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Ancient Syrian Christian town restores Virgin Mary statue

Maaloula celebrates with government officials, banner of Assad, as monument destroyed by rebels replaced

Members of the Syrian National Defense Forces (NDF) stand behind a statue of Virgin Mary perched on the cliffs overlooking the ancient Christian town of Maalula, 56 kilometers northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus, on June 13, 2015 after the statue was restored to its original place. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)
Members of the Syrian National Defense Forces (NDF) stand behind a statue of Virgin Mary perched on the cliffs overlooking the ancient Christian town of Maalula, 56 kilometers northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus, on June 13, 2015 after the statue was restored to its original place. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)

The historic Christian Syrian town of Maaloula celebrated Saturday as a new statue of the Virgin Mary was erected in its center, replacing the figure destroyed in rebel attacks in 2013.

Dozens of families gathered alongside government officials and religious dignitaries in the main square, which was adorned with government flags and a giant portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Located north of Damascus, Maaloula is one of the world’s oldest Christian settlements, and its inhabitants still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

In April 2014, government troops backed by pro-regime militia recaptured the town from rebel groups, including Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

Members of the Syrian National Defense Forces (NDF) carry an icon in order to restore it to its original place on June 13, 2015 in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, 56 kilometers northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)
Members of the Syrian National Defense Forces (NDF) carry an icon in order to restore it to its original place on June 13, 2015 in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, 56 kilometers northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)

The fighting damaged the ancient Mar Sarkis monastery and forced the town’s 5,000 people to flee their homes and abandon their modest storefronts.

On Saturday, Syrian officials unveiled the new statue of the Virgin Mary, draped in a white robe topped with a blue shawl, her hands lifted in prayer.

“I made the statue as a message of peace for the ancient and unparalleled town of Maaloula,” said sculptor Buhaij al-Khoury.

Syrians, including members of the Syrian National Defense Forces (NDF), hang a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad on June 13, 2015 in the ancient Christian town of Maalula, 56 kilometers northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus.  (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)
Syrians, including members of the Syrian National Defense Forces (NDF), hang a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad on June 13, 2015 in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, 56 kilometers northeast of the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)

The fiberglass figure stood at just over three meters (10 feet) tall and was placed on the base of the original statue.

“The statue was a symbol of protection for me, and when it was gone I felt a huge loss,” said Samya, a pharmacist and resident of Maaloula.

“Maaloula is now back to normal with the return of the statue,” the young woman said.

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