Wadi Qadicha or the Holy Valley
In the high majestic mountains of the north, Christianity’s long presence is marked by countless sanctuaries and places of devotion. The deep gorge of Wadi Qadishaopens dramatically at the foot of Bsharreh village, then branches into many small valleys to make its tortuous way to the sea.
In there, spiritual and mystical life have found the best place for prayer, meditation, devoutness, and the dedication of oneself to the worship of God in natural caves that were rarely touched by man and in caves engraved for piety and mortification, where life is an endless silent dialogue aimed at meeting God face to face.
The word “Qadisha” comes from a Semitic root meaning “holy”, a fitting name for this gorge whose depths lie at the bottom of sheer cliffs and which is rich in water from melting snow.
In medieval times, Christian monks rediscovered the caves and shelters that had been inhabited in antiquity and reused them to build chapels, hermitages and rock-cut monasteries in the valley. Monks of all confessions, even Muslim Sufis, secluded themselves here to lead a life of contemplation and meditation. They prayed in many languages: Arabic, Greek, Syriac and Ethiopian.
1. Deir Saydet Qannoubin (Monastery of our Lady of Qannoubin) - Qannoubin Valley
In a grandiose and almost wild setting overlooked by the small towns of Blawza and Diman, stands Deir Qannoubin, which from the 15th to the 19th centuries was the residence of the Maronite patriarchs. It is this monastery, (“Kenobion” means “monastery” in Greek) with its atmosphere of piety that gave its name to this part of the valley.
Built into the rock, the monastery’s church is a model of simplicity and austerity. Among its wall paintings, dating from the last two centuries, is a representation of the coronation of the Virgin by the Trinity, an inscription above it in Syriac is from a passage in the Song of Solomon: “Come from Lebanon, my betrothed and you will be crowned”.
A nearby annex to the monastery is the chapel of Saint Marina where 18 Maronite patriarchs are entombed. It is said that Saint Marina was falsely accused and performed long and hard penitence here. Later she was consecrated as the spiritual godmother of the valley.
2. Deir Mar Elishaa (Monastery of Saint Eliseus) - Qannoubin valley
It is built into a great cliff where long ago hermits fixed their cells. Its church is composed of four small altar niches cut from the rock. Very ancient, the exact date of its construction is unknown, but records show that the Lebanese Maronite Order was founded in 1695 and that a Maronite bishop libed in the monastery in the 14th century. Travelers of the 17th and 18th centuries also mentioned Deir Mar Elishaa.
3. Deir Mar Sarkis (Monastery of Saint Serjurs) - Qannoubin valley
In this Holy Valley where dialogue with God seems continuous, such is the number of sanctuaries where prayer or pious thought links the individual to the Eternal. Originally the site of Mar Sarkis was probably a cave tomb and today all that remains is an altar above the rock-cut vault, the generous shade of two old Mediterranean oak trees gives this place an atmosphere of calm and serenity appropriate to meditation.
4. Deir Es-Salib (Monastery of the Cross) - Qannoubin valley
The rocky cave-hermitage of Dei res-Salib draws the attention of visitors as much for its difficulty of access as the poverty and humility of its appearance. Even with ropes and ladders it was difficult to reach the cells of these anchorites, who deliberately cut themselves off from the world and lived only for the love of God.
Inscriptions and frescoes, some going back to at least the 13th century, can still be seen here although they are badly preserved. One can see Chalcedonian remains, writing in Arabic and Syriac, as well as scarps of frescos badly damaged by erosion and vandalism. Deir es-Salib attracted hermits and monks of all sects and was also a rallying point for Lebanese Christianity in early times.
5. The Chapel of Saydet Hawqa (The Chapel of our Lady of Hawqa) - Qannoubin valley
This small monastery, probably dating to the 13th century, is composed of a chapel and a few monks’ cells constructed within a shallow cave. Deserted most of the year, the monastery becomes the site of pilgrimage during the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin when a high mass is celebrated at the site on the evening of the 14th of August.
