Dair Mar Elia, known as St. Elijah’s Monastery in English, has been completely levelled by ISIS
The monastery, located south of Mosul, northern Iraq, was built in the 600s, making it 1,400 years old
It was Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery and had recently functioned as a place of worship for U.S. troops
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By Associated Press
he oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, which had survived for more than 1,400 years, has been reduced to a field of rubble by ISIS fighters, satellite images confirm.
St. Elijah’s Monastery, south of Mosul, northern Iraq, has been completely wiped out by the Islamist terrorist, joining a list of dozens of historical and religious sites purposely destroyed by the group.
Experts believe ISIS fighters would have used every measure available to destroy the monastery, which had most recently served as a place of worship for U.S. troops, including bulldozers, sledgehammers and possibly explosives.
Before: A satellite image taken in March, 2011, shows Dair Mar Elia, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, before it was destroyed by ISIS
After: This image taken in September 2014, shows the site of the 1,400-year-old Christian monastery reduced to a field of rubble
The monastery was founded in the sixth century, making it 1,400 years old, and had most recently served as a place of working for Christian U.S. service members, pictured during a sunrise Easter Mass at Dair Mar Elia
It is believed the 1,400 years old monastery was leveled at some point between August 27 and September 28 in 2014, after ISIS took control of the area in June that year.
During it’s reign of terror in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has forced out hundreds of thousands of Christians, threatening a religion that has endured in the region for 2,000 years.
Along the way, its fighters have destroyed buildings and ruins historical and culturally significant structures they consider contrary to their interpretation of Islam.
St. Elijah’s has joined a growing list of more than 100 demolished religious and historic sites, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches in Syria and Iraq.
The extremists have defaced or ruined ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra. Museums and libraries have been looted, books burned, artwork crushed — or trafficked.
Destroyed: St. Elijah’s Monastery, south of Mosul, northern Iraq, pictured in 2006, has been completely wiped out by ISIS
Lost beauty: The monastery is pictured in 2009, as visitors assigned to the Logistic Civil Augmentive Program from Forward Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq, stand at the entrance after completing a tour
History: U.S. Army forces tour St. Elijah’s Monastery in 2008, during which time the ruins served as a place of worship for Christian soldiers
Before it was razed, images show a partially restored, 27,000-square-foot religious building. Although the roof was largely missing, it had 26 distinctive rooms including a sanctuary and chapel.
One month later, ‘the stone walls have been literally pulverized,’ said imagery analyst Stephen Wood, CEO of Allsource Analysis
‘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.’
The monastery, called Dair Mar Elia, is named for the Assyrian Christian monk – St. Elijah – who built it between 582 and 590 A.C. It was a holy site for Iraqi Christians for centuries, part of the Mideast’s Chaldean Catholic community.
In 1743, tragedy struck when as many as 150 monks who refused to convert to Islam were massacred under orders of a Persian general, and the monastery was damaged. For the next two centuries it remained a place of pilgrimage, even after it was incorporated into an Iraqi military training base and later a U.S. base.
Then in 2003 St. Elijah’s shuddered again — this time a wall was smashed by a tank turret blown off in battle. Iraqi troops had already moved in, dumping garbage in the ancient cistern. The U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division took control, with troops painting over ancient murals and scrawling their division’s ‘Screaming Eagle,’ along with ‘Chad wuz here’ and ‘I love Debbie,’ on the walls.
Long history: This photo taken in the 1920s shows a ceremony at the monastery where a Christian community thrived for centuries
Before it was razed, the partially restored, 27,000-square-foot stone and mortar building stood fortress-like on a hill above Mosul
No more: U.S. Army soldiers pictured at St. Elijah’s Monastery during a visit arranged by Capt. John P. Smith, a chaplain with the 142nd Corps Support Battalion, in 2005
Memories remain: U.S. Army soldiers celebrate a Catholic Easter Mass at St. Elijah’s Monastery in 2010
Holy place: A photo from 2008 shows the sanctuary of St. Elijah’s Monastery, just south of Mosul
A U.S. military chaplain, recognizing St. Elijah’s significance, kicked the troops out and the Army’s subsequent preservation initiative became a pet project for a series of chaplains who toured thousands of soldiers through the ruin.
‘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,’ remembered military chaplain Jeffrey Whorton. A Catholic priest who now works at Ft. Bragg, he had to collect himself after viewing the damage. ‘I don’t know why this is affecting me so much,’ he said.
In his office in exile in Irbil, Iraq, the Rev. Paul Thabit Habib, 39, stared quietly at before- and after-images of the monastery that once perched on a hillside above his hometown of Mosul. Shaken, he flipped back to his own photos for comparison.
‘I can’t describe my sadness,’ he said in Arabic. ‘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.’
‘A big part of tangible history has been destroyed,’ said Rev. Manuel Yousif Boji. A Chaldean Catholic pastor in Southfield, Michigan, he remembers attending Mass at St. Elijah’s almost 60 years ago while a seminarian in Mosul.
On purpose: In addition to the monastery, ISIS has defaced or ruined ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra
Down goes another one: St. Elijah’s has officially joined a growing list of more than 100 demolished religious and historic sites, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches
Satellite photos confirm what church leaders and Middle East preservationists had feared: St. Elijah’s, a 1,400-year-old monastery in Iraq, has been reduced to a field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State’s relentless destruction
Heartbroken: Suzanne Bott, who spent more than two years surveying and restoring the site as a U.S. State Department cultural adviser in Iraq, leads a tour at St. Elijah’s monastery in 2009
This Nov. 7, 2008, photo shows St. Elijah’s Monastery on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, about 225 miles northwest of Baghdad
AU.S. Army chaplain gestures toward the place where the 101st Airborne Division’s ‘screaming eagle’ was painted above a door at St. Elijah’s Monastery
In this Nov. 7, 2008 photo, U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah’s Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq