The desert is undoubtedly one of those places that brings solitude and calm to those seeking it, and when you first catch a glimpse of the magical St. George’s Monastery in the Judean desert, you can’t imagine a better place for being at peace with yourself.
This amazing cliff-hanging monastery, one of the world’s oldest and definitely one of the most inspiring churches in the Holy Land, is a must-see for the desert / archeological fans of you out there!
St. George’s Monastery was originally started in the fourth century by a few monks who were looking to immerse themselves in the lifestyles and desert stories of John the Baptist and Jesus. The monks, and perhaps most notably the hermit John of Thebes, eventually settled on the spot around a cave where it is believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens.
The monastery was destroyed by the Persians and then rebuilt by the Crusaders before falling derelict. It wasn’t until 1878 when a Greek monk, Kalinikos, came to live here that the monastery started to look like its former glorious and cliff-hugging self. Kalinikos finished his renovations in 1901.
Today there are still a few Greek Orthodox monks who inhabit the monastery, and who are typically welcoming of visitors (but do take into consideration this is a church and a place of worship – so no short shorts!). Hence the Greek flag you’ll probably see flying in the monastery grounds.
A couple of highlights to watch out for, apart from the amazing Biblical-like scenery surrounding the monastery and the Wadi Kelt valley: the upper part of the monastery hosts the cave that Elijah the Prophet sought shelter in, while in the lower part of the monastery, a tomb of a Romanian monk that lived there in the 1960s still holds his well-preserved body.
St. George’s Monastery is named after the most famous monk who lived there – Gorgias of Coziba.
St George’s Monastery can be reached via the main Jerusalem – Dead Sea highway (Road 1). Take a left at Mitzpeh Jericho (or a right if you’re coming from Jericho) and follow the brown signs for Wadi Kelt. You can hike the Wadi all the way to the monastery but it will take a few hours, so take plenty of water – you’re in the desert after all!
Otherwise you can reach the entrance gate, but you’ll still have to walk for around 15 minutes down a windy path. Not so easy for seniors or people with disabilities, but there are usually plenty of locals offering their donkeys for the ride (at a cost of course).
The monastery is free to enter but does close in the evening/overnight.
Yes, St. George’s Monastery is located in the Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank. However, we would recommend you don’t travel solo, just to be on the safer side of safe.
Check out the clip below for a taste of the walk to St George’s Monastery…