Today is the feast of one of the great Patriarchs of Eastern monasticism, Saint Sabbas (or ‘Saba’), who is usually given the epithet “the Sanctified” in the Byzantine Rite. Born in the year 439, he died at the age of 93 in 532 A.D. Having entered upon the monastic life as a child, he eventually founded the famous lavra named after him in the Kidron Valley, about 8 miles from Jerusalem, and an equal distance from Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. This lavra is the second oldest continually functioning monastery in the world, after that of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, and counts several famous saints among its alumni, such as St. John Damascene. St. Sabbas is named in the preparatory rites of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and the Typikon, the book which regulates the order of services, which was used in the lavra became the basis for the modern Typikon still used to this day.
A small church dedicated to him is on the lower of the two peaks of the Aventine Hill in Rome. Traditionally, it was said to have been founded as a monastic oratory by St. Gregory the Great, on a property once owned by his mother, St. Silvia, and given to a colony of monks from the lavra in the Holy Land. It has subsequently passed through the hands of various other religious congregations, Cluniacs, Cistercians, and Canons Regular, and is now served by the Jesuits. Although heavily restored in 1932-3, the church preserves several fragments of the various phases of its earlier history.
|An aerial view of the lavra. From Wikipedia|
|The Crucifixion scene over the throne at the back is the only part of the apsidal decoration that has not been badly restored. Nevertheless, the effect of the painted apse as a whole remains impressive.|
|A relic of Saint Sabbas enclosed in the altar.|
|The 13th century throne behind the main altar.|
|The apsidal fresco was originally painted in the 13th century, but has been heavily and badly restored and repainted.|
|Several parts of the Cosmatesque pavement are more or less well preserved.|
|The Virgin and Child with St. Sabbas.|
|A group of Eastern monks.|