Monasticism in Palestine and Syria grew out of an environment unique in the eastern Mediterranean. In contrast to Egyptian monasticism, Palestinian monasticism had from the start a cosmopolitan character: first, because the relatively small areas of desert meant that monks were seldom far from urban settlement, and second, because of the close links between monks and the holy places of Jerusalem. The most important founding figures were Hilarion, a disciple of St. Anthony of Egypt, who lived an anchoritic life near Gaza (c. 307-330), and his contemporary Chariton, who is credited with the creation of the lauritic system in the Judaean desert.
By the later fourth century, convents for men and women had been founded in and around Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and clear links were established between pilgrimage and monasticism. The holy places attracted those with monastic vocations from all over the Christian world, and Anatolian influences can be seen in the development of a Basilian pattern in which social welfare played an important role. The lauritic system (from Gk. laura, “path”), in which small hermitages were founded in remote desert or mountain wildernesses, flourished from the early fifth century to the Persian and Arab invasions (614, 634). The most influential laura was founded in the Kidron Valley southeast of Bethlehem in 483 by Sabas, who created a federation of monasteries based on his own system of progression in monastic life from coenobium (communal monastery) to laura. His Great Laura (Mar Sabas) survived the seventh-century Arab conquests, though many desert monasteries were depopulated, and monastic martyrdoms of this period fostered a new identity among the survivors. The unsurpassed reputation of Mar Sabas for theological orthodoxy, cemented during the theological crises of the fifth and sixth centuries, was further enhanced by the presence of monks such as John of Damascus, Stephen the Sabaite, and Theodore Abû Qurrah. Theodore marks a transition from a Greek to an Arabic literary culture in Palestinian monasticism. However, in the eleventh century it is still possible to see, in the lives of Greek-speaking monks such as Lazaros of the Gelasian Mountain, the continuity of early Byzantine traditions.
Pilgrimage accounts from the early twelfth century indicate that with the exception of Mar Sabas and the sixth-century foundation of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, few Palestinian monasteries of the Byzantine period survived until the First Crusade (1096-1099). Nevertheless, there were functioning Greek monasteries on Mount Carmel and the Black Mountain, and in the cities of Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) and Jerusalem. The twelfth century saw the reinvigoration of the indigenous monastic life of Outremer. After a brief expulsion, the Greek monks in Jerusalem were restored and played a liturgical role at the Holy Sepulchre; the same probably happened at Bethlehem. Pilgrimage evidence attests to the rebuilding of monasteries in the Judaean desert: notably St. Euthymios and St. George Choziba between Jerusalem and Jericho, St. Theodosios near Bethlehem, and St. John Prodromos and St. Mary Kalamon by the Jordan. Because the desert monasteries lay in exposed positions, such rebuilding, much of which can be attributed to the patronage of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, took the form of fortified walls and towers.
The Cretan monastic pilgrim John Phokas, visiting the Holy Land in 1185, found signs of the physical renewal of Greek Orthodox monasticism throughout the Judaean desert and by the Jordan, where he remarked on the agricultural enterprise of the monasteries. Phokas’s pilgrimage was in itself a demonstration of the revival of monastic traditions: thus he sought spiritual guidance from anchorites whom he encountered in the Holy Land in the same way that John Moschos, for example, had done in the seventh century. One of Phokas’s examples, a Georgian monk living in the ruins of the monastery of St. Gerasimos by the Jordan, self-consciously evokes the biography of Gerasimos himself. Traditional anchoritic practices such as stylitism were revived; for example, Gabriel, a monk of Mar Sabas, occupied a column in the Judaean desert in imitation of Simeon the Stylite.
The cultural and literary output of Orthodox monasteries under Frankish rule is impressive. Surviving manuscripts from Jerusalem, Mar Sabas, and other desert monasteries, as well as from Antioch, indicate the continuity of Orthodox theological and liturgical traditions through the copying of the Greek fathers of the church, but there are also manuscripts revealing interests in history and philosophy. Another significant genre was anti-Latin polemic. That indigenous monasticism maintained traditional cultural identities is also clear from the contribution of indigenous monks to artistic works produced in Outremer, which include the conciliar mosaics of Bethlehem (1160s), wall painting at Abu Ghosh (ca.1170) and St. Theoktistos (1180s), and a continuous output of manuscript illumination and icon painting throughout the period.
