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Panoramic Views > North > Al Batroun > Wata Houb, Monastery of Anthony the Great

The Monastery of Houb, another Cluny Abbey

It is no cause for surprise that the monks of Saint Anthony the Great should have named some of their monasteries after their holy founder and patron. Saint Anthony Qozhaya, Saint Anthony the Great of Houb, Saint Anthony at Sodeco, do not these and many other Saint Anthonys proclaim the Father of Monks, their founder and patron? Antoun, Tanios, Mtanios, Tannous, these are all Lebanese variations of the one name Anthony.

The village of Houb, whose name in Syriac means Love, stands on the heights of Tannourine in the prefecture of Batroun, North Lebanon, fifty-five miles from the capital Beirut and at nearly four thousand feet above sea level. There on a picturesque hill, and surrounded by cedar trees and mixed forest, is the monastery of St. Anthony the Great. Perched on its summit as on an eagle’s nest, with all around hilltops, cliffs and bubbling springs, with basement and cellars and a red-tiled roof adding a splash of color to the rich and verdant surrounding nature, the monastery was built by monks to a height of three stories.

The interior patio is formed of arches. The entry is sober in style and imposes silence and respect. The church wearing the sheen of time invokes prayer and recollection. One part has been modernized, taking into account winter temperatures of below zero°C. The paving within the square that leads up to the church’s entrance presents an attractive perspective, while the view outside is of surrounding terraces planted with vines and fruit trees or with plots of vegetables.

During summer vocations I have been several times to this out-of-the-way monastery to see my students. Every time I was given the warmest of welcomes. At Houb nature, the monastery, the environment and the people are all one.

In the year 1700 Sheikh Suleiman el-Hashem invited the monks of the Order of St. Anthony to cultivate the region of Houb and to build a monastery there. In 1714 the people of Tannourine suggested to the Superior General that they should present him with the land around St. Doumit, now Qata Houb, in return for the congregation setting up schools to teach reading and writing and the catechism. In 1719 a certain distinguished personality of the region, Lady ‘Umm Fadl, and her two sons Sheikh Missber and Qabalan el-Khazen gave the congregation their shares of the land at Wata Houb, but it was not until 1736 that the monks set about building the monastery. In those days there was quite a large and self-sufficient local population, among which were to be found masons, blacksmiths, carpenters and farmers.

In 1766 Emir Yusef Shehab finally handed over the property of both St. Anthony and St. James (Yaacoub) to the monks. In 1790 the order joined the two religious houses of Our Lady and of Saint Anthony into the one monastery named after St. Anthony the Great which one sees standing now. Once the building was completed, the monks put up a hermitage on the remains of the church of St. George to the west of the monastery, in which several generations of hermits have lived lives of piety and holiness, among them Fathers Yuakim ez-Zouqi (1848), Athanasius es-Saghbini (1881), and Dagher et-Tannouri (1916).

In 1859 the Order decided to divide up some of the lands and to attach the plots so formed to other monasteries as well as to the new School of Our Lady of Deliverance at Bassa.

The monks of Houb were very active, building houses for their workmen and their associates, as well as religious houses, schools and sanatoria, and even offering the government a lot of 15,000 sq. meters (roughly 20,000 sq. yards) for the construction of a hospital.

The monks lived very much after the style of those of the immense French monastery of Cluny in the Middle Ages. Not only were they engaged in educational, religious and cultural activities, but in their number there were skilled technicians and craftsmen of every description, tailors, hairdressers, bookbinders, cobblers, blacksmiths and carpenters, not forgetting those occupied with growing produce in the fields and raising livestock. The monastery has never been self-centered and concerned merely with its own business; it gave half of the harvest to the more than eighty families associated with its labors and set up a cooperative for mutual aid whose activity extended over the whole region. Its message was national, Christian, cultural and humanist.

Joseph and William Matar
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

- Monastery Saint Antoine 1: >> View Movie << (2012-04-01)
- Monastery Saint Antoine 2: >> View Movie << (2012-04-01)


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