Mar Behnam Monastery

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Monastery of the Sahade Mar Behnam and Marth Sara
Mar Behnam Monastery.jpg
Entrance of the monastery (2021)
Mar Behnam Monastery is located in Iraq
Mar Behnam Monastery
Location within Iraq
Monastery information
OrderSyriac Catholic Church (1790–98; from 1839)
Syriac Orthodox Church (until 1790; 1798–1819)
Church of the East (until 14th century)
Established4th century
Dedicated toMar Behnam, Mart Sara
Locationnear Beth Khdeda
Coordinates36°08′16″N 43°24′23″E / 36.137778°N 43.406389°E / 36.137778; 43.406389Coordinates: 36°08′16″N 43°24′23″E / 36.137778°N 43.406389°E / 36.137778; 43.406389

Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah (Syriac: ܕܝܪܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܒܗܢܡ ܘܡܪܬ ܣܪܐ‎, Arabic: دير مار بهنام‎, Mar Behnam Monastery), is a Syriac Catholic monastery in northern Iraq in the village Khidr Ilyas close to the town of Beth Khdeda.[1] The tomb of Mar Benham was heavily damaged on March 19, 2015, by the Islamic State, and the exterior murals were desecrated in all of the monastery's buildings.[citation needed] Repair work restoring the monastery and the tomb of Mar Behnam to its pre-ISIS condition was completed by early December 2018.[2]


The monastery was built in the 4th century by a king named Senchareb as penance for martyring his son Mar Behnam and daughter Sarah after they converted to Christianity.[3]

After its establishment, the monastery was part of the Church of the East up until the 14th century as evidenced by Mongolic inscriptions left by Mongolian Christian pilgrims in the 1200s, and contributed greatly to the Christian world under the care of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Inscriptions on sculptures in the church show that renovations were made to the monastery in 1164 and between 1250 and 1261. Records show that the monastery suffered greatly during the period from 1743 to 1790 due to attacks carried out by Nader Shah and later Persian Muslim rulers against the Christians in the region.[4]

The monks of the monastery established contact with the Catholic Church in Rome in the late 18th century seeking protection against Nader Khan, which led to the gradual conversion of the inhabitants of Bakhdida to the Syriac Catholic Church.[5]

In 1790 the monastery was taken over by the Catholic Church and was managed for eight years until the Syriac Orthodox church retook it. For unknown reasons, the monks abandoned the monastery in 1819—likely due to the loss of their flock in that region. The Syriac Catholic Church resumed possession of the monastery, and repopulated it in 1839; it has continued in this state to the present time with the exception of a three-year abandonment as a result of the 2014 ISIS invasions.

The monastery is the former residence and present resting place of a number of Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs.[5]

Current status[edit]

Syriac Catholic Monastery of Mar Behnam, May 1909, taken by Gertrude Bell
Syriac Catholic Monastery of Mar Behnam, May 1909, taken by Gertrude Bell

The monastery was renovated in 1986, and was visited by thousands of Christians and Muslims yearly until ISIS took control of the area.[3]

During the 2014 Northern Iraq offensive, jihadist troops of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control of the monastery.[6] The troops removed crosses from the monastery,[7] threatened monks with execution and then expelled the monks with nothing but the clothes on their backs.[8] On March 19, 2015, Islamic State released photos showing the blowing up of the historic tomb of Saint Behnam.[9] After more than 2 years of occupation, the monastery and its surrounding area was liberated by Iraqi Security Forces on November 20, 2016.[10]


  1. ^ Jones, Christopher (June 23, 2015). "Another Treasure Lost in Iraq: The Story of Mar Behnam Monastery". Hyperallergic. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  2. ^ "Les travaux à Mar Behnam bientôt terminés ! | Fraternité en Irak". December 7, 2018.
  3. ^ a b بهنام وسارة, الصرح والتاريخ, (in Arabic)
  4. ^ Archived December 27, 2015, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b دير مار بهنام الشهيد في مدينة الموصل بالعراق Archived March 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, (in Arabic)
  6. ^ Girgio Bernadelli (June 11, 2014). "The new plight of Christians in Mosul". Vatican Insider. La Stampa. Retrieved June 24, 2014.
  7. ^ Vivian Salama; Cara Anna (March 6, 2015). "Outrage: Extremists take ancient statues, damage Iraqi site". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 6, 2015.
  8. ^ Hawramy, Fazel (July 24, 2014). "Iraqi Christians in Mosul told by Isis to convert to Islam or be executed". The Guardian. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  9. ^ Mezzofiore, Gianluca (March 19, 2015). "Isis 'blows up famed 4th-century Mar Behnam Catholic monastery' in Iraq".
  10. ^ "Iraqi security forces have retaken Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah southeast Mosul - News from war on ISIS in English from Iraq, Syria - Deir ez-Zur operation, Raqqa operation -". News from war on ISIS in English from Iraq, Syria - Deir ez-Zur operation, Raqqa operation -

External links[edit]

Media related to Mar Behnam Monastery at Wikimedia Commons