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The Shrine of Qatrawani

The origins of the shrine of Sheikh Qatrawani are obscure, but the gaps in the historical record have been filled with a wealth of local folklore. Locals still say that the sanctuary is named for Sheikh Ahmad al-Qatrawani, a holy man from the village of Qatra on the coast near Gaza. Al-Qatrawani, the story goes, settled on the deserted hill of Dar Hamouda, where he 'lived in prayer and self mortification.’ A variant of the same story says that the villagers found the Sufi derwish laying on the ground. Asked his origins, he said that he’d come from Qatra, and that the angels had brought him to the place where he would die. For four years the villagers fed and protected the holy man, and when they found him dead they buried him just to the west of the sanctuary.

A different account connects the name 'Qatrawani’ with the Christian Saint Catherine. The fact the shrine is built above the ruins of a pre-Islamic Byzantine monastery lends some plausibility to this hypothesis, and there may be a connection between the local story of the Sufi saint’s miraculous descent from the sky and the older Christian legend of St. Catherine’s descent to Mount Sinai.

Whatever its origins, it seems that the present building was built during the Mamluk era in the 16th century, and that it may have formed part of a chain of watchtowers overlooking the coastal plain. There is a cistern to gather rainwater and, just to the west, a winepress cut into the stone that may have been part of the monastic complex.

keyword: Maqams

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