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The Monk in Chains


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


In the Days of Jesus |In the Early Church |Pilgrimage |Images & Symbols |Monasticism in the Holy Land

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