The Laura of St. Sabbas or Mar Saba is a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking Kidron Valley between the Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.
The monastery was founded by St. Sabbas of Mutalaska, Cappadocia circa 483 CE. Today, the complex houses around 20 monks. It is considered one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world, and still, maintains many of its ancient traditions. One is the restriction of women entering the main compound. The only building that women can enter is the Women’s Tower.
The monastery holds the relics of St. Sabbas.
Mar Saba was also the home of St. John of Damascus (676 – 749 CE), a key religious figure in the Iconoclastic Controversy, who, around 726 CE, wrote letters to the Byzantine emperor Leo III the Isaurian refuting his edicts prohibiting the veneration of Christian religious icons. John worked as a high financial officer to the Muslim Caliph Abd al-Malik.
Eventually, he felt a higher calling and migrated to the Judean desert, where he was ordained a monk (monastic priest) at the Monastery of Mar Saba. St. John’s tomb lies in a cave under the monastery.
Sabbas’ relics were taken by Crusaders in the 12th century and remained in Italy until Pope Paul VI returned them to the monastery in 1965 as a gesture of good will towards the Orthodox Church.
By guided tour only.