the patriarch, complaining of the deplorable situation into which the monastery had fallen. The deacon alleged that the superior was too old to manage affairs and was estranged from the monks.
The start of the First World War caused a great rise in the prices of all goods. The patriarch ordered the monastery to dispatch provisions, so that it could feed the starving people camped on the grounds of the patriarchal see in Damascus. But the superior of St George could not obey this order because Turkish soldiers had requisitioned the monastery’s lands, crops, and supplies. He wrote to the patriarch, describing the gravity of the situation: despite all the hardship that the monastery itself was suffering, the inhabitants of Homs and Safita were coming in masses to ask for shelter.
The disastrous situation was aggravated by swarms of locusts that ravaged the region in 1915; a dreadful famine ensued, in which hundreds of thousands perished. The archimandrite Isaiah, in a letter to the patriarch, said of the locusts that ‘they filled not only the meadows and orchards, but also the houses and dwellings. They left nothing in their path.’ Few families escaped without loss.
However, what caused the most harm to the monastery was the question of waqf ownership. The lack of official deeds of ownership provoked a conflict between the monastery and the neighboring villagers. Since the Middle Ages, monastic lands had been leased to peasant cultivators who shared the yield with the monastery, passing their tenancies down to their descendants. From the 1920s, however, the peasant share-croppers, encouraged by the French administration, began to dispute this ancient customary practice and to demand full rights to the yield. The monastery passed through thirty years of conflict with neighboring villages, which led sometimes to acts of aggression against the monks.
Under the superior Alexandros Jeha (1925-34), the monastery fell into a deep financial crisis, with a great increase of debts and the loss of much of its property. It had to pay taxes on lands whose peasant share-croppers had ceased to pay their dues and demanded release from their obligations. It therefore had no choice but to sell property in order to relieve its situation.
Yet, despite its difficulties, St George al-Homeyra continued to serve as a place of rest for travellers of all kinds and a haven of refuge for the poor and outcast. Inside its walls, the monastery sheltered the mentally ill, epileptics, and psychopaths, all people whom society rejected as possessed by the devil. St George, capable of defeating Satan as he had triumphed over the dragon, received these poor people into his monastery to heal them. The monastery was thus famed for its generosity and openness to the Christians and Muslims of Syria. Most donations made to it were intended in part for the hosting of travellers.
The school at St George al-Homeyra occupies an important place in the monastery’s recent history. On 7th August, 1913, archimandrite Isaiah addressed a letter to the patriarch, asking permission to open a school for twenty-seven boarding and twenty external students. Shortly afterwards, the school was opened with two extra students, but courses were soon interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. On 14th August, 1920, the monastic superior again requested permission to re-open the school at the insistence of the neighboring villagers, who had agreed to join resources to open a school within the monastery. They collected 575 gold pounds sterling, a considerable sum, which allowed them to begin construction work on a school building. Soon afterwards, the school opened under the patronage of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios IV.
The first four years were the school’s best times. It was frequented by children from the whole region, for whom it offered an education and future opportunities. They learned Arabic, French, and the Orthodox catechism. In 1923, the number of pupils had reached thirty-three boarding and fifteen external students, including some Sunnis and one Alawite. Teaching was provided by eight instructors and household service by a dozen employees. Official scholarships were granted by the State to pupils of poor families. However, severe problems arose in the fifth school year, and the superior Alexandros Jeha decided to close the school, apparently because there were not enough students.
The school was re-opened in 1926 but with only twenty-five students and three teachers. The main subjects taught were religion, Arabic and French language and literature, mathematics in both languages, the history and geography of Syria and the world, physics, chemistry, and biology. Other subjects, including English, drawing, physical education, calligraphy, and liturgical music were included. The government allocated 250 Syrian pounds a year to the school. The French councillor visited the monastery in 1927 and was so impressed by the school that he donated 6000 French francs to its administration.
In 1935, the school was changed into a clerical institution. Courses lasted for three to four hours daily, and students spent the rest of the time working in the monastery. They received supplementary lessons in music, theology, and Greek language. As such, it functioned until 1954, when it closed despite the protests of the local inhabitants.
The monastery is distinguished by its great size, which the visitor can appreciate especially from the south side. Its structure is very heterogeneous in style, since from the early Christian era it has continued to grow and to receive new architectural forms. Unlike the monasteries of Lebanon, which have usually experienced periods of ruin and abandonment, monastic life at St Georges al-Homeyra has enjoyed an active continuity for centuries.
