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Panoramic Views > North > El Koura > Monastery Hamatoura

The Monastery of Hamatoura in Kousba
(Our Lady)

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.

Joseph Matar

- The Monastery of Hamatoura - Out: >> View Movie << (2010-02-15)
- The Monastery of Hamatoura - In: >> View Movie << (2010-02-15)



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