The Convent of Our Lady of Seidnaya (also spelled Saidnaya or Sayidnaya) is a major pilgrimage destination 20 miles north of Damascus in Syria. Founded in the 6th century, the convent is famed for its miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary.
History of Seidnaya
The monastery of Seidnaya was founded in 547 AD. According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to Emperor Justinian first as a beautiful gazelle and then as an icon; she then asked him to found the monastery in her honor, even providing the plan of the building.
The convent's revered icon of the Theotokos was procured under equally miraculous circumstances in the 8th century. The story begins with a monk named Theodore, who stayed over at the Sedinaya convent on his way to the Holy Land. The abbess, Marina, asked him to buy an icon of the Holy Virgin for the convent while he was there. Theodore did so (after being reminded by a mysterious voice) and his return journey was marked by many miraculous escapes from danger.
Theodore was so taken by the icon and its miraculous powers that he became tempted to keep it for himself. He tried to bypass Seidnaya and sail for Egypt, but a great storm arose and the ship nearly sank. Back on shore, he went to the convent but told Marina he had been unable to buy an icon and planned again to keep it for himself. But as he tried to leave the monastery, an invisible wall blocked him and he could not pass. He finally handed over the icon to Marina and confessed his intentions.
Due to the miraculous vision of Justinian and the miraculous icon of the Virgin, the Chapel of the Virgin at Seidnaya became an important place of pilgrimage in Byzantine times, surpassed only by Jerusalem. The Crusaders knew the church as "Notre Dame de Sardeneye."
What to See at Seidnaya
A steep climb on foot is the only way up to the monastery. There are about 50 nuns in the convent, presided over by an abbess.
You are highly unlikely to be the only visitor to Seidnaya, as the convent is perhaps the most popular Christian pilgrimage destination in Syria. It not only draws Christians from all over Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, but it also draws crowds of Muslims who come, mostly on Fridays, to venerate Mary.
After making your way through a maze of passages to the back of the convent, you finally reach the Chapel of the Virgin, where you must remove your shoes. The walls are covered with beautiful icons, but the focus is the miraculous icon of the Virgin brought by the monk Theodore.
Said to have been painted from life by St. Luke the Evangelist and to possess healing powers, it is known in Syriac as the Chaghoura ("The Illustrious, Celebrated, or Renowned"). The entrance to the shrine is littered with crutches, bandages, and other ex-votos thanking Mary for answered prayers, as well as written accounts of healings received by pilgrims to Seidnaya.
There is a bowl of anointing oil at the base of the icon. Pilgrims cross themselves upon entry to the chapel, kiss the painting, cross themselves again and then have one of the nuns anoint them with some of the oil. The nun also provides oil-dipped pieces of cotton for pilgrims to take home to those who could not make the journey themselves.
Once respects are paid, visitors cross themselves and leave. If you are not a pilgrim, you need not participate in these rituals; you must only remove your shoes and remain silent.
Another chapel at the convent is dedicated to St. Peter (Mar Boutros) and is converted from an ancient tomb.
Festivals and Events
The main festival of Seidnaya is the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8, which draws many pilgrims. The town is flooded with Christians and Muslims alike who gather on the hills and celebrate into the night, dotting the countryside with campfires.
Getting to Sayidnaya is an easy minibus ride from Damascus that takes a little over an hour. The bus stops in the center of town, from which you can climb the hillside to the Convent. The entrance is through a steep set of stairs (an elevator is available) that lead into the courtyard of the convent.
Quick Facts on Seidnaya
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||33.870416° N, 36.452637° E|
|Phone:||011- 963-11-595-0547 or 011- 963-11-595-2399|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Seidnaya|
- "Yabroud, Maaloula, & Seidnaya" - Syria Gate (2006)
- "Holy Patriarchal Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya, Syria" - Saidnaya.com
- "Sayidnaya: Christians, Muslims and Mary" - travel journal by HobWahid at iExplore (dated 11/4/05)
- Photos of Seidnaya - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Seidnaya, Syria
Below is a location map and aerial view of Seidnaya. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.