How to get there: Five
kilometers towards Tripoli after leaving Byblos
(Jbeil), turn right from the highway and follow
the road which passes Jeddayel, Shikan, Gharzouz
and then Maad, ten kilometers up.
Patron saint of the church: Mar Sharbel of Edessa.
Mar Sharbel of Edessa was the chief of the pagan
priests who used to offer sacrifices to the gods
of Edessa, a city in Turkey now called Urfa. Converted
to Christianity together with his sister Babai,
he was tortured under the Roman emperor Decius (236-250
A.D.) and then had his head cut off. His sister
Babai, who was present at his execution, then took
up some of his blood in her robe, saying, “May my
spirit be united with yours in the presence of Christ,
whom you have known and in whom you have believed.”
She in turn suffered martyrdom at the very same
spot where she had soaked up her brother’s blood.
Their death is commemorated on 5th September. History.
The church, which belongs to the diocese of Jbeil,
stands on older remains, of which the most ancient
traces belong to a pagan temple; on these a Byzantine
church was built during the 5th or 6th century,
one that was destroyed a little before the year
800 and rebuilt under the Crusaders in the 12th
or 13th century. Made a ruin again in 1615 A.D.
under the Ottomans, it was again rebuilt by a Maronite
priest and the people of Maad in 1723. Repairs were
carried out towards the end of the 19th century,
a door was opened on the north side and windows
were pierced on both the northern and southern sides.
One first passes through a kind of antechamber into
the church, one of later construction. This area
at present serves as a museum in which are preserved
the capitals and bases of columns, funeral caskets
and fragments of mosaic dating back to later Roman
times (3rd-4th century) and early Byzantine (5th-6th
century). To the left of the entrance there is a
Crusader funeral slab, decorated with rose and interlacing
patterns; this might belong to the tomb of Hnt (Joan),
only daughter of the German lord Kabansus, who took
up residence in Maad in 1243.
The church follows the basilica plan and is divided
into three naves arched over. Of Roman or Proto-Byzantine
origin, the drums of the columns are superimposed
haphazardly so that the capitals of some are used
as bases and the bases as capitals. Up by the choir
in the middle of the nave there is some of the old
paving and the round opening of an underground cistern
dating from Roman times. The central vault is decorated
with later paintings in Ottoman style. On the east
side one may see two superimposed apses, a very
unusual procedure, which leads one to suppose two
phases of construction with the inside apse belonging
to the more ancient church. This encloses a fresco
with the representation of a row of saints going
from Mar Sharbel (?), to whom the church is dedicated,
and Saint Peter with his keys on the left to Saint
Paul on the right, together with the four evangelists.
Two doors on either side of the central apse lead
to rectangular vaulted rooms. Behind the central
apse one may discern the doorstep of the old temple.
The south wall.
Here one may contemplate the Dormition of the Holy
Virgin, whose deathbed is surrounded by the twelve
apostles, each one identified by a Syriac inscription.
Among them stands a hierarch of high rank. In the
center of the fresco, Christ looks down on his mother
and carries her soul figured as a baby in swaddling
clothes, for death is seen by Christians as a rebirth
in eternal life. Two angels, one of whom carries
a cloth, prepare to receive this soul in Heaven,
while on either side of Christ two beardless tonsured
deacons in white albs bear lighted candles as for
a requiem. Higher up, two apostles appear, Saints
Bartholomew and Thomas, who according to various
traditions arrived late on the scene.
Above the deathbed is something that sometimes appears
in representations of the Dormition, namely that
a Jew from Jerusalem, Jephonias, pushed forward
and seized the hearse borne by the apostles and
behold! an angel of the Lord cut off his hands with
a sword of fire. On the right is the donor of the
fresco on his knees; his tonsure indicates him as
a member of the clergy, either priest or deacon.
In a frame apart, to the left of the Dormition,
is Saint James of Jerusalem, identified by a Greek
The north wall.
Here there is an opening in which used to be a marble
reliquary containing relics of Saint Sharbel, these
having been stolen some time after the fifteenth
century. On the earliest layer of paint, older than
the thirteenth century, there is a bishop wearing
a white omophorion with black crosses and facing
a holy martyr. According to various interpretations,
these might be Emperor Constantine and his mother
Helen, Saint Cyprian and Saint Justina, or Saint
Sharbel of Edessa and his sister Babai. Underneath
the opening there is the donor on his knees, beside
whom one may make out the outstretched arms of a
woman donor in an attitude of supplication.
The upper layer of paint, more recent, mid thirteenth-century,
represents a bishop wearing a Latin miter and a
saint facing him. In the middle the archangel Michael
holds a spear; in his left hand is a globe with
the head of Christ, with the letters of his name
in Greek IC XC. The donor of the fresco is represented
again on this northern wall in a column to the left,
on his knees and extending his hands to the bishop.
The representations of the donors show that this
place served as a chantry for the repose of their
souls. The saints appear in their quality as intercessors
for humanity, in particular for the departed, and
the archangel Michael as weighing souls on Judgment
Day, while the Dormition of the Virgin has funerary
Style and dating.
From a stylistic point of view, the figures in the
two layers of painting have the same characteristics.
Artistically, they show the absence of any model,
while the frontal pose and the oriental rigidity
of expression date the paintings to the local oriental
tradition of the twelfth to mid-thirteenth century
in the Lebanese Mountain.
- Church of
Saint Sharbel - Maad:
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