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.