The small town of Ma’loula, is a truly unique site with Christian sanctuaries and monuments stretching back for more than 16 centuries into the past, yet it has been scarred, traumatized, desecrated and deeply wounded by the war in Syria.
Earlier this year, a visitor visited the Um al-Zennar Church, also known as the “Church of the Holy Belt,” located in the Old City. What he witnessed and photographed at the time was the immediate aftermath of a rampage of desecration that had been inflicted on the church. This included the smashing of the altar and pews, the gouging out of the eyes of religious icons, the smashing of religious statues and destruction of paintings of saints, including Mary the mother of Jesus. Other damage included the burning of the nave and sanctuary as well as a still smouldering pile of bibles and religious documents in the courtyard.
The churches and monasteries here had attracted both Christian and Muslim pilgrims before the conflict. The monastery of Mar Thecla in fact has a reputation among believers for miraculous cures. This observer and his companion were given drops of holy water to splash in our eyes for good health and happiness. One can also drink water from the crack in the massive rock cliff that St. Thecla was said to have parted while fleeing the wrath of her family for turning from paganism to Christianity. Some religious scholars claim, and indeed a legend in the early church has it, that Thecla was a chaste and devoted follower of St. Paul. In any event, townspeople claim the water, which flows from the huge split rock, offers a cure for a variety of ailments.
The Monastery of St. Thecla, including her tomb, has been completely burned, and its holy relics and icons looted, some already coming out for illegal sale.