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Panoramic Views > North > Al Batroun > Deir Nourriyeh, Convent of Light

Deir Nourriyeh, the Convent of Light

On the coast between the two towns of Batroun and Shekka, some sixty kilometers north of Beirut, there rises a high plateau commanding the view of the horizon and dominating the sea with its steep cliff some two hundred meters (over six hundred feet) high, cutting North Lebanon off from the rest of the country.

Reaching this high and precipitous plateau demands some effort; it may be done either by following the coastal route crossing a geological fault or by passing round behind it through the Nahr al-Jawz valley that is guarded by a picturesque fortress perched on a rock, the Mossayleha.

The wide triangular surface shelters on its upper eastern side a Greek Orthodox village known as Hamat, from an Akkadian word meaning citadel, fortress or the impregnable. This place, mentioned several times in the Bible, represented in fact the northern limit of the kingdom of Byblos during the 3rd, 2nd and 1st millennia before Christ, and was the haunt of rebels and of brigands who imposed a ransom on passing travelers. It needed the illustrious Roman general Pompey to master the area, which he did in the year 66 B.C..

This high plateau has the attraction of sheltering a famous medieval convent called Deir Nourriyeh, the Convent of Light, overlooking the sea from its lofty eminence. The scene is of fairy beauty, an eagle’s eyrie, from where one has a view of blue waters stretching into a far distant horizon. Here is a magical site that the Greeks called Theou Prospon, the Face of God, in other words the Imposing Image of God facing the ocean.

The story goes that people lost at sea during a violent storm saw a light shining on the promontory and by this means were saved. A stele and a polychrome mosaic were installed on the summit dedicated to the Holy Virgin with her Child, everywhere invoked by sailors as Stella Maris, the Star of the Sea, to recall the miracle of how the travelers’ vessel was saved.

Near the monument stands a monastery dating from the 6th century A.D., the time of the emperor Justinian. Its church is served by the Orthodox clergy, while nuns guard and look after it, and recite the liturgical prayers.

This convent built on the remains of an earlier temple comprises rooms arranged in two storeys around a cloister which charms with its pillars and central court, a veritable haven of peace as in any contemplative nunnery. This courtyard leads one into the chapel, artistically built, with an elegant iconostasis and simple Byzantine icons some of which are of considerable age. The place draws many families on pilgrimage on Sundays and feast-days, when it resounds to enthralling chanting and hymn-singing. Children are brought to be baptized and couples to be married amidst great rejoicing. Fine weather brings family groups to picnic and troops of boy scouts and other holiday-makers who never tire of admiring the wonderful view of the sea and the soaring cliff.

But halfway up the cliff-face, lost among the tangled bushes and the rocks, one may see an ancient little monastic cenobium composed of several cells to accommodate anchorites. It can be reached only by a twisting path through the shrubbery. In it one finds a small rustic chapel with icons blackened like the walls by the smoke of votive candles lighted by countless intrepid and fervent visitors. Here also one is enraptured by the sight of the wide translucent sea and the great face of the cliff. The wild and primitive character of this solitary corner buried in exuberant vegetation must have been pleasing to hermits seeking silence and contemplation. It now gives joy to those who go down there and imposes their respect.

The collection of remarkable sites on this high plateau make it well worth visiting, particularly on days when the crowds are drawn.

Jean de Lalande - Translation: K.J. Mortimer

- Deir Nourriyeh, the Convent of Light: >> View Movie << (2007-04-01)
- Deir Nourriyeh, the Convent of Light: >> View Movie << (2011-09-01)


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