The History of St. George’s Monastery
St. George’s Monastery is one of the most interesting attractions between Jerusalem and Jericho. You must get out and stretch your legs to enjoy the wonders of nature, architecture and religion all in one package. The Orthodox Monastery of St. George of Choziba in Wadi Qelt (Nachal Prat) began in the fourth century with a few monks who sought the desert experiences of the prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus, and settled around a cave where they believed Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across the Qelt River canyon, which according to Christian tradition is identified to be Psalm 23’s Valley of the Shadow, and where shepherds still watch over their flocks, just as Ezekiel 34 and John 10:1-16 describe. Wadi Qelt (Wadi Kelt) parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
Between the V and the VI centuries, the desert of Judea became a particularly strong monastic region, more than 70 monasteries and monastic hermitages were founded here, some of which are little accessible even today.
The first monks settled in this valley around the year 420. There are known as: Prono, Elijah Gannaios, Ainan and Zenon. The small chapel built by these five hermits was later turned into a Greek Orthodox monastery by St. John the Thebes – a monk that came from Thebes, Egypt around 480 AD who lived in a cave as a hermit. The monastery was named St. George after the most famous monk who lived at the site. St. George of Koziba (Coziba or Hazeva)was a monk born in Cyprus about 550 CE. Leaving his homeland, St. George came to Jerusalem to worship in the church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy shrines in Jerusalem. He spent much of his life at various lauras in the Judean Desert. The sixth-century cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens, is still inhabited by a few Greek Orthodox monks who welcome visitors. The Greek flag flies over the monastery.
The monastery was destroyed in 614 A.D. by the Persians and was abandoned after the Persians swept through the valley and massacred the fourteen monks who dwelt there. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed by the Persians in 614 A.D. can still be seen today in the monastery chapel.
The Crusaders made some attempts at restoration in 1179. However, it fell into disuse after their expulsion.
In 1878, a Greek monk, Kallinikos, settled here and restored the monastery, finishing it in 1901. The traditions attached to the monastery include a visit by Elijah en route to the Sinai Peninsula, and St. Joachim, whose wife Anne was infertile, fasted and prayed for 40 days, and wept here when an angel announced to him that his righteous wife Anna, will conceive and bear a daughter who will become Mary, the Mother of God.
What to see
The view from the balcony of the inner court includes Roman aqueducts supported by massive walls on the other side of the wadi.
The three-level monastery complex encompasses two churches which contain a rich array of icons, paintings and mosaics:
- The Church of the Holy Virgin
- The Church of St. George and St. John.
- A reliquary contains the skulls of the 14 monks martyred by the Persians.
- A niche contains the glass casket of the Romanian monk Saint John Jacob of Neamt (the Romanian), called also “the Hotzebite”) that lived there in the 1950’s. . St. John served as deacon in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and later was in charge of the Romanian skete of St. John the Baptist, which had recently been established by the Romanian Patriarchate in the vicinity of the valley of the Jordan river. St. John lived only a short time in St. George’s monastery. In 1953, St. John retired to the cave of St. Ann (Cell of St. Hannah) nearby, where he remained until the end of life in the most severe asceticism as an anchorite. His holding his well-preserved body is in the Church of St. George and St. John.
The monastery also holds the tombs of the five hermits who began the monastery.
The upper part of the monastery hosts the cave where Elijah the Prophet sought shelter for three years and six months before ascending to the Mount Sinai. (I Kings 17, 2-9) In the cave of St. Elijah an icon depicts the saint as being fed miraculously by ravens. From this cave, a narrow tunnel provides an escape route to the top of the mountain.
This is a church and a place of worship – so no short shorts!
- St George’s Monastery via the main Jerusalem – Dead Sea highway (Road 1). Take a left at Mitzpeh Jericho (or a right if you’re coming from Jericho) and follow the brown signs for Wadi Qelt. The paved trail leading to the monastery begins near a gate – a stone portal in the form of three arches.
- Hike down Wadi Qelt all the way to the monastery. It takes a few hours, so take plenty of water – at least three liters!
You can reach the entrance gate by car or bus, but you’ll still have to walk for 15 minutes down a windy path. This is not easy for seniors or people with disabilities, but there are usually plenty of Bedouins offering their donkeys for the ride (at a cost of course). The way back to the car by foot is exhausting, but the local Bedouins have a make-shift kiosk to offer you cold drinks.
The monastery is free to enter but does close in the evening/overnight.
Tel.: 054 7306557
Open: 9am-1pm; Sunday closed.