25 kilometres north of Beirut, on the slope of one of the gracious hills stretching in an arc around the smiling bay of Jounieh, under the regard of the Virgin of Harissa, stands the residence of the Maronite Patriarch.
It was first of all a small monastery put up in the 17th century by the el-Khazen family, who have conserved the honour of always being represented at the solemnities celebrated at the Patrarchate.
During the time of Patriarch Youssef Estephan, born at nearby Ghosta where he built the Mar Youssef el-Hosn monastery in which he died and was buried, the house at Bkerke was bought from the Khazens by the nun Anne Hindiyeh Ojaimy to become the motherhouse of her Sisters of the Sacred Heart. It was in the chapel of this convent that Patriarch Philip Gemayel was buried in 1796.
In 1839 Patriarch Youssef Hobeish converted the convent into a patriarchal residence, while at the same time taking Diman for the summer and so putting an end to the use of the former residence at Qannoubin in the depths of the Holy Valley. Patriarch Yuhanna el-Hajj, 1890-1898, restructured the building to give it its present outline.
In 1995, Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir added a wing for meeting-rooms, archives and patriarchal museum. He added a sepulchre for the patriarchs and decorated the chapel with stained-glass windows.
On 10th May, 1997, His Holiness Pope John Paul II came as a visitor.
This residence serves as a high point of reference for both religious and political questions. The Patriarchate of the Maronite Church came into existence in 687 A.D. on the initiative of Pope Saint Sergius, from Homs in Syria, and of Bishop Saint John Maroun, from Kfar Hay near Batroun, as a result of political and theological dissensions between Byzantines and Arabs and between Chalcedonians and Monophysites.
The patriarchal residence remained at Kfar Hay from 687 to 938. Between 938 and 1440 it was at Mayfouk-Ilij in the Jbeil region, after which it moved to Qannoubin in Qadisha, the Holy Valley, where it stayed until 1823.
Throughout all these times the Maronite patriarch has always enjoyed an undisputed religious and political authority in the region. By the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople and by the western powers, by the French Republic as formerly by the kings of France, he was always regarded as the authorised representative of his people, including all the Christians taken together. It was considered natural for him to be the interpreter of their aspirations and of their griefs, nothing of importance on the political level being done without his active and sought-after participation. He is one of the great moral voices of the Levant whom the Powers take into consideration. He normally presides the Assembly of Patriarchs and Bishops of the area. The line of Maronite patriarchs has included some figures outstanding in the regional, community, cultural and political fields, mentioned in the Histoire des Maronites of Boutros Daou, pages 390 to 570, such as the founder Saint John Maroun and His Beatitude Elias Hwayek, the most active partisan for obtaining recognition of Lebanon as an independent nation at the Peace Conference in 1919, cf. idem p. 964.
- Bkerkeh, Maronite patriarch residence: >> View Movie << (2002-11-01)