Filming the First Monastery in the Holy Land

  1. Home
  2. Filming the First Monastery in the Holy Land


Finding authentic and atmospheric locations in Israel is a specialty of Biblical Productions.

We are expert fixers, able to research and provide information on a range of settings that will be ideally suited to your production. We recently found out about a unique location in the Judean desert, a secluded monastery that would provide a stunning setting for documentaries, travelogues or historical films.

Steeped in history, Saint Chariton Skete offers amazing panoramic desert views, as well as an insight into the frugal and isolated existence of desert monks, who inhabited the monastery for centuries of secluded prayer.
The site is owned by the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem which are currently in the process of restoring the fourth-century monastery. Russian Christians have a long history of pilgrimage to churches and holy sites in Israel.

A beautiful Location

On its website, The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission paints an evocative picture of the monastery and its surroundings.

“Wildly beautiful, with sheer white cliffs and a lush green valley, Wadi Faran is the site of the very first monastery established in the Judean desert. St. Chariton, an ascetic from the 3rd century, found this place an ideal site for prayer and contemplation. Historians now say that this valley may even have been visited by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Massive white rocks and sheer cliffs overlook a ravine. Directly below the skete (monastic community), a spring feeds a stream as eddying pools of water give life to flowering bushes and trees.

Birds dive straight down from the terrifying heights of the cliffs overhead, sweeping upward just before reaching the bottom of the ravine. Conies scurry about their lairs (Psalm 103 [104]:18), pausing to gaze curiously at visitors.

Across the valley, an enormous mountain of striated rock, rippling like a sea of stone down towards the spring and dazzling in the morning sun, hides over a dozen caves.

These old monk cells dot the cliff walls,the largest of which served for centuries as a church. Access to this cave church is provided by a ladder passing through a narrow hole cut through an enormous slab of rock.

The church is a small space, with uneven walls and ceilings covered with centuries of soot. It is connected by low passageways to other caves, where monks ate, slept and prayed. Some of these cells were accessible only by rope ladders, which, when drawn up, guaranteed that their monastic solitude would not be disturbed.

The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission is bringing this skete back to life. Not only monastics but pilgrims can once again sense the very same breathtaking and sublime beauty that St. Chariton and so many holy ascetics experienced for hundreds of years.”

The Life of Saint Chariton

The founder of the monastery in Wadi Feran was Saint Chariton. The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission has established the background of this devout monk, who fell in love with the rugged beauty of the Wadi Faran area.

“In the year 275, a Christian named Chariton, imprisoned for his faith in Iconium, was freed and set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Before reaching his destination, however, he was abducted by bandits and brought to a cave in Wadi Faran.

That night, the kidnappers died mysteriously. According to tradition, a snake poisoned the abductors’ wine with its venom, which they drank along with their doom. Chariton decided to stay in that very cave as a hermit. Monastics gathered around the wise ascetic, already known as a miracle worker, and the first monastery in the Judean desert was born. Each monk lived in his own cave and met weekly for prayer.

Chariton soon fled from his followers in search of solitude-in this way, he was to found two more monasteries. His love for Wadi Faran, however, lasted throughout his life, and he was laid to rest there, according to his wishes. His tomb is found just below the caves where he first became a hermit. From then on, the monastics who gathered in this region numbered between 10-14,000, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem appointed an archimandrite just for this region.”

The Holy Land was ravaged by Saracens, Persians and ‘Crusaders’, and the era of great monasteries was at its end. By the 16th century, only one monastery remained in Palestine, that of St. Sabbas the Sanctified.

Historical Records

The location of the skete and a description of its rugged, wild surroundings were recorded by one of its visitors.

“In the 12th century, the Russian pilgrim Abbot Daniel visited the Holy Land (the very Daniel who first lit the flame at the Tomb of Christ for the Land of Russia). He wrote of Wadi Faran, “…And there is a monastery nearby on the river Efam, near the sea of Sodom, in the mountains of rock, a great desert, wide and fearsome, waterless and arid, and beneath it is a labyrinth of rock, vast and exceedingly terrifying.”

St. Chariton’s monastery was also, in his words, “Beauty amongst the mountains of rock, surrounded by a city.”

The Rediscovery of the Monastery

This alluring description caught the imagination of many, who were keen to worship in such simple but awe-inspiring surroundings.

“Archimandrite Leonid (Kavelin), Head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, took a small group of monks in 1865 to search for the monastery on horseback. There was no longer a city surrounding the site, nor was there a road. The pilgrims’ horses were left behind and they continued on foot.

They traced the stream leading to the Dead Sea until they found a cave with seven openings, the very cavern of Chariton’s salvation.

Before the First World War, a delegation of Russian monks from Mt. Athos under the guidance of Fr. Panteleimon purchased the cave of St. Chariton along with some surrounding land. The monks re-established a skete there, living in the caves, gathering as they did in St. Chariton’s time, only once a week for prayer.

The Skete Lies in Ruins

Sadly, being brought back to life with the echoes of prayer was not the joyful conclusion of this tale and, for the skete, traumatic events lay ahead.
“… the beautiful Athonite-style church they built was destroyed during the war (tesserae from the mosaics can still be seen strewn on the grounds). One of the monks, Fr. Gerasim, patiently began restoring the skete, and built a small clay domicile. His intention was to rebuild the skete as a pilgrimage site, but times were difficult, and Russians could ill afford to make the pilgrimages they once made by the thousands.
Fr. Gerasim then sold the property to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission. The Society of St. Chariton was formed to care for the site, but in 1948, the skete again burned down.”

The Skete in Modern Times

After a period of silence and emptiness, the St Chariton Skete still lured Christian pilgrims.
“Two monks re-established a presence there again in the 1970s. Tourists and soldiers, attracted by the overwhelming beauty of the valley, flooded the area. Desiring solitude, the monks left St. Chariton’s. The monastery’s gates were then broken down, the iconostasis and books stolen.”

The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission is currently in the process of restoring St. Chariton’s skete and is promoting this unique site to Russian pilgrims.

Filming the Site

Inaccessible and remote sites such as the St Chariton’s Skete can prove problematic for the transportation of equipment and the strategic positioning of cameras and lighting. At Biblical Productions, we are experts at ensuring that your equipment and crew both arrive in one piece! We have experience filming in out-of-the-way places and are also able to suggest or facilitate the rental of specific equipment to enhance your filming. We are able to gain the film permits needed to commence production at historic sites such as the St Chariton’s Skete and can also recommend archival footage and a host of experts to ensure your production covers all perspectives.

Filming in Israel

Biblical Productions is a leading company in the field of production services, based in Israel. We cover all areas of film and television production, including documentaries, feature films, commercials, music videos and promotional films. Biblical Productions guides you during your shoot in Israel – from the pre-production planning to the post-production wrap. We arrange professional crews, fixers, permits, HD equipment rental, interviews, location scouting and more. Biblical Productions also boasts a large collection of high-quality archival footage, making it a one-stop shop for all your production services in Israel. Please view our client list