6. Deir Mar Antonios Qaozhaya (Monastery of Saint Anthony Qozhaya) - Qozhaya valley
Another monastery in this Holy Valley is Deir Qozhaya, whose location in a wilderness of lush greenery gives i tan aspect of primeval solitude. “Qozhaya” in the Syriac language means “treasure of life” and here the treasure was Christ himself, for whom monks abandoned worldly goods and consecrated themselves to poverty and prayer. Today one can still see the cells, stuck to the rock like wasps’ nests that sheltered the first hermits – those “men intoxicated with God”.
The origins of the monastery go back to the 5th century when the monastic movement was taking hold in the region. A model of religious community life, Deir Mar Antonios Qozhaya was the site of the Middle East’s first printing press, which was imported around 1585. The first publication, in 1610, was an edition of the Psalms, now kept in the library of the Holy Spirit University in Kaslik. Many other liturgical and religious books were published here as well.
The church of Qozhaya is the joint work of man and nature. Set in a natural cave, its upper part is formed of a series pf rose colored stone arcades resting on a dozen rose bases. Its façade, with its small columns, its Moorish door and triple bell are hardly separate from the cliff face itself.
The cave of Saint Anthony, locally known as the “cave of the mad”, used to shelter the possessed and demented who were brought here to be cured by the saint. Today it is with sense trepidation that one regards the chains that held them.
The monastery remains an important Christian site and even now, at the start of the third millennium, a hermit priest lives in a cell in Qozhaya where he continues the austere monastic tradition of mortification, prayer and absolute devotion to God.
7. Deir el-Saydet (monastery of Notre Dame) – Diman
Not far from Bsharreh, sheltered by cedar trees and dense vegetation, is the summer residence of the Maronite patriarch in Diman. It is a graceful building with a red tile roof, many exterior arcades and a grand courtyard overlooking the Qadisha Valley. The church is decorated with the superb murals of the Lebanese artist Saliba Doueihy.
8. Mar Mema Church – Ehden
The Mar Mema church Ehden was erected in 748 on the ruins of a pagan temple built by Macedonians and dedicated to the god of the sun.
It is one of the oldest Maronite churches in Lebanon and it contains a main aisle and a lateral one. On its walls there are crosses and inscriptions, some of which are in Greek, in addition to a date 494 after the time of Alexander the Macedonian. The baptismal font takes the shape of a big jar inlaid in the church wall.
Mar Mema (260-275) is the patron of shepherds and nurses; he was executed at Caesarea Cappadocia, at the age of 15 during the persecution of the Roman Emperor Aurelian.
9. Saydet al-Marahem (our Lady of Misericord) – Mizyara
It is large modern sanctuary dedicated to Virgin Mary built by a wealthy Lebanese faithful. It has a high tower crowned by the statue of the Virgin Mary at the foot of which life-size statues illustrate passages from the Gospel (The 12 disciples, the nativity, the baptism of Christ turn the flight into Egypt, the miracle at Cana, the Last Supper, etc..). It is served by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
10. Saint George Church – Ehden
According to ancient historical references, this church is one of the oldest and most magnificent churches in Lebanon. According to Father Henri Lamens , it goes back to the "era of Justinian or architects who adopted his style of construction”. Stones taken from pagan temples were used to construct this church. It contains three ancient scriptures. The first one in Greek is ambiguous except two lines that say “built in 584 by the age of Alexander, or by 272 of our era”. While the other two are in Syriac language. Over the remains of this church, the inhabitants of Ehden built a new one in 1855. Habib Beik Karam, who was in charge of the church properties at that time, proposed that new project. Construction was suspended during the events of 1860 before resuming in 1870 and be completed in 1880. Its dome rises to a height of 16 meters above the level of the church was built by artisan Boulos, son of Deacon Gerges Yammine in 1898.