The monastery’s high walls give it the impression of a fortress. It consists of four levels, and it contains two churches and fifty-five rooms used variously as cells, reception rooms, cellars, storerooms, and stables. The oldest part of the convent, now the basement, had originally been a grotto surrounded by hermit cells. The south façade, still well preserved, goes back to the early Christian era: its door and threshold of well-dressed basalt formed the main entrance and are a unique witness to the oldest period of the monastery’s history. This door is so low (93 x 64 cms) that one must bend over double in order to pass through. Similar small doors, dating from the fourth to sixth centuries, are found throughout Syria, sometimes engraved with Christian motifs. Beside this entrance, a small window opens, through which the monks once distributed food to needy people and preached the tenets of the faith.
The small door leads to four adjacent barrel-vaulted rooms. The first is very long and narrow, and it has a door on the west side. The second room is very dark, its rear wall formed of solid rock. A well stands in the center. The third room is lit by an opening in the ceiling. Except for the rock-face, the walls of these rooms are formed of irregular, roughly dressed masonry. Excavations in these basement rooms have removed the mud that once covered the floors to a depth of more than fifty centimeters down to rock-level. Such rooms, partly built into the rock-face, and developing around a central sanctuary, are typical of the earliest form of monasticism, which spread throughout Syria in the first centuries of Christianity. The floors have now been paved and the rooms illuminated in order to exhibit the precious objects kept in the monastery.
The ground-level is almost entirely occupied by the medieval church, which probably dates to the Crusading period. Its original west entrance was a low basalt door resembling the basement door except for the cross engraved upon it. The walls of the church have recently been stripped, revealing a crude masonry. The church interior consists of a single nave covered by three ribbed vaults resting on bichrome consoles, each formed of two white capitals upon two short black columns. On the capitals are engraved stylized lilies or pointed arcades inside which crosses and leaves are drawn. The form and shape of the capitals, and especially the use of bichrome, are very characteristic of Mamluk art.
A fine iconostasis divides the nave from the apse, which ends in a straight wall and is covered by a transverse barrel-vault. Noticeable below the wooden iconostasis is a low wall covered with square tiles of blue Ottoman faïence whose disordered arrangement suggests that they are reused material. Inside the north wall of the nave is a large square niche covered by an unusual radiating latticework of alternating black and white stone, a motif also found in Mamluk architecture. This latticework and the consoles in the nave together indicate that the church, originally built in the Crusading period, was restored during Mamluk rule.
The old pavement is still well preserved in the eastern half of the nave. A fine motif of colored mosaic is laid out geometrically in front of the iconostasis. It is rare to find churches in this region that have preserved their original pavement, especially a mosaic one.
The monastery’s main buildings are located on the first floor. After parking in a great tarmac court outside, the visitor enters the monastery here through a recently restored medieval entrance formed of a door inserted into an archivolt. A vaulted passage leads to the interior courtyard, with rooms on the right serving as an information bureau, a shop, and waiting rooms. To the left stretches a great arcaded portico, behind which are the bishop’s office, the tribunal chamber, and a spacious reception room. This part dates from the Ottoman period.
There is almost no architectural unity among the buildings surrounding the interior court, because they were added in widely differing periods. Indeed, no monastery in the Patriarchate of Antioch possesses a completely homogeneous architectural style, for the new buildings added are rarely planned to harmonize with the old. The east side of the courtyard, built under Archbishop Gerasimos (1870-1900) is formed of an extended arcade and an upper floor, but the south and west sides have no arcades. A spacious hall in the south side contains the refectory and adjoining kitchen. Windows in the exterior wall of the refectory open out onto a green valley. On the upper floor of the south side are visitors’ rooms, furnished for pilgrims with the minimum of comfort. The monks’ cells lie on the upper floor of the west side. At the level of the courtyard, staircases lead down to the old church on the lower floor.
