Saidnaya is a city located in the mountains, 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level, 27 km (17 mi) north of the city of Damascus in Syria. It is the home of a Greek Orthodox monastery traditionally held to have been founded by Byzantine emperor Justinian I, and where a renowned icon of the Virgin Mary is revered by both Christians and Muslims to this day. The town is noted for the large number of (Western Neo-) Aramaic speakers, along with nearby Maaloula and few smaller towns nearby such as Maarat Saidnaya. According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Saidnaya had a population of 25,194 in the 2004 census.
Local tradition holds that Saydnaya means ‘Halting-place of the gazelle’. The place-name has also been thought to mean Our Lady the New, from the Greek nea, ‘new’, and the Arabic sayyida, ‘lady’. However, the word sayd is generally related to hunting, and naya is a typical place-suffix in Syriac; therefore, Saydnaya probably means simply a hunting-place. Indeed, in ancient times, a temple of Saydoun, the Phoenician god of the hunt, stood in this once densely forested region. Under later Christian and Arabic influence, perhaps the name may have been thought to mean the ‘place of the Lady’.
Long a center of Christian pilgrimage, pilgrims from all over the world seek Saidnaya for renewal of faith and for healing. Renowned for its faithfulness to Christianity, tradition holds that the Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya was constructed by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in 547 AD, after he had two visions of Mary, one that indicated where to build the church and the other outlining its design.Justinian dedicated the finished project to the feast of Mary’s Nativity, and annually thereafter on September 8, and through to the present day, both Muslim and Christian pilgrims have come to commemorate the feast day of Our Lady of Saidnaya. Also located in the convent of Saidnaya is an icon of the Holy Mother and Child known as the Shaghurah and reputed to have been painted by Luke the Evangelist which is believed to protect its owners from harm in times of danger.
Due in no small measure to its protected mountainous location, Saidnaya enjoyed religious peace throughout its history, even during times of war, such as during the Crusades. Local Muslims visit the convent sanctuary on the day of Friday prayers and share in the legends regarding this holy place. Christians and Muslims from the region and from far away places seek the shrine for healing.Numerous accounts of miraculous healings have been reported, some which are documented in writing by those who experienced them throughout history.
Saidnaya has about more than 40 chapels and monasteries and the most famous one is the convent of the Virgin Mary. Many other Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Syriac Catholic and Syriac Orthodox churches and monasteries have been built in Saidnaya throughout history. On top of the highest mountain in Saidnaya is the Cherubim Monastery at 2,000 metres (6,561.68 feet) above sea level, overlooking Damascus’ fertile plains and Lebanon’s mountains. There is also the Monastery of Mar Thomas and a few massive monasteries built more recently such as St. Thomas Creek Catholic Monastery, St. Estphariuos Orthodox Monastery, and St. Ephram Syriac Monastery. A bronze statue of Jesus Christ with 33.10 m high, was installed on 14 October 2013 financed by both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government, The statue is near the Monastery of the Cherubim, perched above the historic pilgrimage route from Constantinople to Jerusalem.
The weather is cold and snowy in winter, while it is warm and has fresh air in summer. Surviving vestiges of caves, grottos and ancient places in and around Saydnaya indicate that it was inhabited by different civilizations from the early Stone Age, with artifacts from Aramaic, Greek, Syriac, Roman, and Arab times.