On leaving the region of Batroun in North Lebanon,
we come into the District of Koura. The coastal
part dominating the sea is famous for its high cliff,
on top of which rises the monastery of Our Lady
of Nourieh. Koura, whose name is derived from a
Greek and Syriac word meaning the region, rises
to an altitude of 500 meters (1,600 feet); it is
bordered by the river El-Jaouz on the south and
Al-Kadisha on the north.
There are many remains to be found in this region,
one which was Christianized at the very dawn of
Christianity. There are temples and churches dating
from the Romans, the Byzantines and the Crusaders,
among others. At Bziza, Enfeh and Amyoun, the center
of the region, there are seven hills with temples
and churches. Two kilometers (about a mile and a
quarter) further up, lies the village of Kosbah
ready to welcome us. On its northern side is the
monastery of Our Lady of Hamatoura, built in the
rocky hollow of a high cliff which overlooks the
holy valley of Kadisha. Hamatoura is 84km from Beirut.
The church is the most ancient part of the monastery,
belonging to the 4th century, while a large cross
from the 7th century rises above the outer doorway.
Some quite well preserved frescoes dating back to
the middle ages cover the walls of the church, one
of which shows the Holy Virgin, Queen of Heaven,
seated on a throne with the Child Jesus on her knees.
Near the monastery are two venerable churches, one
dedicated to Saint Michael and the other to Saint
John the Baptist. On the top of the hill one can
see the church of St. George. Close by the monastery
is a rocky cave where one may perceive the base
of a stalagmite, where barren women come to pray
in the hope of bearing a child, for this grotto
was dedicated to the pagan goddess of fecundity.
Reaching the monastery of Hamatoura is quite an
adventure. There is no road leading up to it, so
one needs an ardent desire and strong will. Getting
there is a real pilgrimage, a prayer, an act of
faith, an act of communion with the crucified Christ.
It is quite a climb; first one has to park one’s
car at the bottom of the valley by the bank of the
river, near a hydraulic electric power station and
two old water-mills. One then goes on foot up a
steep path which over two kilometers rises more
than 200 meters. Halfway up there is another monastery,
dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The monastery
of Hamatoura dominates the cliff almost vertically.
The Greek Orthodox monks living in the monastery
bring in provisions on donkeys and mules. It is
a pleasure to arrive at the monastery, above the
cliff facing Kosbah. Below runs the water of the
Holy Valley, which on reaching Tripoli changes its
name and becomes the river Abu Ali.
To visit Hamatoura is to fulfill a vow, to make
a holy pilgrimage, to offer a prayer.
The vestiges of a pagan temple are still to be seen.
A new building has been added to those occupied
by the monks, who are very friendly and received
us warmly, inviting us to have lunch and to share
their monastic life for a little time. They spend
their time in prayer, work and meditation.
Two rooms well protected conserve a reliquary with
bones and a number of skulls, relics of the massacres
carried out by the Mamelukes. One of them was dressed
as a monk, with long black robe; he asked for hospitality,
and then when night fell and all were asleep, he
let in his Egyptian accomplices, who slaughtered
wholesale men, animals and everything that moved.
A sweet odor of incense and holiness emanates from
thes halls even now.
The Monastery of Hamatoura
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- The Monastery of Hamatoura
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Movie << (2010-02-15)