11. Saydet el-Hosn (our Lady of the Fortress) – Ehden
In the north eastern part of Ehden and on a very high hill that overlooks most of North Lebanon and a few Syrian lands, the ancient inhabitants of Ehden built an indomitable fortress crowned today with two Maronite churches, an ancient and a modern one, dedicated to Virgin Mary “our Lady of the Fortress“.1. Theancient church of “our Lady of the Fortress”
The inhabitants of Ehden built a sanctuary dedicated to Virgin Mary, their patron, to be their fortress and refuge. The Mamlukes pulled down the fortress and the church in 1283. The inhabitants of Ehden rebuilt the church using the stones of the ancient fortress. They rebuilt it again after the earthquake in 1705. They renovated it in 1836 after a destruction that was mentioned by French traveler and poet Lamartine when he visited the region in 1833.2. The New Church of “our Lady of the Fortress”
This imposing Marian shrine adjacent the old church was inaugurated in 1989, its architecture is not at all traditional: a large round church surmounted by a cone crowned by a huge white statue of Virgin Mary with open arms (made in Italy). She is miraculous and the statue attracts visitors and worshipers who come to obtain graces and blessings in particularly during the first week of September until the 8th of this month (Birth of the Virgin Mary).
12. Monastery of Mar Mora – Ehden
It is the cradle of the Lebanese Maronite Order located in the lowest part of Ehden above the village of Ain-toura. Its construction dates back to 1339 (as mentioned in the margin of a gospel that was found in the Church of Bejjeh in the region of Jbeil during the times of Patriarch Doueihi). It was restored in 1695 by the founders of the Order Gebrayel Hawwa, Abdallah Qaraali and Youssef El-Bitn and was surrounded by a wall turning it to a the first seat of the Superior Order.
Management convent was rotated among the founding until 1701 , when they gave up. Fallen into disrepair, it remains today in two adjacent caves feature stone arches. Traces of cells built by monks in 1695 are still visible. In order to preserve the monastic presence in the region, the Lebanese Maronite Order was taken January 17, 1995 ( the feast of Saint Anthony the Great ) with the agreement of the Patriarchal Maronite bishopric ( Vicariate of Zgharta ) in order to restore the ancient monastic heritage.
13. Mar Sarkis and Bacchus Monastery (Deir Ras el-Nahr) Monastery of Saint Sergius and Bacchus) – Ehden.
Pride of the Antonin Maronite Order, it is a large monastery, one of the largest in Lebanon. Its history and its importance are closely related to the great Patriarch Estephan Doueihy.
Formerly known as Mar Sarkis Ras -en- Nahr, or Monastery of St. Sergius “Start of the river" the source, or torrent for its proximity to the source of Mar Sarkis. Its construction dates back to before 1473, death year of Bishop Peter of Ehden, according to the writings of Patriarch DOUAIHY. Nothing remains of the convent except the ruins of two ancient churches on the east side of the ground floor. Patriarch Estephan Douaihy undertook its restoration seen that he received his priestly sacraments there after his return from Rome. He was known for having declined all offers of foreign universities or abandoning the Lebanese Maronite and Syriac heritage for the Latin heritage. Fouad Ephrem Al Boustani cites that "he preferred Lebanon to Italy, Ehden to Rome, and the village school to major universities in the world, the stone benches under the oaks and cypresses to university chairs." After his ordination as a priest, he opened a school in the monastery of St. Sarkis Ras Year - Nahr.
In 1739, the monastery was given to the congregation of Saint Anthony after one flow was added to it. Today, the monastery contains documents and manuscripts that inform about its history and about the history of patriarch Douaihy and his accomplishments.
1. Churches of Amioun
On a high flat-topped hill or “tell” surrounded by olive groves, Amioun lies in the heart of the Koura region. Here is a wealth of churches whose stones testify to the passing of several civilizations. The church of Mar Gerios or Saint George was built on the ruins of a pagan temple and then remodeled after the Crusader era. There are numerous indications that a tunnel (since collapsed) once linked this church to a cave near the church of Saint John.
The red-roofed church of Mar Youhanna or Saint John sits on a steep cliff riddled with cells like a huge bee hive. The cells seen in the cliff above the main road are, in fact, funerary caves from Phoenician and Greco-Roman times that later served as monks’ shelters.
The little church of Mar Fawqa or Saint Phocas, built amid a jumble of old houses during the Crusader period, is noted for its fine wall paintings. One of the frescoes represents Christ descending into hell and holding out a helping hand to Adam and Eve. On the pillars are painted figures of Christ, Saint Phocas, Simon Stylites and other saints.
