Mar Behnam Monastery

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Monastery of the Sahade Mar Behnam and Marth Sara
Entrance of the monastery
Mar Behnam Monastery is located in Iraq
Mar Behnam Monastery
Location within Iraq
Monastery information
Order Syriac Catholic Church
Established 4th century
Dedicated to Mar Behnam, Mart Sara
Founder(s) Syrian Orthodox Monk's
Location near Beth Khdeda
Coordinates 36°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
Visible remains Destroyed

Monastery of the Martyrs Mar Behnam and Marth Sarah (Syriac: ܕܝܪܐ ܕܡܪܝ ܒܗܢܡ ܘܡܪܬ ܣܪܐ‎, Arabic: دير مار بهنام‎, Mar Behnam Monastery), was a Syriac Catholic monastery in northern Iraq in the village Khidr Ilyas close to the town of Beth Khdeda.[1] It was destroyed on March 19, 2015 by Islamic State.[2]


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

The monastery, after its establishment continued its work and contributed greatly to the Christian world under the care of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Sculptures in the church show that renovations were done in 1164 and between 1250-1261. Records show that the monastery suffered greatly during the period from 1743-1790 which was due to attacks carried out by Nader Shah, the then-muslim ruler of Persia, against the Christians in the region.[4]

The monks of the monastery established contact with Rome in the 18th century, which led to the gradual conversion of the inhabitants of Beth Khdeda 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 took it back. For some unknown reason, the monks abandoned the monastery in 1819. The monastery changed hands again to the Syriac Catholic Church in 1839, which has cared for it to the present time.

The monastery belonged to the Church of the East for at least ten centuries, which is attested to by rare Turkic inscriptions from the 13th century left by Mongol pilgrims. Before turning to the hand of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the whole region converted to Monophysitism and the monastery became the residence as well as the 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 (23 June 2015). "Another Treasure Lost in Iraq: The Story of Mar Behnam Monastery". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 24 October 2016. 
  2. ^ "ISIS destroy 4th Century Christian monastery in Iraq". 
  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 link[edit]

Media related to Mar Behnam Monastery at Wikimedia Commons