The rocky canyon of Wadi Qelt is often associated with the “valley of the shadow of death” from Psalm 23, and in the blistering heat of summer the moniker seems to suit just fine. In this isolated, barren and rocky spot a 4th-century monastery clings to the rockwalls. The starkly beautiful site transports visitors to the 4th century when the earliest desert-dwelling monks sought lives of faithful seclusion. Originally built around a cave where tradition holds that Elijah lived while being fed by ravens, the monastery grew in the 5th century under Greek Orthodox control when its most famous monk and namesake Gorgias of Koziba inhabited the place.
Additions to the monastery continued until the Persian invasion in 614, when the structure was destroyed and the fourteen monks slaughtered. The ruins of this secluded refuge lay in silence for almost 500 years until restoration attempts were made by bands of Crusaders in the 12th century. They were expelled shortly after, and once again the monastery waited in disrepair until the 19th century when sincere restoration efforts were began by the Greek monk, Kalinikos.
Today, the monastery is unique in its acceptance of female pilgrims and visitors, a precedent set through the tradition of a Byzantine noblewoman on a monastic tour who claimed that the mother of God had directed her there for healing from her incurable illness. Though off the beaten path, the journey to this secluded bastion of desert monastic tradition is well worth the effort. The monastery is located along the historic road from Jericho to Jerusalem, which was located above the valley on the south side. This road is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, including in the story of the Good Samaritan.