According to tradition, monasticism began in Tur Abdin with the arrival of Saint Eugene (Mor Augen locally) in the fourth century CE. Legend says that Saint Eugene was a pearl diver from the Egyptian Red Sea Coast who traveled to the Tur Abdin region, bringing with him many disciples and Egypt’s tradition of desert monasticism. He died in the area in 363 CE. Over time, his reputation grew throughout the region until he was widely regarded as one of the most significant figures in the history of the local monastic scene. The monastery named after him, also known as Deyr Marog to locals, was built high up on the southern slopes of Mount Izla, allowing stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Upon visiting the site in 1890, traveler Gertrude Bell declared that it was “the most striking monastery” in the region.
For centuries, visitors to the monastery have had to undertake a long and winding climb up stone steps built into a cliff before arriving. Like many monasteries in the region, the most impressive aspect of the monastery is its location; the building itself is small, though the austere Church of St. Mary within its walls give some evidence of what the earliest monasticism in the region must have looked like. Above the monastery complex, hermit caves are visible.
Abandoned for decades, the monastery was recently reopened by a monk who came from Sweden to revive the community; over the past few years, it has once again been receiving visitors and bustling with Christian refugees from surrounding areas.