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According to another local legend, a hermit carried this icon from Jerusalem and, when attacked by wild animals and bandits on the road, prayed for his safety while gripping the icon in his arms. The hermit invoked the name of the Virgin Mary and was saved from the perils of his journey.

Thousands of Christian and Muslim pilgrims visit the monastery weekly; all seek the intercession of Our Lady.

“We receive more than a thousand pilgrims every day,” says Sister Christina, one of the 39 sisters and eight novices who live in the monastery. “We also offer lodging for those who wish to sleep in the calm of our monastery.”

In spite of centuries of cultural and theological conflicts and differences among Christians and Muslims, all believers are welcome at Syrias religious shrines.

“Here in Syria,” Patriarch Ignatius IV says thoughtfully, “Christians and Muslims live in perfect harmony.… And when we need to, we unite.

“We feel that we live in a region,” the Patriarch concludes, “that has always been a cross point, where civilizations meet.”

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Armineh Johannes, a Paris-based photojournalist, frequently contributes to this publication.

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Tags: Syria Christian-Muslim relations Orthodox Church of Greece Orthodox Church of Greece Antiochene church