Orthodox monasteries played a role in the religious life of Outremer outside their own walls. Because, with only a few anomalous exceptions, the Orthodox Church in Outremer did not have its own bishops, the monasteries provided spiritual leadership for Orthodox populations. But the abbot of Mount Sinai was also recognized by the Latins as part of the church hierarchy, as archbishop of Petra, while the abbot of Mar Sabas was a confrater of the Hospital of St. John and coadjutor bishop with responsibility for the Orthodox in Gaza and Eleutheropolis (Beth Gibelin). Orthodox monasteries were permitted to retain and add to their land holdings: Mount Sinai, for example, owned extensive lands in Cyprus. Although there are very few examples of Western pilgrims showing an interest in the Orthodox desert monasteries, many were aware of Mar Sabas, if only because the monks had a guesthouse in Jerusalem, and participated in the Eastern liturgy at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Franks, both pilgrims and residents in Outremer, considered Mount Sinai an important shrine.
Less is known of the non-Chalcedonian monasteries under Frankish rule. The Armenian monastery of St. James in Jerusalem, a fourth-century foundation, continued to flourish, and there was also an Armenian house on the Black Mountain. Some Western pilgrims were impressed by the piety of Armenian monks, and the pro-union patriarch Nerses of Lampron was influenced by Benedictine examples. The Syrian Orthodox (Jacobites) had two monasteries in Jerusalem, the sixth/seventh century foundation of St. Mark, and a later house dedicated to Mary Magdalene. The latter found a royal patron in Melisende, queen of Jerusalem, who defended the monks’ property against Frankish claims in the 1130s. Most of the Syrian Orthodox monasteries, however, lay in the territory of Edessa, whose counts were less respectful: Count Joscelin II sacked the monastery of Bar Sauma in 1148 and held the saint’s relics for ransom. There was also at least one Syrian Orthodox monastery in Antioch, but many lay in Muslim territories, particularly after 1144. The Georgians of the monastery of the Holy Cross, near Jerusalem, obtained privileges from Saladin, and became influential in the thirteenth century under Ayyûbid rule. The Mamlûk sultan Baybars turned the monastery into a mosque because of Georgian support for the Mongols, but in 1305 it was returned to the monks. There were also Coptic and Ethiopian monasteries in Jerusalem, which feature fleetingly in Western sources.
Despite attacks on the Greek monasteries of Mount Tabor (1183) and St. Euthymios (1187), the Ayyûbid conquest of 1187 and the reimposition of Muslim rule over most of the territory in which monasteries were located does not seem to have disrupted the continuity of indigenous monasticism. There are indications that the Mamlûk occupation in the second half of the thirteenth century directly threatened Mar Sabas’s property and undermined the stability of the local Orthodox population of Palestine; however, it was also in the Mamlûk period that the Sabaite typikon (liturgical calendar) enjoyed its greatest influence over liturgical developments in the Orthodox world as a whole. Such influences, indeed, can be seen as early as the 1230s, when St. Savas of Serbia founded monasteries in the Balkans based on the architectural model of Mar Sabas.
Western monastic traditions in Palestine date back to the foundations of Jerome, Rufinus, and Melania the Elder in Bethlehem and Jerusalem in the late fourth century. With the development of monasticism in the West, however, the Latin presence in Palestine diminished. When Latin monks began to establish themselves in the Holy Land in the ninth century, as a result of Charlemagne’s influence, they imported new theological traditions. Their use of the word filioque in the Creed (asserting the descent of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son coequally rather than through the Father) led to an Orthodox attempt to expel them from the Christmas liturgy in Bethlehem in 807. The Rule of St. Benedict was observed in Jerusalem in the last quarter of the eleventh century at the Amalfitan foundations of St. Mary Latin and St. Mary the Less in Jerusalem, and also, according to a disputed tradition, at Our Lady of Jehosaphat, founded over the tomb of the Blessed Virgin in the Kidron Valley immediately to the east of Jerusalem.
The First Crusade (1096-1099) brought in its wake a host of new Western foundations. James of Vitry memorably evoked a “garden of delights” abounding in monasteries and hermitages served by monks, nuns, and hermits “drawn by the sweet odor of the holy places” from all over Christendom [Jacques de Vitry, “Historia Orientalis” in Gesta Dei per Francos, ed. Jacques Bongars, 2 vols. in 1 (Hannover: Typis Weche- lianis, apud heredes Ioan. Aubrii, 1611), 2:1074-1075]. Although we know only anecdotal details, there must have been considerable immigration of monks, nuns, and canons to Outremer from the West in the early years of the Frankish settlement. Even allowing for James’s rhetoric, the number of regular clergy needed to serve the shrines must have been impressive. Latin monasteries were of three basic types: communities of canons serving the major shrines, Benedictine monasteries, some of which also served shrines, and foundations by the new orders. In common with the usual Western tradition, cathedrals throughout Outremer were staffed by Augustinian canons. The conversion of Orthodox churches and mosques at important shrines also resulted in new houses of Augustinian canons at Mount Zion and at the Temple of the Lord (Lat. Templum Domini) in Jerusalem. At Mount Zion and on the Mount of Olives, where Augustinian canons were also installed, the Orthodox communities had died out.