The north side of the courtyard is formed of a deep, arcaded porch leading into the new church, built beween 1857 and 1863, whose sober and modest exterior is constructed of regular ocher limestone, with decoration reduced to simple rounded openings. The roof is dominated by a semi-circular dome and elsewhere covered by red tiles, which add a touch of gaiety to the simplicity of the exterior. In contrast, the visitor is often surprised by the size and sumptuousness of the church’s interior, whose architecture, the popular nineteenth-century neo-Gothic, resembles that of early medieval French churches. It has a basilical plan with the semi-circular dome covering the choir and transept. Two rows of lobed pillars ending in complex capitals support pointed arches and divide the interior into three naves. Columns with capitals set into the walls of the side naves act as supports and resemble in form the consoles of the old church. The elevation is on two levels: the first is occupied by pointed arcades of wide span and the second by windowed round arcades, which extend along the upper walls, allowing a brightly lit interior. The walls have been stripped, revealing a fine masonry. They were originally covered by frescoes, but they had been badly damaged by humidity and were erased. The sanctuary houses three altar tables of Russian craftsmanship.
According to official letters preserved from the nineteenth century, a khan once occupied a small area on the ground floor beside the old church. Having become inadequate for the great crowds of visitors and travellers who came to the monastery, it was enlarged and refurbished. Successive monastic superiors wrote to the Ottoman officials of the region for permission to build a new khan, but only in 1876 was authorization signed and work begun. In this manner, the so-called west khan was added to the west side of the monastery. Receiving a great number of travellers, it was known as the ‘hot season khan’. It was later converted into a mill, and then into an olive press, whose stone vat is still present. This khan serves now as a great hall for various monastic activities. The old khan reserved for winter visitors was destroyed.
The lower church has a very beautiful iconostasis in carved ebony, crafted in 1843. It houses magnificent icons going back to different periods. The oldest are those of the Virgin and Child, Christ Pantocrator, and the Royal Door. All three were created for the monastery of St George in 1685 by Na‘matallah, better known as Nehmeh al-Musawwir (‘the painter’). The son of the icon-painter Youssef al-Musawwir of Aleppo, he flourished at the end of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century, leaving many works throughout the churches of Syria and Lebanon. His son Hananiah, and grandson Jirjis were also icon-painters. Four generations lasting from the second half of the seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century thus laid the foundations of Melkite Arab icon-painting and created the famous Syrian school of Aleppo. Nehmeh’s father was closely attached to the Greek and Cretan tradition, while his son and grandson returned to the old prototypes. Nehmeh, himself, however, is considered as the family’s most authentic and classical painter, treating forms with great liberty and with elegance and graciousness of detail.
The icon of the Pantocrator, crowned as King of Kings, blessing with one hand and holding the open Bible with the other, shows a great mastery in design and application of color. Christ’s appearance in all his power and might is underlined by the strictly incised design of the eyebrows, eyes, nose, and mouth, which give the face a stern aspect. Yet despite that, the face is also marked by an expression of profound sweetness and humanity. A delicate brown shadow frames the face, the most illuminated part of the icon, creating the impression of an interior light emanating from the face.
Nehmeh’s innovativeness is manifested especially in the decoration. The mantle of Christ is of finely embroidered purple brocade, its cuffs and neck encrusted with white pearls. The monochrome gilded background is covered with an arabesque. Such motifs were first introduced into the Melkite Arab tradition by Nehmeh, whose work is distinguished by its serenity, aspiring to the harmony of form and color through meticulous work and the utmost refinement.
The Virgin and Child is an example of the Hodegetria (she who shows the way of salvation), directing the viewer to the Child on her arm. The Virgin appears here in all her splendor and solemnity, silent and aloof, despite the suffering that awaits her, and of which she is already aware: restraining her emotions, she preserves the dignity of the Mother of God. Her red cloak is less richly decorated than the mantle of the Pantocrator, but a pearl-encrusted purple hem borders the collar and cuffs. The folds of the cloak are drawn schematically but do not diminish its fineness and the state of contemplation that the icon arouses. The style is inspired by Byzantine models, seen in the balance of abstract and material aspects, the richness of detail, and the harmony of the whole.
Another icon of the Virgin and Child is placed on the south wall of the church. Its numerous scenes and figures, elegantly ornate clothing, and harmony of pink, green, and ochre identify it as another work of Nehmeh al-Musawwir. The Mother of God wears a delightful, red cloak sewn with precious stones. Two heavenly angels come to place a crown on her head, a sign of her glorification as the Queen of Heaven, while the Child is represented already crowned as King.
