دير مار تقلا‎

Mar Taqla - Convent of Saint Thecla


Useful Information

Location: Maaloula
(33.847052, 36.546950)
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Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: A=1600 m asl
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History

4th cty area became Christian.
7th cty Islam penetrated the Qalamoun region slowly.
1756 monastery of St Thecla and the church of St John the Baptist rebuilt according to the chronicle of Mikha’il al-Burayk.
1840 four monks at St Thecla reported by the Russian consul Uspensky.
1906 church built at the grotto.
1935 Greek Orthodox convent built around the grotto of St. Thecla.

Description

The دير مار تقلا‎ (Convent of Saint Thecla) is a Greek Orthodox convent in Maaloula, Syria, which was erected in 1935 around the grotto of St. Thecla. St Thecla Ma‘lula or simply Maaloula is a small village located northeast of Damascus at an altitude of 1600 m asl in the mountainous region of Qalamoun. The convent with the holy grotto is a major place of Christian pilgrimage in Syria. A ladder at the top of the main convent building leads directly to the shrine of St Thecla. The grotto has two parts, the sacred spring and two small churches. It has recently been modernized. The grotto contains two icons showing the Resurrection and the Nativity of the Virgin.

Thecla was a young noble woman from from Iconiumlu (Konya). She sat by her window for three days, listening to Paul the Apostle, his discourse on virginity and other techings. She espoused the teachings and as a result became estranged to both her fiancé, Thamyris, and her mother. They became concerned that Thecla would follow Paul's demand "one must fear only one God and live in chastity" and turned to the authorities to punish both Paul and Thecla. At this time the Christian religion was opressed and illegal in the Roman empire. Thecla was burned at the stake, but she was miraculously saved by the onset of a storm. Then she traveled with Paul to Antioch of Pisidia. After more false trials and more miracles saving her again, she finally came to live in Seleucia Cilicia and lived in a cave there for 72 years. She became a healer, performed many miracles, but remained constantly persecuted. Some say she was persecuted because the Christian religion was still forbidden, other say the healers were angry because she was competing with them and had better healing results, and sent assassins to kill her. As her persecutors were about to get her, she called out to God and a new passage was opened in the cave, and the stones closed behind her. She vanished and was never seen again.
And there is a different version after which she moved to Maaloula, a village in Syria, from Silifke, and she lived ther in a cave for the rest of her life. The passage and cave still exist in Maaloula and became a very important site for pilgrims.
And there is a completely different version, which tells that she was able to go to Rome and lie down beside Paul's tomb.

As you can see, this is opne of the three alternative endings we mentioned. Of course, the story was written down two hundred years after it happened and so it was based on the stories people told. And even those stories have different versions. Nevertheless, the grotto at Maaloula is definitely the true one where god personally moved the rocks to help a Saint escape capture and death. Thecla personally dug into a natural spring inside the grotto which thus produces sacred waters that can cure paralysis, rheumatism, and infertility. Thecla spent her life in the grotto healing the sick and preaching the Christian faith, died at age 90 in the grotto, and is buried in the grotto. Pilgims honored this by having a picknick and and a sleep-in in the grotto and drinking the holy water. Pregnant women eat a tuft of wick from the oil-lamp in the grotto, for reasons unknown to us.

After 2000 years finally in 1935 the convent was built around the grotto of St. Thecla. Since this time pilgrims stay at the guest-house attached to the convent, not in the grotto. Quite impressive is actually the Veneration of the saint among Muslims. Local inhabitants have retained a firm faith in St Thecla, permitting the survival and prosperity of the convent. Prayers offered to St Thecla in her grotto are preceded by Qur'anic recitations. Childless Muslim women became pregnant as a result of her intercession. This is true interfaith tolerance, which should exist much more in the modern world.