2. Dair Saydet Hammatoura (monastery of our Lady of Hammatoura) - Kousba
Built into the rocky folds of the mountain, the impressive Monastery of Hammatoura can only be reached by foot. Located near Amioun and Kousba, the monastery is rich in medieval paintings, accidently revealed by a fire in the late 1980’s. pilgrims and those who are fulfilling a vow walk up to the monastery on foot over a winding path, while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
3. Deir Balamand
Eight centuries ago Cistercian monks founded their first overseas abbey on a promontory south of Tripoli and gave it the name of Belmont. Known today as Balamand, it is the seat of a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin and Saint Gorge.
Balamand possesses a remarkable library with important manuscripts, two iconostases and a collection of important icons the work of painters from a number of countries who came here at different times to contribute to the iconographic heritage of the monastery.
A masterpiece of austerity, the arrangement of structures around the cloister’s courtyard is characteristic of a Cistercian monastery plan. The Church of Our Lady of Balamand is composed of a single nave ending in a large apse flanked by two rectangular rooms. The iconostasis of carved wood was made in Macedonia at the end of the 17th century, although one part of it was made by local artisans. The bell tower, a gothic monument of local workmanship, is one of the most remarkable exterior elements of the church and is the only stone bell tower extant in the Middle East. Today a well known seminary with a distinguished library operates on the premises and the University of Balamand (opened in 1988) is located nearby.
Faithful to the great spiritual tradition of Eastern Christianity of which it is a trustee, Balamand is an example of Christ’s exhortation “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free”.
4. Churches of Enfe
Along this quiet shoreline with its salt flats and its incredibly blue sea, are three churches worth visiting.
Saydet el-Rih or Our Lady of the Wind, built in the Byzantine era, is now in ruin and open to the sky. Nonetheless this little chapel retains traces of wall paintings representing Saint Gorge and Saint Demetrios on horseback, the Omnipotent Christ, two evangelists, some saints and the Virgin calming the tempest.
The church of Saint Catherin, which dates from the time of the Crusades, is partially restored and still used by the Greek Orthodox community. Its façade is decorated with one of the largest rose windows seen in a Crusader church of this period.
In the old quarters of this same area is a church with a double altar, dedicated to Saint Simon Stylites and Saint Michel. Dating from the 17th-18th centuries, Saint Simon’s part of the church is interesting for its ceiling that incorporates jars in its masonry to absorb echoes and improve acoustics.
5. Deir El-Saydet – (the Covent of Virgin Mary) – Keftoun
In a landscape of rugged cliffs amid olive and fruit trees, the picturesque Greek Orthodox convent of Kaftoon is set into a cliff of ochre stone. East of the small town of Hamat, this monastery has a tiny chapel cut from the rock. Nearby is a very ancient Maronite Monastery.
6. Covent of Saydet El-Nourieh (Covent of Our Lady of Light) – Hamat
At the top of a cliff overlooking the north coast of Lebanon stands a Greek Orthodox monastery known as Deir el Nouriyeh or Our Lady of the Light. Object of pilgrimage and a holy place, the monastery originated in the 17th century and was completed in the 19th century, its structure is that of a cloister where monastic life centered around an interior courtyard. The church is on the basilica plan and possesses only a nave, while the modern iconostasis is of marble.
Steep stairs near the monastery lead down to a cave carved in the cliff, exposed to the wind and sea. It is here that the story of the light that gives its name to the monastery is celebrated. It is said that two sailors were in peril on a stormy sea when the Virgin appeared to them as a light and guided them gently to the shore.
7. The Chapel of the Holy Savior – Kubba
Protected by a wooden area not far from the sea, Kubba is a small village north of Batroun. There, amid pleasant greenery, one finds the chapel of the Holy Savior, known locally as “Sansabour”. Built in the 12th century during the Crusader era, the beautiful structure is in an excellent state of preservation.
