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St Sabas and the Palestinian Monastic Network under Crusader Rule

  • Andrew Jotischky (a1)


The monastery founded in the fifth century by St Sabas, in the Kidron Valley a few kilometres south-east of Bethlehem, has been described as ‘the crucible of Byzantine Orthodoxy’. The original cave cell occupied by Sabas himself grew into a monastic community of the laura type, in which monks lived during the week in individual cells practising private prayer and craft work, but met for communal liturgy on Saturdays, Sundays and feast days. The laura, which differed from the coenobium in the greater emphasis placed on individual meditation, prayer and work, was the most distinctive contribution of the Palestinian tradition to early Christian monasticism. The first laura had been founded in the Judean desert in the fourth century by Chariton, and cenobitic monasteries had been in existence in Palestine both in the desert and on the coastal strip since the same period. Nevertheless, partly as a result of an extensive network of contacts with other foundations, both laurae and cenobitic monasteries, partly through Sabas s own fame as an ascetic, and partly through a burgeoning reputation for theological orthodoxy, St Sabas became the representative institution of Palestinian monasticism in the period between the fifth century and the Persian invasion of 614. The monastery’s capacity to withstand the Persian and Arab invasions of the seventh century, and to adapt to the cultural changes brought by Arabicization, ensured not only its survival but also its continued importance as a disseminator of monastic practice throughout the early Middle Ages. In 1099, when the first crusaders conquered the Holy Land, it was almost the sole survivor of the ‘golden age’ of Palestinian desert monasticism of the early Byzantine period. The monastery continued to prosper under crusader rule. It was an important landowner and its abbot was in the twelfth century a confrater of the Knights Hospitaller. Moreover, it is clear both from varied genres of external documentary sources – for example, pilgrimage accounts and hagiographies – and from the surviving manuscripts produced in the monastery between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, that the monastery’s spiritual life also flourished in this period. The role of St Sabas and Palestinian monasticism within the broader scope of Byzantine monastic reform of the eleventh and twelfth centuries suggests that the continuing function of the monastery at the centre of a wider network of practices and ideals across the Orthodox world engendered a revival of early monastic practices in a period more often associated with decline and the struggle to preserve the integrity of monastic life.



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1 Andrew Louth, ‘Palestine under the Arabs, 650–750 The Crucible of Byzantine Orthodoxy’, in Swanson, R. N., ed., The Holy Land, Holy Lands and Christian History, SCH 36 (Woodbridge, 2000), 6777.

2 Patrich, Joseph, Sabas, Leader of Palestinian Monasticism: A Comparative Study of Eastern Monasticism, 4th to 7th Centuries (Washington, DC, 1995). On Judean desert monasticism more generally, see Hirschfeld, Yizhar, The Judean Desert Monasteries in the Byzantine Period (New Haven, CT, 1992); Chitty, Derwas, The Desert a City: An Introduction to the Study of Egyptian and Palestinian Monasticism under the Christian Empire (London, 1966); Binns, John, Ascetics and Ambassadors of Christ: The Monasteries of Pales tine, 314–631 (Oxford, 1994); Perrone, Lorenzo, ‘Monasticism in the Holy Land: From the Beginnings to the Crusades’, Proche-Orient Chretien 45 (1995), 3163.

3 See the collected articles of Sidney Griffith, Arabic Christianity in the Monasteries of Ninth-Century Palestine (Aldershot, 1992); Milka Rubin, ‘Arabization versus Islamization in the Palestinian Melkite Community during the Early Muslim Period’, in Guy Stroumsa and Arieh Kofiky, eds, Sharing the Sacred: Religious Contacts and Conflicts in the Holy Land, 1st to 15th centuries (Jerusalem, 1998), 149–61

4 Jotischky, Andrew, ‘Greek Orthodox and Latin Monasticism around Mar Saba under Crusader Rule’, in Patrich, Joseph, ed., The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present (Leuven, 2001), 8596.

5 The Life of Lazaros of Mt Galesion, an nth Century Pillar Saint, ed. and transl. Richard P. Greenfield, Byzantine Saints Lives in Translation 3 (Washington, DC, 2000).

6 The Life of Leontius, Patriarch of Jerusalem 3–6 7–8 10, 66, ed. and transl. Dimitris Tsougarakis, The Medieval Mediterranean 2 (Leiden, 1993), 34–40, 45, 108.

7 Stephanis, I. E., ed., 3 vols (Paphos, 1996–9), 2: 616; Coureas, Nicholas, ‘The Rule of Neophytos the Recluse’, in The Foundation Rules of Medieval Cypriot Monasteries: Makhairas and St Neophytos, Cyprus Research Centre Texts and Studies in the History of Cyprus 46 (Nicosia, 2003), 129–68 at 1358.

8 ‘Rule of Neophytos’ 6 (Coureas, Foundation Rules, 138).

9 Life of Lazaros 230 (ed. and transl. Greenfield, 327).

10 Galatariotou, Catia, The Making of a Saint: The Life, Times and Sanctification of Neophytos the Recluse (Cambridge, 1991), 2623.

