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
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
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.
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)