Martyrius Monastery

Four miles east of Jerusalem on a hilltop in the Judean desert on the road to Jericho sits Ma‘ale Adummim, a modern city of over 20 thousand people. In its midst is one of the largest, most important and most elaborate ancient monasteries in the Holy Land—the monastery of the fifth-century monk Martyrius.

We excavated the site from 1981 to 1984. The remains of the monastery were well known, but had never been excavated. We uncovered not only the church, refectory, stables and hospice, but some of the most beautiful mosaics ever unearthed in the Holy Land.

Martyrius originally came from Cappadocia in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Initially, he joined the monastic movement in Egypt. But in the mid-fifth century, he came to Palestine and was accepted at the monastery of the famous monk Euthymius. Finding his cell at Euthymius’s monastery “very narrow and uncomfortable,” Martyrius moved to a nearby cave that eventually became a monastery.

Shown here- Detail of the narthex mosaic of the Martyrius monastery. This mosaic depicts gazelles, birds and a rabbit encircled by a tender vine that grows out of the amphora at bottom center. A border of medallions containing birds and flowers frames the mosaic. A wall dating to a later stage of construction cuts across the panel.

Excerpted from Yitzhak Magen, “Martyrius- Lavish Living for Monks,” BAR 21-05, Sep-Oct 1995.