A few hundreds meters from the source of el-Assi River (Orontos) in the Hermel area of the north Beqaa is the Monastery of Saint Maroun. This amazing three-story cave is cut into sheer rock more than 90 meters high. Known as “Mougharet Al Raheb” or Cave of the Monks, this is, in fact, a pilgrims’ monument. An altar, a staircase and small cells carved from the rock make up this place of devotion, marked by humidity and trusteeship. According to widely accepted legend, the site is identified with Saint Maroun, founder of the Maronite community.
Bechwat lies on the versant of the western chain of Mount Lebanon. It is 110km from Beirut and 19km from Baalbeck. Its latitude is 1300m. It was named after an Egyptian Saint, Anba Bishey. It contains ancient ruins (oil mills, statues and sarcophagi …) that date back to the Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Arab periods. But the fame of the town today is due to the presence of a miraculous sanctuary (the sanctuary of our Lady of Bechwat). Lebanese people who belong to both Muslim and Christian religions visit this place for blessing or to ask for a remedy for a sick person.
The church was built by the Keyrouz family which migrated from Bcharreh in 1790. Despite the renovations (1998), today it holds its first architecture. Since its construction, the temple showed many miracles and believers got many benedictions, particularly in 2004 when the appearances of Saint Mary occurred several time starting the 21 of August till today. The first appearance was to a child from Jordan, Mohamed el-Hawadi and the last was to children, Diana Ali el-Ajam and Michael Adnan Mikhail (May, 2006).
Bichwat witnessed the largest and most remarkable pilgrimage on Septembre 5, 2004 when all the roads that reached it were blocked by worshipers’ cars and buses at a distance of tens of kilometers.
The sanctuary celebrates our Lady’s day on August 15. Religious and public festivals are held for a week until August 21 to commemorate the appearances that took place in 2004. Continually, groups of pilgrims visit Bishwat. They come from Lebanon and from all religious sects: pilgrims also come from different parts of the world, particularly from the Arab countries (Syria, Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf …).
Every year, religious festivals and ceremonies are held in the churches and houses to venerate Virgin Mary. Religious celebrations and prayers are celebrated in churches and homes. In 1958, after the survival of Zahle from the events that ravaged Lebanon, members of the brotherhoods and residents associations in the city met with the Archbishop of Catholics ( Archbishop Aftimos Yoakim ) and asked for permission to build a sanctuary tower on a hill in the city, a sanctuary that would be crowned by the statue of the Virgin Mary , a symbol of their love and appreciation for the Blessed Virgin.
The Archbishop agreed and the construction of the tower began in 1965. The elevation of the statue to the top of the tower witnessed a public festival on the 26th June 1965. Work on the tower and its precincts stopped during the war in Lebanon (1975-1990).
It started again under a new committee and a new archbishop (Archbishop Andre Haddad). A very large church was built surrounded by chapels that can receive 1000 persons during festivals. The entrances, the spaces around the church, the workers’ rooms and the room for souvenirs were done.
The restoration of the statue damaged by rust and shrapnel was undertaken in August 2004 and end in late April 2005. The inauguration of the tower festivities were celebrated in 27 May 2005, with a Mass of inauguration. The statue of Our Lady of Zahle and the Beqaa now stands carrying the child Jesus in one hand and a bunch of grapes in the other hand, while Jesus is carrying an ear of wheat.
In August 2004, the statue of Saint Mary was renovated because it was partly damaged by natural factors as well as by shrapnels of koms. Restoration finished at the end of April 2005. A majestic festival was hold in May 27. There was a ceremonial mass and official inauguration of the statue of Saint Mary (symbol of the produce of the plain of Beqaa and a symbol of the love of Jesus to humanity according to the holy sracrament (Euchatist), the holy bread and wine).
The building is 75 meter high divided as such:
From the ground to the base of the tower: 12 meters;
The tower, from the base to the base of the statue: 54 meters.
The height of the statue is 9 meters. It weighs 7500 Kg.
The archbishopric contains the cathedral of our Lady of Deliverance “Saydet Al Najat” built in 1846. It fell to ashes during the events of 1860 and was restored in 1861.
In 15/9/1987 it was exposed to an explosion that destroyed many of its parts as well as its literacy and ecclesiastical treasures. However, Archbishop André Haddad (who miraculously survived), restored it until it became more beautiful than before. The inauguration took place in 15/8/1991. In the Cathedral, there is an icon of our Lady of Deliverance brought from Austria.