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Seydnaya

To  begin with there is the same plateau landscape like that around Maaloula. The road follows, at some distance, the rocky mountains of the Qalamoun range. Gradually the spares cornlands give way to vineyards and olive groves. Halboun, near Seidnaya, has been famous since ancient times for the quality of its wines (they are even given a favorable mention in the Bible).

The town of Seidnaya is spread out over a hillside. While lacking the exceptional appeal of Maaloula it is however a fine prospect - though somewhat spoiled by a rash of concrete sheds and other erections… The squareish houses, with high airy arcaded fronts, rise like giant steps up the rocky hill, which is crowned by an imposing building rather like a fortress, despite its colonnade galleries and the little blue domes indicating the presence of a Byzantine church.

Seidnaya has indeed grown up around an important convent which has been famous throughout the Christian East, ever since its foundation in 547. Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin (Seydnâtâ, Seydâ Nâyâ, means "Our Lady, Notre Dame" in Syriac), it contains one of the four paintings of the Virgin attributed to Saint Luke the Evangelist. This is called in Syriac, Chahoura or Chagoura (Vhahira in Arabic): the Illustrious, the Celebrated, the Most Famous, the Best Known.

There are still some fifty sisters living in the convent; they belong to the Orthodox rite and come under the Patriarch of Antioch who has his headquarters in Damascus.

Saint Luke’s painting

Tourists are admitted to the chapel containing the painting of the Virgin attributed to Saint Luke. A forgotten verse from the Book of Exodus (Chap. 3, v.5), over the entrance, recalls a commandment lost to the Catholic Church but still current in Islam: "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground". The walls of a tiny, low-ceiling room, lit only by candles, are covered with very old icons. Unfortunately only the silver frames surrounding the paintings can be seen - the paint itself is so dirty that it is impossible to make out the pictures. The painting by Saint Luke is half-hidden in a kind of tabernacle. The main pilgrimage to Seidnaya takes places on the 8th of September. Visitors can buy lace and embroidery made here by the Community.

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