11 Ibid. 77–81

12 Ibid. 265.

13 ‘Rule, Testament and Codicil of Christodoulos for the Monastery of St John the Theologian on Patmos’ A3; transl. Patricia Karlin-Hayter, in Byzantine Monastic Foun dation Documents, ed. John P. Thomas and Angela Hero, 5 vols (Washington, DC, 2000), 2: 564–606 at 579. For an earlier example of the theme, in the career of Hilarion the Georgian (b.820), see Malamut, Elisabeth, Sur la route des saints byzantins (Paris, 1993), 512. For some 12th-century western examples, see Jotischky, Andrew, The Perfection of Solitude: Hermits and Monks in the Crusader States (University Park, PA, 1995), 15374.

14 ‘Christodoulos’ A17 (transl. Karlin-Hayter, 587).

15 Narratio de monacho Palaestiniensi, ed. Hippolyte Delehaye, ‘Saints de Chypre’, An Boll 26 (1907), 162–75

16 ‘Rule of Neophytos’ 4 (Coureas, Foundation Rules, 136–7).

17 ‘Regulations of Nikon of the Black Mountain’ 29, transl. Robert Allison, in Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents, ed. Thomas and Hero, 1: 377–424 at 392. On the influence of the Sabaite typikon on Byzantine monasticism more generally, see Thomas, John, ‘The Imprint of Sabaitic Monasticism on Byzantine Monastic Typika’, in Patrich, ed., Sabaite Heritage, 7384.

18 Obolensky, D., Six Byzantine Portraits (Oxford, 1988), 11572; Popovic, S., ‘Sabaite Influences on the Church of Medieval Serbia’, in Patrich, ed., Sabaite Heritage, 385408.

19 Coureas, , Foundation Rules, 20.

20 Greenfield, Richard P., ‘Drawn to the Blazing Beacon: Visitors and Pilgrims to the Living Holy Man and the Case of Lazaros of Mount Galesion’, DOP 56 (2002), 207–35 at 2301.

21 Perrone, Lorenzo, ‘Monasticism as a Factor of Religious Interaction in the Holy Land during the Byzantine period’, in Stroumsa and Kofiky, eds, Sharing the Sacred, 6795.

22 Patrich, , Sabas, 257, 274.

23 For example, the xenodochium excavated at the monastery of Martyrius at Ma’ale Adumim: Sivan, H., ‘Pilgrimage, Monasticism and the Emergence of Christian Pales tine’, in Robert Ousterhout, ed., The Blessings of Pilgrimage (Urbana, IL, 1990), 5464; Hunt, E. P., ‘The Itinerary of Egeria: Reliving the Bible in Fourth-Century Palestine’, in Swanson, ed., Holy Land, 34–54 esp. 4454.

24 Life of Lazaros 19–20 (ed. and transl. Greenfield, 101–4; ‘Christodoulos’ A3 (transl. Karlin-Hayter, 579).

25 The Life and Journey of Daniel, Abbot of the Russian Land 27–39, in Wilkinson, John, ed.,Jerusalem Pilgrimage 1099–1185 (London, 1988), 13641.

26 Phokas, John, Descriptio Terrae Sanctae 1624 (PG 133, cols 945–53.

27 Ibid. 19 (PG 133, col. 949).

28 Ibid. 23 (PG 133, col. 952).

29 See, most recendy, Morris, Colin, The Sepulchre of Christ and the Medieval West (Oxford, 2005), 180253; for Scandinavian pilgrims, see Riant, P., Expeditions et pèlerinages des Scandinaves en Terre Sainte (Paris, 1865).

30 Hamilton, Bernard, The Latin Church in the Crusader States: The Secular Church (London, 1980), 15987.

31 E.g. St Mary Kalamon, St George Choziba, St Elias, St John Prodromos and probably St Theodosius: Jotischky, Andrew, ‘Manuel Comnenus and the Reunion of the Churches: The Evidence of the Conciliar Mosaics in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem’, Levant 26 (1994), 20723.

32 Thomas, John P., Private Religious Foundations in the Byzantine Empire (Washington, DC, 1987), 157240; Morris, Rosemary, Monks and Laymen in Byzantium 843–1118 (Cambridge, 1995).

33 ‘Christodoulos’ A23 (transl. Karlin-Hayter, 590–1; Life of Leontius 18. 52–4 (transl. Tsougarakis, 93–4.

34 ‘Rule of Neophytos’ 14–15 (Coureas, Foundation Documents, 146–9).

35 Phokas, , Descriptio 23. 3–14 (PG 133, cols 9523).

36 Moschus, John, Pratum spirituak 107 (PG 8, cols 29658). Other examples of lion-taming monks are discussed by Wortley, John, ‘Two Unpublished Psychophelitic Tales’, Creek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 37 (1996), 288300.

37 Narratio de monacho Palaestinensi, ed. Delehaye, 171–2

38 Life of Lazaros 17 (ed. and transl. Greenfield, 97).

39 Daniel 97 (Wilkinson, ed., Jerusalem Pilgrimage, 166–71).

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St Sabas and the Palestinian Monastic Network under Crusader Rule

  • Andrew Jotischky (a1)


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