Around the central composition are twenty-four traditional scenes from the Virgin’s life. These are the most remarkable feature of this icon because they form the iconography of the Akathistos, a hymn consecrated to the Virgin that celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation and is sung standing (akathistos in Greek means ‘not seated’). Each verse begins with one of the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet. Traditionally, the Akathistos is attributed to the great sixth-century hymnographer Romanos Melodios, originally from Emesa (Homs), and it was sung by the people of Constantinople after the Virgin miraculously delivered the city from the Avar and Persian siege in 626. In the ninth century, the Akathistos was established in the Byzantine liturgy and calendar for the fifth Sunday of Lent. The oldest icons representing the hymn date from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. They became widespread later in the Antiochian tradition, particularly owing to the Musawwir family, who all left beautiful icons illustrating the subject. Each of the twenty-four scenes represents an important event in the life of the Virgin and is described by a small Arabic inscription.
The icon of the Royal Doors, originally placed at the center of the iconostasis, now occupies the angle between the iconostasis and the north wall of the church. It was stolen in the 1960s and disappeared for some years before it was eventually found and returned to the monastery. The royal doors are the main central doors of the iconostasis, separating the sanctuary from the nave. The name probably derives from a Byzantine ritual performed in the imperial cathedral of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople. They are also known as the ‘gates of paradise’: according to the Church Fathers, the altar is the symbol of Paradise, lost after the Fall and then restored to mankind through the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The opening and closing of the royal gates has an important significance in the annual liturgical cycle, especially after Easter Week. The opening of the royal gates marks the climax of the liturgy, when the holy offerings are brought into the sanctuary and the faithful may take communion with the source of eternal life.
The icon was painted by Nehmeh al-Musawwir and is distinguished by his characteristic mastery. Above the arch of the gate is the scene of the Annunciation, which traditionally prefigures the transition between the old and new worlds and so is located in the very center of the church, at the separation of nave and sanctuary. Below, the liturgy is symbolized by six bishops against a golden background, standing upon a red band that represents the earth. The figures have lost their clarity but are identified by inscriptions: on the left are Spiridon, Gregory Nazianzus, and Nicholas; on the right, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and probably Athanasius. Each holds the Bible in one hand and makes the sign of blessing with the other. Each hierarch is characterized by traditional iconography. Spiridon wears a pointed woolen shepherd’s bonnet; Gregory Nazianzus has a large grey beard divided in the middle; St Nicholas, a wide forehead and light, grey hair; Basil, a long, pointed brown beard; and Chrysostom, hollow cheeks, large forehead, and short hair.
The lower part is occupied by the two great martial compositions of St George and St Demetrius, the warrior saints on horseback. Such scenes originated in earliest Christian tradition and were frequent in the medieval churches of the Christian East. The warrior saints were venerated for their powers of intercession, healing, and especially protection. They are soldiers of Christ who combat evil in all its forms, invisible and visible, demonic and human. In a region where Christians were continually threatened, recourse to such saints is easily understood. All the figures in this icon have a serene, peaceful expression and a gracious suppleness. The scenes of the two warrior saints especially are marked by clear composition, fine lines, soft shadows, and harmonious colours, which altogether give them a marked lyrical quality.
A beautiful icon of St George, opposite the icon of the Royal Doors, was also executed by Nehmeh al-Musawwir. The saint is typically represented upon a white horse, the dragon at his feet, while the princess, king, and queen await him in the background. Unusually, the saint turns backwards on his mount to lance the monster, which rears violently before succumbing. The vigor of the composition is accentuated by the combination of lively colors – the vermilion-red of the saint’s cloak, the olive-green of the tunic and the golden yellow of the cuirass. The central scene is surrounded by a series of eighteen small icons showing events in the life of the saint. These scenes are separated from one another by a typically baroque framework of golden floral motifs.
The icons of Nehmeh give form to the splendor of the immaterial world. Here is a universe of gracious spiritual figures with elegant poses and sumptuous clothing, of fantastic scenery, and of miraculous and wonderful events. All Byzantine icons incarnate the heavenly world, impelling the viewer to prayer and contemplation; however, the icons of Nehmeh especially attract the eye by their fine contours and careful ornament – decorative elements that tend to camouflage the heavenly world, concentrating the attention upon the sheer formal beauty of the work.
