The skeleton of a young man, whose upper body was wrapped in iron
chains, was discovered on the road to Bethlehem, near the Mar Elias
Monastery. It was found in a man-made, subterranean cave consisting
of two cubicles, apparently the dwelling place of a solitary monk,
whose body remained there after his death.
The walls of the cave were partially covered with stones, and the
ceiling was constructed as a vault. In the walls were niches, which
served as cupboards for food and personal belongings. In one of
the niches a small pottery goblet was found, and in the ceiling
of another there was an iron hook, in which a wire, used to hang
an oil lamp, was inserted. The fragments of a glass lamp were found
on the floor beneath the niche. An iron knife, a belt buckle, two
horseshoe-shaped pieces, perhaps from the monk’s shoes, and
a few pottery fragments were also discovered in the cave. Apparently,
these were the sum total of his worldly goods.
The custom of wearing chains was a well-known method of self-castigation,
particularly in Syria. The chains found on the skeleton measure
six meters long and weigh a total of six kilograms. They were wrapped
in such a way that they could be removed, and thus it is clear that
the monk did not wear the chains against his will.
In a later stage, a round tower was erected above the subterranean
structure. The builders were clearly aware of the existence of the
cave and did not block its entrance. It has thus been proposed that
the tower was built as a memorial for the monk who had lived and
died in the cubicles below.
The skeleton in chains upon discovery and the
reconstruction of the way the chains were worn
Collection of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Photo and drawing: Israel Antiquities Authority
the Days of Jesus |In
the Early Church |Pilgrimage
& Symbols |Monasticism
in the Holy Land