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Panoramic Views > Mount Lebanon > Jbeil-Byblos > Saint Sharbel, Maad


Saint Sharbel’s Church at Maad - The same text in Arabic

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.

Architecture.

The porch.

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.
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 inscription.

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.

Interpretation.
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 significance.

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: >> View Movie << (2011-02-01)

 

 


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