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St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Lebanon is a land of no less than nineteen legally recognized religious communities, living together on more or less friendly terms with some give-and-take, periods of crisis alternating with others of harmony; there are times of conflict, of developments, of rejoicing and of trouble.

Next to the Maronites, the largest Christian community is that of the Greek-rite Orthodox. The Christians are to be found in all parts of Lebanon, and even when they are only a small minority they are everywhere an indispensable yeast, with each branch of the Church possessing its particular places of worship.

The Greek Orthodox in Beirut, ancient city of this legendary East, have the church dedicated to St. George (Georgios), knight, hero, dragon-slayer and savior of a princess. This particular church is the oldest in Beirut, and perhaps the most beautiful, and stands near the site of the old Roman Faculty of Law.

It is supposed to have been built over the remains of the Church of the Resurrection in the year 1080, then perhaps the only one in Beirut and looked after by the clergy of the St. George Monastery. As well as the church there were residences for the monks and for the metropolitan archbishop, a meeting hall for the community council, a school, a seminary, a library, a sanatorium, and later on a printing press, the first in Beirut. During the early Christian centuries cathedral churches were generally dedicated to Christ Resurrected.

In the year 551 A.D. the church of Beirut was completely destroyed together with all the rest of the city in the famous earthquake. In 1080 the cathedral was rebuilt on the ruins of the old Church of the Resurrection and dedicated to Saint George. It was restored several times in a haphazard way until finally in 1995 the Metropolitan of Beirut Mgr. Audeh ordered proper scientific archeological diggings.

It was found that between the years 1200 and 1300 there were mosaics laid out on the floor. The semi-circular form of the altar, the columns and the remains of wall-paintings all prove the existence of the cathedral during the middle ages. In the year 1600 the knight d’Arvieux noted as follows: “Beautiful church dedicated to Saint George and residence of the Orthodox Archbishopric.”

In 1715 the church was enlarged without any proper plan and in 1759 another earthquake caused extensive damage. Between 1764 and 1767 donations and various forms of help were received for new repairs, but these had hardly been finished when the ceiling collapsed, killing more than ninety people. Despite this catastrophe, in 1772 restoration began again and three altars were set up, the central one dedicated to Saint George, the one on the right to Saint Nicholas, and the one on the left to the prophet Elias (Elijah). In 1783 an icon-screen in hazel wood was installed, this being covered with gold leaf and decorated with contemporary icons. The ceiling and walls were decorated and the outside was decently arranged. In 1904 there was further enlargement and paintings executed on the ceiling and walls.

1975 to 1990 saw the tragedy of the war in Lebanon. The cathedral suffered a great deal of damage, being plundered, looted, burnt, vandalized and in parts destroyed. The icons were all stolen, as were the sacred vessels. The icon-screen was set on fire, the frescoes obliterated and the ceiling and other parts badly damaged. In 1995 thoroughly professional operations began, with studies for excavations, provision of infrastructure, building and restoration. Scientifically directed digging led to the discovery of the remains of three churches, the first one destroyed in 551, that of the Resurrection, and a third one dating from the middle ages, underneath the present cathedral dating from the eighteenth century.

This last building is formed of three naves with a cloister outside that bears an upper-floor gallery looking on to the interior of the cathedral. In the past this was reserved to women, the gyneceum. Cellars were found underground with burial chambers and a strong-room for chalices, ciboria, thuribles, incense boats and other articles required for the Liturgy. There is already a museum attached where this precious heritage is displayed.

Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

- St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral: >> View Movie << (2014-02-15)
- Museum of St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral: >> View Movie << (2014-02-15)

 

 


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