3. The Maronites: Their Sacred Sites
  Instructor: Father Fadi Kmeid

  Click HERE to go to Section I.

Historic / Sacred Sites

Section II

Translated into English by Najwa Nasr

1- The Monastery of Our Lady of Bkerké


“Bkerké” is a Syriac word which means “the house of tomes and bookcases”; it is probably composed of two syllables: “beit kerké” which means “a place where bookcases, tomes, and cilts (major division of a published work) are kept”, that is a library where books and records are preserved. Bkerké is situated on the south-eastern versant of a mountain overlooking the city of Jounieh amidst a thick forest with a direct view of the Jounieh Bay and the coast that extends southward all the way to where the cape of Beirut is visible. Bkerké is at 300m above sea level and at 25km from Beirut. This town has the Monastery of Our Lady of Bkerké which is the See of the Maronite Patriarchate.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, ten Sheiks of the Khazen family built this monastery in the vicinity where the church of Our Lady al-Bashousha (bright-faced) still stands; they also bought the surrounding land lots. In AD1726, the monastery was handed over to the Maronite Antonine Order who, with the help of Sheikh Haykal el Khazen and his brother Khattar, built a new monastery composed of four small rooms and a priest’s house.

In AD 1751, Bishop Germanos el Halabi of the Antonine Order bought the monastery and completed its construction and handed it over to Sister Hanneh Ojeimi who established the Order of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However, in AD 1779, a Bull (official order or announcement from the Pope) was issued to annul that Order; henceforward, the Monastery of Our Lady of Bkerké became the winter See of the Maronite Patriarchate. Since AD 1823, the Maronite patriarchs have spent the winter season continuously in this monastery. The first patriarch was Youssef Hobeich from Sahel Alma.

The Patriarchal See contains a library of old valuable and rare books, and archives of Bulls received by the patriarchs, Arabic and Syriac manuscripts transcribed by bishops and priests over generations, and documents that relate the conditions of the Maronites in times past. In AD 1730, the church was built with outstanding and distinguished artistic perfection with a display of columns after the simple oriental bearing. Patriarch Elias Hoyeck furnished it with precious utensils and diverse uniforms and two copper candleholders. The artist Youssef Hoyeck adorned the church with oil paintings the most magnificent of which is a painting of Our Lady of the Assumption mounted behind the marble altar brought over from Rome.


2- The Monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubine


Qannoubine is a Syriac term which means the ‘group’ or ‘the company’. There is no evidenced attestation to the date of the construction of the monastery. Some believe it was built by king Theodosius the Great during the fourth century; others believe it was built by Saint Theodosius known as the Abbot of monasteries, or by one of the Saint’s disciples.

This monastery played a significant role in the history of monasticism and asceticism in the sacred valley of Qadisha. The scholar Patriarch Dweihi called it “the monastery of the two-hundred monks”. It was adopted as a center for the initiation of monks where they led a communal life before moving on to a life of asceticism in the nearby hermitages.

It is important to note that the secular authorities as well sought its prosperity.  The Mamluk king al Thaher—Barqouq—went down to the monastery after he escaped from jail. Minister Boutros, father superior of the monastery, welcomed him; as a result, the king signed a copper plate asserting that the monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubine was exempted from paying taxes.

Our Lady of Qannoubine monastery was the official See of the Maronite Patriarchate from AD 1440 until the first quarter of the nineteenth century despite the fact that some patriarchs had to leave it and take shelter in the Cazas of Kesrouan or Chouf due to the despotism of the Tripoli rulers. The first patriarch who lived in the monastery was Patriarch Youhanna al-Jaji.

This monastery was built in different stages to become formed of its cross wall construction and tubular cellars. Important to note that five years ago, a fresco was discovered of a face that could be the face of an angel, that is probably one of other fresco remains dating back to the Middle Ages; however, restoration works are still going on today supervised by the Antonine Sisters.

Our Lady of Qannoubine monastery is considered one of the oldest Maronite monasteries where monks lived according to the ancient tradition of ascetic life after having been in seclusion in the caves spread all over the valley in the vicinity of the monastery.

The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, takes the shape of a domed arch that seems like a broken vault; its roof is made up of wooden junctures inserted in the rock. It is believed that its plastering was probably done in the year AD 1702 based on inscriptions in Karshouni (transcription of Arabic in Syriac letters) found at the bottom of a fresco on the main arch.

There are no windows in the structure due to the difficulty of digging them in rock; its vault is composed of three apses crowned with several frescos, most important of which is the one representing the coronation of the Virgin Mary, found in the northern side of the church, above the baptism basin.


The fresco pictures the coronation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Trinity (Holy Spirit), resting above the cedars of Lebanon, wearing red the sign of glory, and all the Maronite patriarchs at her feet wearing Roman attire. The Latin crown has Syriac inscriptions saying “come on my bride from Lebanon, ye be crowned”, and the angels surround her with their musical instruments with clouds spread around them. The sun appears in the right corner of the picture while the moon is in the left one; both represent a basic Syriac iconographic factor. We also notice other inscriptions in the Karshouni script listing the names of the consecutive patriarchs to the See without neglecting their pictures as well. It is important to note that this fresco is an oriental iconography that relates a synopsis of the Maronite state during that period. It has Levantine roots and Roman Latin inscriptions despite the addition of Italian factors. The lower part of the fresco was damaged by time.


In the main apse, we find the fresco of “supplication” representing Lord Jesus, the Pantocrator, sitting on His throne wearing a large red triangular crown similar to the one worn by the Supreme Pontiff; his robe is dark blue ornamented with flowers; he blesses with his right hand raising two fingers that denote his dual nature: the absolute holy one and the absolute human one. In his left hand, he holds the Holy Bible; at his feet, the four animals are found. Around him, young angels spread engulfed with clouds.


To his right, stands the Virgin Mary with a golden halo around her head and her arms raised open to her son the king of glory; her right hand to her heart. The artist was keen to clearly depict the three stars in the form of buds on the Virgin Mary’s head and shoulders, as a sign of her virginity before, during, and after delivery.


To his left stands Saint Estephanos wearing the uniform of a deacon and carrying the palm leaf of martyrdom in his right hand.

In the bottom of the fresco, Syriac inscriptions state, “Hail to you Saint Mary, supplicate for us; Saint Estephanos pray for us.”

On both sides of the big altar, two small apses are found; the fresco of the right apse represents Saint Joseph carrying the Divine Child in his left hand; a saw in his right hand symbolizes his profession as a carpenter. Saint Joseph is surrounded by six angels. At the bottom of the fresco, Syriac inscriptions state, “Hail Saint Joseph, supplicate for us”.


The fresco of the left apse represents the Prophet Daniel thrown in a black pit.


3- The Lady of Lebanon – Harissa

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