Ma'loula, September 29, 2013
Militants have destroyed the ancient Christian Church of Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus in Ma'loula and have stolen or demolished its world-famous icons. A correspondent of ITAR-TASS agency saw it for himself on September 29.
This construction, which was the oldest in the Middle East, had been built in the early 4th century. There was a convent here lately; but after the coming of the terrorists and militants of Al-Nusra Front a month ago the sisters found refuge in the Convent of St. Thecla, Equal-to-the-Apostles, where at the present time they are taking shelter from the militants together with 40 orphaned children. It is still impossible to come up to this convent because of the heavy fire of snipers who do not even spare journalists.
The Church of Sts Sergius and Bacchus became "guilty" because of the building of the "Safir" hotel near it, where earlier numerous Christian pilgrims and tourists used to stay, but then Muslim extremists took their positions there. The Syrian army has almost leveled the hotel to the ground but the militants are still taking cover in its cellars and in neighboring grottos, converted into cells. Where monks used to live in ancient times, now there is sustained artillery fire.
A unique icon of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus painted in the 13th century, which was situated just at the entrance, has been lost forever. The iconostasis and its central icon, painted in the 13th century, have been destroyed together with the icons of the Mother of God and Christ "the Archpastor". The latter always evoked the surprise of researchers because it depicted Christ in a long robe of silk with golden threads which is more typical to Damascus of the 18th century than to the period of the beginnings of Christianity. There is no altar of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus any more. It was semicircular with a low edge—the legacy of pagan altars. Now only debris remains of it.
It is difficult to predict how much of the scientists’ time and strength it will take to calculate all damage; however, in the view of a layman, the church cannot be restored. The main cross fell from the dome, wall paintings were destroyed, shot down and slashed by debris, while the walls themselves were either destroyed or disfigured by holes of shells. At the same time, the militants are continuing to shoot down the remaining church walls with mortar.
According to the report of the soldiers to the ITAR-TASS correspondent, they managed to rescue one icon, though it was damaged by debris as well. It is currently at the house of one Syrian serviceman, and the government bodies are aware of it. But which icon it is, the soldiers could not explain.
In the ancient town of Ma'loula the Syrian army is continuing its clean-up operation against terrorists who have hidden in mountain gorges and are unwilling to leave the town. The military feel certain that the operation will prove successful; however, they say they do not rule out that the militants can out of revenge shoot down not only the Convent of St Thecla, Equal-to-the-Apostles, but also five other Churches of the town whose residents were the last in the world to speak Aramaic. It is possible that some of them will return to their homes, but the former Ma'loula has been lost to mankind forever.