“A symbol of our presence”


Christians in Iraq are distressed at the destruction of Iraq’s oldest monastery by IS


On Wednesday the American news agency AP announced that Islamic State had razed St. Elijah’s monastery to the ground. An analysis of satellite pictures of the site conducted on behalf of the agency had revealed that the monastery had already been destroyed between August and September 2014.

Since it was made known that Iraq’s oldest Christian monastery had been destroyed by the terrorist from Islamic State, there has been widespread distress in Iraq. “St. Elijah’s monastery in Mosul was a symbol of the Christian presence in Iraq. The fact that it has been destroyed is terrible,” Father Dankha Issa told the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need. Father Dankha is an Iraqi monk belonging to the Antonian Order of Saint Ormizda of the Chaldeans, a religious community of the Chaldean Church which is in full communion with Rome. Until he was forced to flee from Islamic State in 2014, he had lived in Saint George’s monastery in Mosul.

“St. Elijah’s monastery was over 1400 years old. It had stood abandoned for a long time but it meant a lot to us Christians. It was an expression of our extremely long history in Iraq.” Father Dankha said that what affected him in particular was the fact that clearly no-one was able to stop the jihadis. “It is the sons of the devil who do such work. We can only pray for them. God alone can help us.”

Up to the conquest of Mosul by Islamic State in June 2014 thousands of Christians had been living in this predominantly Sunni city in Northern Iraq. Many Christians fled immediately after the conquest by the jihadis or had to leave the city in July 2014 having been set an ultimatum by the self-appointed IS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Islamic State has deliberately destroyed a large number of sites of religious and cultural significance in Iraq and Syria. There was worldwide concern at the destruction of the 1600-year-old Mar Elian monastery in the Syrian city of al-Qaryatayn in August last year, after the town had been taken over by IS. In a number of cases churches and church institutions have also been put to different use, for instance turned into prisons.

Oliver Maksam