A later-period icon of St George is placed on the iconostasis to the right of Christ Pantocrator. It reflects the pronounced ornateness typical of the 19th century. Behind the saint, as usual in Melkite iconography, stands the child carrying the ewer, whom the saint has delivered from slavery. On the terrace of an Italianate tower beyond stand the queen and the king holding the keys of his kingdom, while their daughter stands below, terrified yet freed from danger. The dragon thrashes, mortally wounded by the saint’s lance.
The figure of George fills the center, and in relation to him, all other figures are small and disproportionate. On the upper right, the divine hand blesses the warrior, while an angel on the left comes to place the crown on his head. The saint appears as a fine young man dressed as a Roman legionary with a winged helmet and a cloak flying behind him in the wind. The white horse, a symbol of purity, gives the impression of gliding eternally above mountains and cities. Beneath the claws of the prostrate green dragon, a beautiful countryside stretches out, its trees miniature, as if seen from far above in heaven. The richness of the composition is emphasized by the lively colors – the golden background, and the red of the saint’s cloak and tunic against the gold of his breastplate. In the four corners are medallions representing the saint’s martyrdom. The scenes are drawn on a marine-blue background within a framework of intertwined volutes.
The iconostasis of the upper church dates from 1865 to 1899. It is a beautiful work carved in hazelnut wood and stretching the whole width of the church. Its icons were all painted by Nicolas Theodori of Jerusalem between 1868 and 1870, and most of them are dedicated, signed, and dated.
The royal door features an Annunciation scene, symbol of the deliverance of humanity. To the right, on the north door, are displayed the doctor-saints Cosmas and Damian, who possessed healing and thaumaturgic powers and whose placing at the entrance of the sanctuary expresses their essential role. In prayers of intercession, the doctor-saints occupy fourth place after the Virgin, the angels, and St John the Baptist. The south door displays icons of the Eastern monks St Gerasimos and St Symeon Stylites. On the upper level, the royal door is flanked by traditional master-icons of Christ on the right and the Virgin on the left. Christ appears as judge on the Last Day. To his left is St John the Baptist, occupying this key position because he is the last in the line of prophets who announced Christ’s coming and the only one of them to have personally known the Savior. To the right of the Virgin is the icon of St George, patron saint of the monastery. In the center of the upper level the other prophets stand arrayed, and on either side of them are shown the principal events in the Christian narrative.
The walls of the church are decorated with late-nineteenth century icons. Exceptional, however, is the icon of the Forty Martyrs of Sebastea on the south wall beside the iconostasis. It was painted by Hanania al-Musawwir, the son of Nehmeh, and is dated 1730. The subject is highly venerated by the Orthodox and is frequently found in Melkite icons. For their steadfast Christian faith, forty Roman soldiers from the region of Caesarea were condemned to death by freezing in the lake of Sebastea (Sivas). They are superposed in ranks on the blue background of the lake, each wearing only a loincloth, arms crossed upon the chest. Christ seated in heaven above sends to each martyr the crown of victory, symbol of sacrifice and reward. At the lower right, one soldier, unable to stand the cold, flees from the lake to look for a hot bath, while a guard, seeing the crowns in heaven, takes his place in faith and martyrdom. To the right, bodies are piled into an oxcart, and to the left, a soldier throws other bodies into a blazing furnace.
Manuscripts and precious objects
All precious objects at St George al-Homeyra are soon to be placed on permanent display in the oldest rooms of the monastery. The most precious work, the pride of the monastery, is a parchment traditionally dictated by Muhammad himself to Mu‘awiya ibn Sufyan and signed by the Companions in the fourth year of the Hegira. The document declares that Christians must be protected by Muslim authorities and that no Muslim may impose Islam upon Christians, oblige Christian women to marry Muslims, damage convents, attack monks and religious, and build mosques on monastic property.
The other forty-five manuscripts preserved in the monastery go back to the Ottoman period. The earliest date to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but the great majority to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The monastery also possesses silver and copper ritual vessels, including crosses, incense-bearers, chalices, processional trays, chandeliers, and cups. These objects date from the mid-seventeenth century, and they include gifts with Armenian, Georgian, and Russian inscriptions. Gifts bearing Armenian inscriptions of the twentieth century are the commonest, indicating the close relations that exist between the Armenian community and the Monastery of St George al-Homeyra.
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