Book Series Studies and Texts, vol. 139

The Frescoes of Mar Musa al-Habashi

A Study of Medieval Painting in Syria

Erica C. Dodd

  • Pages: 284 p.
  • Size:150 x 230 mm
  • Illustrations:103 b/w, 23 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2001

  • ISBN: 978-0-88844-139-3
  • Hardback
  • Available


The monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi was built in the sixth century, in the mountains 70km north of Damascus, near the ancient town of Nebek. For most of its history it belonged to the Syrian Orthodox Church but was eventually deserted. In 1981 the author found it with the chapel roofless and paintings decaying on the walls. An expedition from Beirut and Damascus recorded the paintings at this time. Meanwhile Paolo Dall'Oglio, a Jesuit orientalist from Aleppo also visited the ruined monastery. He persuaded the Syrian Dept. of Antiquities and the Italian Istituto del Restauro to restore the building to its original state, using the same stonecutting techniques as in the past. This book relates the history of the monastery through the Middle Ages and presents a detailed study of the paintings and inscriptions in the church, including those recently uncovered in restoration. The paintings comprise the only full programme of medieval church decoration to have survived to this day in the Arab Levant. They are dated to 1054-1088 and to 1192 and thus illustrate Arab Christian painting in the hinterland of Syria during the pre-Crusader and Crusader periods. While in some respects the paintings reflect the artistic heritage of provincial Byzantium, they also show the influence of the Crusaders and neighbouring Islamic art. In other respects they perpetuate a continuing Early Christian tradition in Syria. The paintings are therefore examples of the living Christian tradition encountered by the Crusaders and contribute to the story of East-West relations in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.