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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > El Maten > Deir El Kalaa Beit Mery, monastery of the Citadel

The Story of Deir el Kalaa, Monastery of the Citadel - Article in Arabic

A.The story of the Monastery of the Citadel

This is to be found just south of Beit Meri, 15km from Beirut. Here was the first place of worship to be set up on this hill since the time of the Phoenicians, standing on the remains of the temple of Baal Markadi, one of their great gods. The different peoples who in turn occupied the coast all built temples dedicated to their particular deities according to their respective religion.

In 64 B.C. the Romans came and replaced the Greeks, extending their power over vast territories in the East, confirmed by Augustus, absolute master after his defeat of Mark Anthony and his wife Cleopatra at the battle of Actium. The site in question was very agreeable to the Romans, who made it a center of prayer and worship, constructing a great temple which retained the name of Baal Markadi as well as smaller temples surrounding it.

When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, he ordered the demolition of all the pagan temples, replacing them with places of worship dedicated to the one true God. Then in A.D. 550 came the violent earthquakes which destroyed many of the edifices along the coast, not sparing the Monastery of the Citadel. The word Baal means a lord and the word Markadi a quake, the compound name being used in the Bible to indicate the divine power (Job 9 5).. It was associated with the numerous offerings made in the name of emperors, military men and civilian officials. The Romans assimilated Baal Markadi to their god of similar power and force, namely Jupiter. In Aramaic, the name means God of the Dance. Mentioned in Genesis and represented in several carvings in the stones of the temple, he is the god who shows his force by making the earth tremble. This particular temple was greatly esteemed and believers came from far and near on pilgrimage. Elsewhere on the coast, this same god was known as Melkart, God of the Cities. The cult of the gods of the dance was in fact the cult of the forces of nature and the priests who officiated at the altar performed ritual dances.

When the grapes were brought in to the wine presses, the believers venerated Bacchus, god of wine, with dancing and singing, as indicated by the many wine presses in the old town that surroundes the monastery. The main temple was built during the 2nd century A.D.. Of Roman architectural style, it was 42 meters long, 18 wide and 14 high, with a wooden roof. On the façade there were six columns, 7.20m high, 5.50 round and weighing 51 metric tons. Several other temples were put up some 300m away, one of them dedicated to Juno, wife of Jupiter and daughter of Saturn. In addition to the temples, a great city called Bayte, now Beirut, was laid out to be the political residence of the Roman governor.

At the beginning of the road leading to the monastery Roman thermal baths have been discovered of excellent workmanship. Central heating was provided by terra cotta pipes and by heat stored in jars of the same material manufactured down on the coast. The baths, intended for public use, were supplied with water from reservoirs placed higher up. There are also traces of a 6th century Byzantine church with mosaics highly colored and well executed representing a cross.

This place is one of great beauty and draws tourists coming from Lebanon and from the four quarters of the globe. From 800 meters altitude one has a view all around of mountains and sea, with every rock and stone bearing witness to a glorious past.

B.The Monastery of St. John of the Citadel

The present monastery built on a part of the temple dates back to the year 1748, the Citadel property having been given to the Anthonite Order of monks by Emir Youssef Mrad Abi Allamah for the construction of the Monastery of Beirut, as Beit Meri was known. The first stone was laid in 1747 by the monk Simon Arida of Katalat, followed by Superior General Father Ibrahim Aoun of Roumieh in the Metn, who went to Rome to collect funds. They first made an extensive cellar stretching south from the church to the refectory over which rooms were built together with a large vaulted hall. The monastery was built right on top of the remains of the Citadel.

However, the actual church near the monastery stands over the wall of the great Baal Markadi temple, and is 32m long and 16m wide. The date of its construction,1762, is engraved over the west door, together with the name of the founder Ibrahim Aoun. Before this church was built, the monks used to pray in the chapel dedicated to St. Anthony.

Under the monk Timothaos of Beit Meri, work began on the west basements.. The passage was undertaken by the monk Philip el Hajj Boutros. In 1891, under the administration of the monk Simon el Beabdati, who rearranged the rooms and the cellar, he built a large reception hall and covered both the old and the new parts of the monastery with tiles. He put a dome (((belfry?))) over the church and purchased the bell. The sacristy, like a chapel, was constructed by Superior General Boutros el Tyah of Ghazir.

Mention must be made here of the monk Anthony Nehmetallah el Maadi (1881-1954), who studied architecture and sculpture in Belgium and obtained the Diploma of the Ecole nationale de Beaux Arts de Paris. From 1912 he was official architect for the churches, altars and belfries in Lebanon.

During the bloody events of the Lebanese Mountain 1840-1860, the monastery was twice ravaged by fire according to the old monks, while the Ottoman governor Jamal Pasha el Saffah (the Executioner) occupied the place during World War I, burning the library and obliging the monks to flee and take refuge in the farm Ain el Baradeh el Shabounieh at Ain Saadeh, where one may still see the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation.

The superior generals made the monastery their headquarters from the time of Abbot Bernard Ghobeirah to that of Abbot Aramouni, who preferred the monastery of Mar Roukos in Dekwaneh in winter and that of the Citadel, Beit Meri, in summer. Abbot Harika launched the tourist festivals at the monastery, the first being in 1967, under the patronage of President Charles Helou and with the participation of the singer Wadih el Safi, several poets and artists, and troops of performers. 1971 saw the inauguration of a festival of Zajal, a form of poetry contest. During the recent civil war, part of the monastery was demolished and Father Elias Lotfollah was murdered. On October 14th, 1990, two monks were seized and killed in mysterious circumstances, the monastery superior Father Alobert Shirfan and the monk Sleiman Abi Khalil.

From 1996, after many efforts, the Anthonine Congregation began construction and repair of the damage caused by the war and occupation by the many foreign troops in order to restore the role of the monastery and the beauty of this high eminence in Metn, long witness to the history of Lebanon, always triumphant in its mission to the East and to the world...

Since then the activities have gone from strength to strength, with a school and a workshop for mosaic, impressive exhibitions, and cultural and tourist events. Buses with tourists arrive by the hundred, for the concerts, competitions, exhibitions of painting, conferences, youth gatherings, and literary and poetry evenings, for which the old monastery has proved ideal.

For the 21st century, the community has great ambitions. The monks are planning many activities and live in perfect communion with their environment. The era of the computer, the Web, and rapid communication and exchange finds numberless new forms of expression on the ground.

- Deir El Kalaa in Beit Mery,
monastery of the Citadel: >> View Movie << (2007-10-01)


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