Royal and noble patronage of Benedictine monks and nuns was significant. The preexisting Benedictine monasteries were supplemented by the new convent of St. Anne, built by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem on the supposed site of the house of Joachim and Anne (the parents of the Virgin Mary), soon after 1100. Baldwin endowed St. Anne’s with considerable commercial property in Jerusalem when he installed his second wife in its cloister in 1104-1105. According to the chronicler William of Tyre, Melisende founded the convent of Mary and Martha in Bethany for her sister Yveta, while the daughter of Count Joscelin I of Edessa became abbess of St. Mary the Great, another Benedictine convent in Jerusalem. Foundations associated with a notable shrine were particularly well endowed. The surviving cartularies of the canons of the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Zion, and of the monks of Our Lady of Jehosaphat, reveal wide-ranging properties throughout Outremer. The canons of the Holy Sepulchre were significant colonists of new Frankish agricultural settlements to the north of Jerusalem. The endowment settled on the Benedictine abbey of Mount Tabor in Galilee by Tancred in 1099-1100 consisted of lands that had once belonged to the Orthodox monastery on the site; already by 1103 this amounted to forty- seven properties. Jehosaphat was also generously endowed by the lords of Tiberias. Such great monasteries also attracted endowments in Cyprus and throughout the West. In many cases it was the capacity to attract such properties that made the difference between survival and extinction after the fall of the first kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187.
The new monastic orders of the West had surprisingly little impact in Outremer. Two Premonstratensian houses, SS. Joseph and Habakkuk at Ramla and St. Samuel at Montjoie, were founded in the twelfth century, but they have left little trace of their activities. Probably because Bernard of Clair- vaux discouraged his order’s involvement in settling the Holy Land, the first Cistercian house, Belmont in the county of Tripoli, was not founded until after his death, in 1157. Like the next Cistercian house, Salvatio (1161), this was a daughter house of the abbey of Morimond, whose abbot had as early as the 1120s expressed an interest in such a project. The founder of both houses may have been Hodierna, the regent of Tripoli, whose sister Melisende was part of St. Bernard’s wide circle of correspondents. No other Cistercian presence is known in Outremer before 1209, when the patriarch of Antioch, Peter of Ivrea, who was a Cistercian himself, absorbed Jubin, a Benedictine monastery on the Black Mountain, into the order. Another thirteenth-century Cistercian foundation, St. Sergius in Gibelet, was a refoundation of a destitute Orthodox house.
It may seem remarkable that during the period of the Cistercian Order’s greatest expansion throughout the West, it made so little headway in Outremer. One reason for this was undoubtedly that the kind of territory Cistercians preferred to settle was scarce after 1187, when most of the hinterland of the kingdom of Jerusalem was lost. As attacks on Orthodox monasteries show, remote monasteries could come under threat from Muslim raids. Nevertheless, it is also significant that no Carthusian house was founded in Outremer. It may be that the character of Latin monasticism in Outremer was simply of a more traditional kind, which privileged service to shrines and holy places rather than the settlement in spiritually uncharged wildernesses and marginal lands so typical of the monastic reform movement in the twelfth-century West. Even so, there is plenty of evidence of reforming tendencies, for example, in Jubin and another Black Mountain house, Machanath, in the 1120s, and in the attempt by Elias, abbot of Palmaria, to enforce Cistercian customs on his monks in the 1130s or 1140s.
Such tendencies appear to have stemmed from a strong eremitical presence in Jerusalem, Galilee, and the Black Mountain. The influence of indigenous monastic traditions, which were also strong near Jerusalem and on the Black Mountain, may be detected in the fluidity between the states of cenobitic and eremitical monasticism described by a contemporary observer, Gerard of Nazareth, but also in the Frankish settlement of earlier Orthodox monastic sites such as Chariton’s monastery of the Douka (Mount Quarantène near Jericho), or St. Elisha on Mount Carmel. The latter was probably a place of refuge for hermits, Frankish and indigenous, fleeing Saladin’s armies in 1187.
After 1187, Latin monasticism in Outremer became a largely urban phenomenon. The Jerusalem communities mostly withdrew to Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel), where they remained until 1291. Rural monasteries without other possessions, such as Palmaria, were abandoned and disappear from the records. The Benedictine abbey of St. Paul in Antioch remained in place until 1268, when the fall of the city forced the community to flee to Cyprus, along with the monks of Jubin.
The contribution of monasticism to the government of the Latin Church in Outremer was modest. Only three of the twelve patriarchs before 1220 were monks, and only one of those, Aimery II (1197-1202), had professed in Outremer. Few of the other prelates in Outremer were monks. If this is surprising, given the increasing tendency toward monastic bishops in the West in the twelfth century, it may simply be an indication of the special characteristics and requirements of the church in a frontier territory, where bishops had to be men of action as well as contemplation.