Mahmoud Joudeh - 28\12\2022

A mild-tempered and resembling a large garden city, it is Deir al-Balah, which is known for its palm trees that cover the city from all sides and represent a ring of guards around it. It is the city, which was established on the beach when the monk Helarius built the first monastery in Palestine during the Byzantine period. Initially, the building was a small hut, then he turned it into a hermitage during the reign of Constantius II (337-361). The monastery grew and became a shrine due to its good reputation among the people, where Saint Helarius spent almost 22 years in the monastery before leaving to Cyprus and died there.

The monastery was neglected after its inhabitants left, and it became a strange place that was adorned with stories and myths that say the place is inhabited by ghosts, and that it is one of the places where ghosts sleep at night. This contributed to the growth of those myths that were prevalent in the place, until the Islamic conquest of Palestine, when a second floor was added to the monastery and later was turned into a small mosque, according to two marble columns found in the mosque that were noticed by the French explorer Victor Guérin. It became known as Al-Khader shrine, but some historical accounts attribute the Monument to Saint George who is one of the Christian saints depicted by Christianity as the man who fights evil, which means "Al-Khader" in Arabic, and from that day on the place took the name Maqam Al-Khader (Shrine).
This Maqam is considered as one of the oldest historical buildings in the Palestinian city of Deir Al-Balah. It was built in the Byzantine era, were construction of churches and monasteries flourished. Maqam Al-Khader is located in the center of the city of Deir Al-Balah. It is a courtyard with three arches surrounded by ancient stones, and a person can descend a dozen of old steps that leads to a room with an average-sized mosaic placed above a carved tombstone with inscribed Greek letters where it is believed to be the tomb of one of the Greek bishops.

The Maqam is distinguished by its location, which made it a shrine for devotion and prayer in both the Christian and Islamic religions in the past. Some people used to bring sacrifices and slaughter them at the Maqam's door, believing that this act would heal sickness and wishes would come true. But today, it is a library with 6,000 publications, and serve as the office for Nawa Association for Culture and Art, which has worked to bring funding for its restoration and furnishing to become a cultural center and an important pivot in lives of Deir Al-Balah’s children as for the cultural, recreational and educational activities it offers. The idea of restoring the historic shrine in the late 2014 proposed by a youth initiative in Deir Al-Balah which has no cultural centers therein. The project is an inspirational model for creative minds in terms of restoring a neglected 1431 years old shrine, and reviving it to become a cultural beacon for the local community in order to enhance the value of knowledge, tolerance, and diversity which reflects the messages the shrine manifested by being a sacred place for both; Christianity and Islam.
Upon entering the shrine, which is now a library, one can quickly discover its hidden beauty. The building is divided into two parts: the first part is a large library that allows visitors to read and carry out cultural and recreational activities, while the second part extends below the building and can be accessed through a staircase of three meters. It is a basement that has a tomb in a small room and contains some of the antiquities that were found in the place during the restoration work.
With this great effort, the Maqam, which used to be a nuisance to the residents, has been restored and is no longer a place that represents superstition and fear. It has become a cultural hub that preserves the cultural heritage and serves as a historical beacon that draws its energy from the past and passes it on to future generations.