In this holy mountain, monasteries and convents are
scattered like stars across the valleys. The most
inaccessible are on summits that are difficult to
reach, which explains why the Maronites were able
to oppose and resist the many barbarous aggressors
who came to spread chaos and terror. The monasteries
were reserved to the monks while there were convents
where resided the nuns.
In Arabic, the tern Deir has sometimes been used for
a small church with a room attached that is dedicated
to some saint, and sometimes even for a grotto or
small shelter put together with stones.
This is the case of the Monastery of Saint Maroun,
where the refuge of the monks is carved out of the
rock along a cliff situated nearly five hundred feet
from the spring called the Blue, Ain Zarqa, source
of the river Orontes, El-Assi. The series of caves
is three hundred feet above the river and is composed
of three levels joined by a stairway hewn out of the
rock. There are three altars and small cells where
Saint Maroun and other hermit monks are popularly
said to have resided.
These cells cut out of the cliff face were the retread
of the first disciples of Saint Maroun in the fourth
century A.D.. It is claimed that the great Maroun
himself lived and died here and was buried in this
However, this is not authentic. It is thought that
the monastery goes back to the time of the Romans
but the dates and actual origins cannot be verified.
The persecutions of Marounís disciples by the Mamelukes
were commonplace. The caves fell into neglectful hands
and were used as shelters for herds of goats. At present
the site is the property of the Ministry of Power
and Hydraulic Resources and has never been tidies
up or restored, despite the national importance of
what it stands for. However, the Maronite Patriarchate
has taken charge of the area and it is now protected
by a barrier of recent construction.
Qasr el-Blunat, the Palace of the Builders, is three
hundred feet up and one hundred feet below the caves
just mentioned. It was used as a refuge during the
quarrels between different Christian religious sects.
It has also been called Magahret er Raheb, the Grotto
of the Monk. It has even been known as Qasr el-Banat,
Palace of Young Girls, for a group of brave nuns fleeing
persecution and martyrdom in Syria, sought refuge
in this impregnable retreat.
For their constructors, monks, nuns, local inhabitants,
these dwellings provided a refuge and a defense, acting
as a military and spiritual fortress and a place of
tranquility for troubled souls. It was there that
the Maronites were able to oppose and hold out against
the immense Ottoman sultanate as extensive as Europe.
To come to this region of the North-East Beqaa overlooking
the turbulent waters of the Orontes and displaying
scenery of fairy beauty, and here to pray to Saint
Maroun, is a true spiritual pilgrimage. This great
saint of Lebanon performed miracles when alive and
was respected, admired, and honored. Favors through
his intercession are asked by people coming from the
four quarters of the world. They seek the blessing
of his holy presence.
We know that in fact Saint Maroun lived as a hermit
on a mountain near Antioch at Koroch, with only the
sky and the stars above his head, but his name has
traveled beyond all frontiers. The date of his birth
is unknown but what is certain is that he died in
410 A.D.. Now there are more than ten million Maronites
in the world, one million in Lebanon and some twelve
Maronite means Lebanese, open-mindedness, a loving
heart, great humanitarianism, generosity and goodness,
freedom and justice, respect for human values, understanding
and exchange, hospitality and self-sacrifice, with
respect for human rights.
Translation from the French: Kenneth J. Mortimer
Marounís Monastery: >> View
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