Monastery of St Gerasimus – the Man and his Lion

A place of hospitality and refreshment for pilgrims, with fruit trees, flowers and birdsong, the gold-domed monastery offers after a trip through the barren Judaean wilderness.

The monastery was built where Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus took shelter in a cave while fleeing from Herod the Great.

Monastery of St Gerasimus
Monastery of St Gerasimus

The Monastery of St Gerasimus is one of the earliest of the almost 100 monasteries in the Judaean desert, and is named in honor of a pioneering monk St Gerasimus, who is depicted with a pet lion. Gerasimus found a lion wandering in the desert, suffering from a thorn embedded in his paw. The saint gently removed the thorn and tended to the wound. The lion thereafter devoted himself to Gerasimus, serving him and the monastery and retrieving the monastery’s donkey when it was stolen by thieves. When Gerasimus died in 475, the lion lay on his grave and died of grief.

Monastery of St Gerasimus
Monastery of St Gerasimus

Gerasimus came from a wealthy family in Lycia, in present-day Turkey. Already a monk when he came to what-was-then-called Palestine, he followed the monastic leader Euthymius into the desert and became renowned for his piety and asceticism. Gerasimus created a new way for monastic life. Normally, desert monks lived either in caves or in monasteries. Gerasimus was the first to combine the solitude of a wilderness hermit with the communal aspect of a monastery by bringing hermits together on Saturdays and Sundays for worship and fellowship.

The monastery functioned in the form of a horseshoe — with a cluster of hermits’ caves located around a community and worship center. The hermits spent weekdays alone in their caves, occupied in prayer and making ropes and baskets. They went to the center for Saturdays and Sundays, taking their handiwork and partaking in Divine Liturgy and communal activities.

Monastery of St Gerasimus
Monastery of St Gerasimus

The monastic rule was strict. During the week the hermit monks survived on dry bread, dates and water. At the weekends they ate cooked food and drank wine. Their only personal belongings were a rush mat and a drinking bowl.

Hermits’ caves can still be seen in the steep cliffs a kilometer east of the monastery and in the adjacent mountains.

The monastery was founded in the fifth century, destroyed in 614, rebuilt by the Crusaders, abandoned after the Crusader period, restored in the 12th century, rebuilt in 1588, destroyed around 1734 and finally re-established in 1885.

Monastery of St Gerasimus. Cabinets in crypts store the bones of monks killed during the Persian invasion of 614.
Monastery of St Gerasimus. Cabinets in crypts store the bones of monks killed during the Persian invasion of 614.

Cabinets in crypts holds the bones of monks killed during the Persian invasion of 614.


  • Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem
  • Tel.: 972-2-994-3038
  • Open: 8am-6pm daily

Please leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.