Below the church, at the foot of the hill, lies remains of the little modern shrine of Mar Yaqoob (Saint James). This was built on a Crusader-era church, which itself was constructed on the emplacement of a Byzantine church. The Byzantine church, in turn, was built with material from a Roman temple. What makes this place exceptional is the mix of ancient elements including a Roman inscription and sculptured Byzantine stones and mills, on the order side of the coastal road are some prehistoric caves, one of which was transformed into a shrine dedicated to saint John the Baptist.
This monastery, one of the oldest in Lebanon was built by Saint John Maron, Bishop of Batroun and Mount Lebanon in the year 685. Saint John Maroun used to live on the shore of the Aassi River Orontes then he moved to the monastery of Kfarhay in 694 and brought with him the Holy relic of the head of Saint Maron (from Mount Semaan near Hama in Syria) and kept it in the church of the monastery where it remained until 1130. Due to these relics, the monastery was known as "Deir Rish Moran" meaning in Syriac "land of Maron”. St. John Maron, the first Maronite Patriarch, lived in the monastery of Kfarhay until his death in the year 707, was buried there, but the location of his tomb was never found. In 1131 , a Dominican monk of the congregation of St. Jacob , took the saint's relics to Italy, where he built a church in his name.
The efforts of the Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Mar Nasr Alla Butros Sfeir and Archbishop of Batroun, Youhanna Boulos Saade (his residence is in Kfarhay in summer) succeeded in bringing back the relic of Saint Maroun to Bkirke (on the 8th of January, 2000) and later to take it to Kfarhay.
Four other patriarchs succeeded patriarch Yuhanna Maroun and lived in this monastery named the Monastery of Saint John of Kfarhay by the Crusaders. It was damaged by the Mamelouk but was restored in 1787.
Its halls and colonnade and its triple bell, in particular, add to the holiness of this place and it is still carrying on its cultural and agricultural activities today.
9. The Chapel of Kfar Chliman
Kfar Chlimane village in the Batroun area is reached by way of Sourat. In the lower part of the village lies a recently restored church sheltered by a grove of trees that bring shade and life to the dry landscape. Behind the church is an ancient funerary cave that in the 12th-14th centuries was made into a chapel known as “Sayde Naya”. The cave chapel is notable for its beautiful medieval paintings representing divine forms of Christ, the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist.
10. Monastery of Saint Cyprien and Justinian – Kfifane
The Monastery of saint Cyprien and Justianian in Kfifane village near Batroun is today a pilgrimage site thanks to the Blessed Nematallah Kassab Al Haridni, who is buried in this modest place. Built well before the 17th century, in 1766 the Lebanese Maronite Order transformed the monastery into a seminary for the study of theology, philosophy, literature and law. Among its students was not only Father Al Hardini but also Charbel Makhlouf, who in 1989 was canonized as a saint.
Born in 1810, Nematallah Al Hardini became a novice at a young age and pronounced his vows at the monastery of Saint Anthony Qozhaya when he was 20. He received the sacerdotal order on December 25, 1835 and hid life became an example of obedience and uninterrupted prayer. An outstanding linguist, notably in the Arab and Syriac languages, Father Al-Hardini included Charbel Makhlouf among his students. Nematallah Al-Hardini died on December 14, 1858 at the age of 48.
He was beatified by Pope John-Paul II in the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome on Sunday May 10/1998 and was canonized in May 16/2004.
11. Monastery of Saint Joseph/Santuary of Saint Rafqa – Jrabta
In the deep “wilderness” east of Batroun, some distance from Kfifane where the Blessed Father Hardini lived, is the Monastery of Mar Youssef Al Dahr at Jrabta. Surrounded with ancient trees, the monastery lies at the heart of a lonely region notable for its savage beauty.
It is here that the Blessed Sister Rafqa is buried. Born on June 19, 1833, she entered the order of maronite sisters at the age of 39, aspiring to total devotion to God. Her life was one of continual prayer; she asked to participate in Christ’s passion and this grace was accorded her. Her Calvary was to last 29 years and she died a saintly death in 1914 at age 81. Buried in the shaded convent garden, her saintliness was quickly manifest. Her remains were moved to the tomb that still remains in the church and soon it became a place of pilgrimage. On November 17, 1985 she was beatified by the Holy See.
