The head of the Chaldean Church and Archbishop of Baghdad, Patriarch Louis Sako has described the destruction by jihadists of the ancient monastery of St Elijah near the city of Mosul as an attempt to wipe out the history and heritage of Christianity in Iraq.
New satellite images confirmed that St Elijah’s monastery which dated back to the 6th century has been razed to the ground.
Patriarch Sako was asked by Susy Hodges of Vatican Radio for his reaction to the news. St Elijah’s monastery belonged to the Chaldean Church and was one of Iraq’s most ancient Christian monasteries and Patriarch Sako described its destruction as “a disaster.”
He said that through this action against ancient Christian sites, the jihadists are seeking to “cancel the memory” of the Church’s history and heritage in Iraq.
The Chaldean Patriarch noted that the nearby city of Mosul had been in the past a “totally Christian city” and as a result it contained many historic monasteries and churches dating back to the early centuries after Christ.
Archbishop Sako said he feared that all these ancient buildings could be destroyed in the same way in the future. St Elijah’s monastery was named after the monk of the same name who built it in the 6th century. It had been a holy site for Iraqi Christians for centuries. In 1743, its monks were given an ultimatum by Persian forces to convert to Islam.
They refused and as many as 150 were massacred whilst the monastery building sustained heavy damage. Before its destruction by the IS militants, the monastery had 26 distinctive rooms including a sanctuary and chapel, although its roof was largely missing.
Since taking control of large areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014, the IS group has damaged or destroyed a large number of monasteries, churches and mosques as well as ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra.