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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Baabda > The Church Mar Mkayel

The Church Mar Mkayel, Saint Michael

There is no end to the number of regions, villages, and streets in Lebanon that are named after saints, with names such as Gebrayel, Azra, Zouk Mikayel, and Holy Qadisha, and any number of names beginning with Mar (Holy) and Deir (Monastery of...). Our ancestors were very religious-minded.

Just south of Beirut, on the west side of the circumscription of South Metn, known also as the Baabda district, there stretches the quarter of Shiah reputed for its very elegant church dedicated to Mar Mikhayel, in English Saint Michael the Warrior Archangel who leads the celestial armies, second in might only to God, hence the name Quis est ut Deus, Who is like unto God (Zakharias 3:1,2; Daniel 12:1; Apocalypse (Revelation) 12;7-12. Mention is made in these chapters of the archangel Michael as prince of the heavenly hosts and protector of the people of God against Satan and his evil spirits. The Church has inherited this tradition and so Saint Michael is seen as the defender of the chosen people.

His name Mi-ka-el (Who is Compared to God) is a challenge to the devil and to those who consider themselves as above God. Throughout Christendom he has been adopted as protector of cities and kingdoms. In Constantinople, for example, there is the superb basilica dedicated as the Mikaëlion and in the fifth century the popes in Rome founded such a church on the Via Salaria. The kings of France honored Saint Michael with the famous Mont St-Michel in the gulf of Avranches in Normandy, where thousands come every year on pilgrimage to the imposing basilica.

Countless legends surround this archangel brandishing his sword, every town in France having called for his protection and having its avenues, streets and districts named St-Michel. Here our church Mar Mikhayel of Shiah in south-east Beirut bears witness to the trust of the faithful and was the center of violent combats during the deplorable war that dragged on between 1975 and 1990. The Christians of Lebanon have a special veneration for three great saints each represented with his word or lance, Saint George, Saint Elias (Elijah) and the Archangel Michael. They incarnate the spirit of resistance to every attempt to reduce the people to bondage. So during the trouble just mentioned Saint Michaelís Church stood on the demarcation line between the warring parties, and represented a red line under the protection of the celestial warrior.

The church certainly suffered; there was great destruction, mines and explosive charges having left their marks and flames having ravaged the whole site. But the church still stands undaunted.

However, the nature of the surrounding population has undergone change. Formerly the district was entirely Christian but now there has been a great influx of Shiites. Further, in the place of gardens, orchards and a general pastoral scene, there are now highways, wild construction and shantytowns. The population has risen from a few thousand to over a million. The war once ended, reconstruction followed. Now the great church stands where the Christians are now few.

A priest now serves the church and the children of the parish come on Sundays and holy days from afar afield. Prayers bringing memories of the past ascend to Heaven under the regard of Saint Michael and the shadow of his sword. Parts that were demolished have had to be completely rebuilt, but the site in itself is enough to act as a symbol and as a reminder.

Our Lebanon is not all of one kind. Believers of different faiths can get on very well together provided only that no devil from outside comes to sow discord. As it is said in the book of Revelation quoted above, the forces of Good wage war against those of Evil, putting them to flight and frustrating their fury against those who have remained faithful.

Now Haret Hreik, Leilaki and Shiah, which together form the southern suburb of Beirut, are predominantly Shiite. There are several mosques and several churches, the latter dedicated to Saint Joseph and to Saint Michael and bearing witness to a time when the district was mostly Christian. General Michel Aoun was in fact born there and named after the archangel Saint Michael.

The Southern Suburb of Beirut suffered much damage from the destructive July War involving the Hizbollah. The church suffered but has been restored and has taken on a new aspect. I knew the church as it was before all the violence, I saw it practically destroyed, and now I have seen it restored. It is now a parish church, spacious, and with a small monument to the Holy Virgin that one sees when entering to the left. The façade is embellished by five arches which allow entry into the church and five corresponding windows. Backing onto the church there is a belfry.

All around there is a jungle of high-rise buildings. The stained-glass windows have nothing sacred about them and could very well adorn a sports club, an auditorium or any similar hall. Sacred art is misunderstood, with mediocre paintings. Our old churches, so simple and inspiring, are ruined or worse, with ugly stained glass that is a parody of the art which gives light and lives through light.

Built in the first half of the nineteenth century, St. Michaelís of Shiah is destined to become a place of pilgrimage for the Lebanese and for others from around the world. Every Lebanese, whatever community he belongs to, should visit St. Michaelís.

Text: Joseph Matar - Translated from French: K.J.Mortimer

- The Church Mar Mkayel: >> View Movie << (2013-06-15)
- The Church Mar Mkayel - Exterior: >> View Movie << (2013-06-15)



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