12. Churches of Edde
Edde, a few kilometers southeast of Batroun, is a small town with a number churches, two of which are particularly interesting. Mar Saba, a small medieval building of pale stone, still retains fragments of 13th century wall paintings. These include Saint Gorge and Saint Demetrios on horseback and a crucifixion scene. The church of Mar Mema, dedicated to Saint Mamas, is more modern in appearance although built with antique elements.
13. The church of Mar Nohra – Smar Jbeil
The old church of Mar (Saint) Nohra, said to contain the tomb of this Christian missionary from Persia, stands in the center of Smar Jbeil, a village in the Batroun District. The church is constructed of mixed elements from a Roman temple and some later material, notably from medieval times. Besides an exterior staircase leading to the roof, faithful to the traditions of the time, the main entrance is decorated with three interlinked chains, all cut from the same stone. A little ruined chapel with a single nave can be seen next to mar Nohra.
14. Churches of Hardine
In Hardine there are around thirty monasteries, churches and hermitages. Among the most important of them we can mention: the monastery of Saint John El-Chaqf; the Monastery of Saint Stephan; the Monastery of Saint Sarkius (Sergins) el-Qarm (patriarchal seat); the Monastery of Saint Richa (in which lived many bishops whose 11 are now known); the Monastery of Saint Fauqa; the church of Saints Sarkis (Sergius) and Bacchus (carved into the rock, and known under the name "church of baptism" in reference to the baptistery in which Saint Neemtallah Hardini was baptized and who is still preserved); the church of Saint Challita; The church of Saint Nohra; The church of Saint Elias …
15. The churches of Tannourine
Tannourine contains many churches and hermitages carved into the rock dating from the Middle Ages, including: the church of Notre Dame, Saint Challita church, the chapel and hermitage of Saint Jean, the hermitage Saints Sarkis and Bakhos (Sergius and Bacchus).
*The Mar Antonios and Saydet El Azraa Churches
Set in a quiet spot beside a stream and shaded by poplar and walnut trees, the churches of Mar Antonios (Saint Anthony) and Saydet El AZraa (Our Lady the Virgin) share a single roof. Each has an independent door surmounted by a small window, while on the inside a communicating door links the two parts of the building. These churches, which are unique in the Tannourine region, were not built at exactly the same time and have slightly different dimensions.
*Deir Mar Antonios or The Monastery of Saint Anthony – Houb
The word “Houb” comes from “houbou” or “love”, a designation that applies both to the monastery and to the region of Tannourine which is famous for its natural beauty and many springs. The Tannourine area is also known for its more than 50 churches.
The monastery stands at some 1400 meters above sea level in a lush green area amid the streams that branch into the al-Jawz river. Also called Mar Antonios (Monastery of Saint Anthony), it was built around 1700. The large two-story building has a red tile roof and its church has been carefully restored.
1. The church of Saint John – Tripoli
A crusader church known as Saint John of Pilgrim Mount can be found inside the maronite cemetery of Abu Samra two hundred meters from the great citadel of Tripoli. Two joined chapels communicate by a central door, thus forming a simple “house of God” inhabited by silence and peace.
2. The church of Saint Chmouneh (Salomé) – Chadra
It is an old church dedicated to Saint Chmouneh and the seven infants. It was built by the Syrians during the first centuries of Christianity. Chmouneh or Salome is the mother of seven children mentioned in the old testament (in the book of the Maccahees). They were martyred during the time of Antiochus the Great in 168 BC.
3. The churches of Qobayyat
Near the silk workshop, stand the school and the church of St. George in Italian style architecture. In the middle of Qobayyat there is the church of Saint Challita, with only one wing and a niche built with ancient stones found during the reconstruction of the church; two of the stones carry inscriptions in Greek. There are two churches in Qobayyat which were built over the ruins of old temples: the church of Saint George and the church of Saint Daniel.
4. Deir Saydet El Qalaa (Monastery of our Lady of the Fortress-El-Mounjez)
It was constructed in 1890 and built of basalt stones.