Saints Sergius and Bacchus (Mar Sarkis, Mar Bakhos)
Melkite Cathedral and Monastery in Maaloula, Damascus’ Countryside Governorate
Saints Sergius and Bacchus Cathedral is the oldest in the Middle East and its construction is dated to the early 4th century, most probably 313–325 during the era of the Emperor Constantine. Later an adjacent monastery was built. The compound is located in Maaloula, a city built on the mountainside, at an altitude of more than 1500 metres. It was one of three remaining villages where the language of Jesus was still spoken in its Western Neo-Aramaic dialect. Ss. Sergius and Bacchus Cathedral was built on the site of an ancient pagan temple, the wood for the beams of the celling could have been cut 2,000 years ago. The church is one of the oldest in the world. The compound of the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus is located near to a large hotel used by Christian pilgrims and tourists, which the rebel forces used as a base.
In 2013 Islamist rebels took it over and used as a base to capture the town. In September that year the Syrian army levelled the hotel to the ground and the militants escaped, but they have already succeeded in desecrating the many churches in Maaloula – possibly more than thirty – notably St.
Sergius and Bacchus monastery.
The militants showed no mercy, wreaking major destruction. They also stole or destroyed world-famous icons that were an important part of Christian heritage in the Middle East. A unique icon from 13th century depicting martyr saints – patrons of the sanctuary, which was situated at the entrance, was lost. The iconostasis was destroyed and the altar was turned into a pile of rubble. The main cross fell from the dome, wall paintings were shot down and slashed by debris. The walls were heavily damaged by mortar shells, although the basic structure remained intact. In 2016 rudimentary repairs had been carried out.