The monastic practice of Lenten retreats in the desert is attested in ancient Palestine by the early fifth century. However, within the large archaeological corpus of desert monasticism, sites that can be positively identified as Lenten hermitages were previously unattested. The hermitage discovered during the recent survey of the Dead Sea Escarpment is situated in a rock shelter in a narrow natural ledge, part of the high cliff towering the western shore of the Dead Sea. The harsh, arid environment and lack of perennial water sources nearby make the site a suitable abode mainly during the spring season. The walls of the shelter are covered by two layers of plaster bearing the remains of two different decorative programs, adorning the cell with red paintings and repetitive round medallions and blind arcades. Both phases of decoration exhibit initial lining, probably in preparation for relatively long texts. The sophisticated decoration of this isolated hermitage, which was not meant to impress visitors but rather to stimulate spiritual work in solitude far from the distractions of the outside world, provides an exceptional opportunity to discuss the interaction between the landscape, the image, and the written word in the ascetic practices of Palestinian monasticism.
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- Byzantine monasticism
- Christian art
- Holy Land
- desert studies