Ancient Christian Monastery in Iraq Has Survived Centuries of Violence, But Christians Still Feel Threat of ISIS

In recent years, Iraq has suffered terrible violence, often inflamed by religious differences. But in a country where worship can come at a heavy cost, CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata discovered an unlikely oasis hidden in the mountains: an ancient Christian monastery.

The Rabban Hormizd Monastery, one of the oldest of its kind in the world, was founded almost 1,400 years ago. Carved into and out of the very rock on which it rests, the temple overlooks the vast plains of northern Iraq.

Its namesake, Rabban Hormizd, traveled from Persia. He lived as a hermit for almost 30 years, living an austere life of isolation in the network of caves that push deep into the mountainside. Over time, more monks made the pilgrimage, settling in its labyrinth.

“Christians are an important part of the community here in Iraqi Kurdistan,” said 21-year-old Miriam Salih, who traveled to the monastery with other Iraqi history students. “They’ve been here for thousands of years.”

Over the centuries, the monastery has been more than a house of worship. It’s been a sanctuary, a safe place in a region that has had more than its fair share of upheaval. The Mongols, the Kurds, the Ottomans and the Turks all overran the territory at one point or another, yet it somehow survived.

But the biggest threat came in modern times. When ISIS rampaged throughout the region in 2014, the Islamic extremists targeted anything to do with Christianity. Churches that stood for centuries were ruined in a matter of seconds.

When ISIS overran nearby Mosul, tens of thousands of terrified Christians fled, escaping to other Christian towns in the region. At one point, the terrorist group was just a 10-minute drive away from the Christian town of Alqosh that sits at the base of the mountain. They never made it any closer, but the threat is still felt today.

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SOURCE: CBS News