Cremisan Monastery: 7th Century Christian Presence in Palestine
Just five kilometers from Bethlehem, on a hill sitting 850 meters above sea level, the remains of a 7th century Byzantine Monastery, known as the Cremisan Monastery, was found by Father Antonio Belloni, an Italian missionary, and still remains in use until today.
The Cremisan Monastery is located along the Cremisan Valley. It belongs to the Salesian priests who came from Italy at the end of the 19th century. They bought the land, and in 1882, the monastery was built in the middle of the beautiful landscape.
The Valley is considered to be one of the only remaining green area in the Bethlehem district. It overlooks Bethlehem and Beit Jala, and it has wide ranges of agricultural land and magnificent terraced grounds. Currently the monastery has only six monks. Additionally, they have a theological library and a cultural center for youth.
Families in the Bethlehem area love where the monastery is located, and they are often seen enjoying picnics and hikes on the wooded grounds. Connected by a long, winding road out of the town of Beit Jala, it is set in a terraced landscape scattered with olive trees and offers a panoramic view of the ancient houses of Beit Jala’s Old City. Many newlyweds have their outdoor wedding ceremonies on the property as well.
The monastery also contains the only winery in Palestine, the Cremisan Cellars. It was established in 1885 by the same Italian missionary who found the monastery. The winery specializes in producing various types of red and white wine, and only local Palestinian grapes are used in the process.
They hold a wine festival every year in order to invite and introduce locals and internationals to the fine wine they produce. This September was the third Cremisan Wine Festival, which was held in the Valley. People who joined the events were able to taste the best wines accompanied by cheese and good music. They were able to meet new people and enjoy the beautiful landscape and atmosphere.
The upsetting news is that it may be the last festival, as the Israeli separation wall could take the land that belongs to the monastery.
“Imagine working hard for years and saving money to purchase a piece of land to secure your future and the future of your children, only for an occupying army to arrive in this land and confiscate it by force for the use of the “empire”. In Palestine, this is not imagination. This is reality under occupation.” Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac: The Bible and the Land – 6 Land Confiscation
The Cremisan Valley is one of the most vulnerable territories by the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The Valley is situated between the Israeli settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo, which were constructed on land belonging to people from Beit Jala. In 2006, the Israeli military authorities announced an order for the construction of a separation barrier in the area. In June 2015, after 9 long years of prayers and legal battles, the monastery and the 58 Palestinian landowners were shocked to learn that the Israeli High Court approved construction of the barrier. The Cremisan Monastery would be cut off from Beit Jala and Bethlehem and fall behind the wall, becoming unreachable to the community around it. This would also result in the loss of one of the only remaining green areas in the district.
Let’s keep this location of the world in our prayers. Pray for heaven’s justice to be realized, so the monastery and the Christian Palestinians do not lose a presence that dates back to the 7th century! Even more so, let us pray for the continued perseverance of those effected by these kinds of decisions by the Israeli government.
Amira is the Communications Coordinator of Bethlehem Bible College. She is a committed Palestinian Christian who has a passion for writing about the intersection of faith and seeking justice for her fellow countrymen. To read more of her writings sign up for Bethlehem Bible College’s monthly newsletter.