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

Historic / Sacred Sites

Section I

Section II || Section III

Translated into English by Najwa Nasr

1- Our Lady of Elige – Mayfouq Monastery

“Mayfouq” is a Syriac word which means “the water found above”. The village of Mayfouq is in Caza of Jbeil (Byblos) at an altitude of about 850m above sea level, and at 64km from Beirut. The Elige region has several religious sites that testify to its history and importance across ages. Most important among those sites is the Monastery of Saint Elige.

The history of this monastery is still somewhat vague. It is built with natural un-chiseled building boulders. The oldest evidence of its history can be seen in the Syriac inscriptions dated AD 1120 found above a window in the monastery’s north façade. The inscriptions state: “In the name of the living eternal Lord, four patriarchs built the monastery (among them: Jeremiah, Jacob, and John) in AD 1221. The construction of the Lord’s mother monastery, so her prayers be with us, was completed by the sinners father David, Peter, and John.”

In this context, it is important to note that some of the inscriptions found on the walls of the monastery relate part of its history: to the right of the main entrance, there is a relief of a bull’s head which signifies the remains of a pagan temple; above the door-sill of the main gate, a cross stands as an evidence of the Crusade era.

This monastery remained deserted until the Lebanese Maronite Order received it as a donation from the ruler of Mount Lebanon Prince Youssef Chehab, and restored it. On one of the walls, we read the following inscription: “This temple was renovated in 1746 by the priests Amon and Manila.”

Based on historical evidence, sixteen patriarchs lived in this monastery which was considered the most prominent see of the Maronite Patriarchate in Lebanon. Among those we cite Peter the First (1121) who had a major role in the construction of the monastery, Jeremiah of Amchit (1215), and Daniel Hadchiti who bravely confronted the Mamluks and died a martyr in 1282.

The church of the monastery was probably built on the remains of a pagan temple; this is based on some of the inscriptions found on the old stone blocks. Presently, the church still bears evidence of its historic and antiquarian value.


2- The Monastery of Saint Youhanna (John) Maroun - Kfarhay

“Kfarhay” is a Syriac word which means the pure place. Kfarhay is a town in the Caza of Batroun; it has an altitude of 400m above sea level, and located at 67km from Beirut. This town contains several water sources; its inhabitants are mainly farmers planting tobacco, olive trees and vegetables. There are many historic sites in Kfarhay in addition to religious landmarks most important of which is the Monastery of Saint Youhanna Maroun.

Most resources state that the monastery was probably built during the seventh century around the year AD 676 by Patriarch Youhanna Maroun who moved over the relics of “the head of Saint Maroun” into it; thus the Monastery became the first See of the Maronite Patriarchate.

After the Patriarchate See was moved to the Monastery of Saint Yanouh, the Monastery of Saint Youhanna Maroun was destroyed by wars and the ensuing acts of persecution. It was reconstructed during several periods by the earnest efforts and dedication of Maronite patriarchs until it was finally renovated by Patriarch Youssef Estephan aided by prominent men in the region towards the end of the eighteenth century.

According to a document dated August 15, 1812 written by Bishop Germanos Thabet, a school was established in the vicinity of the monastery, but the school had to close down due to the circumstances which the monastery suffered from.

Based on inscriptions found on a marble plate mounted on one of the internal walls, the monastery was restored several times the latest of which was in 1996 by the endeavor of Bishop Boulos Emil Saadé. The inscriptions state: “His Beatitude and Eminence Patriarch Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir sanctified the restoration works of the Monastery of Saint Youhanna Maroun in Kfarhay during the term of His Excellency Bishop Boulos Emil Saadé the general patriarchal deputy in the Batroun region on August 3rd, 1996,” who returned the relics of the “Head of Saint Maroun” from Italy after one of the Benedict monks carried them over to the Monastery of the Cross in Sansovino in Italy in AD 1131, to be transferred later to a church built there in the name of Saint Maroun. The bishop of Folignio moved it later on to the local cathedral after the church was demolished in AD 1449.

Following the exchange of successive correspondences between Bishop Boulos Saadé and Arduino Bertoldo, bishop of Folignio, an agreement was reached to send part of the relics inside a bronze statue through the general secretariat of the Vatican to the Apostolic Nunciature in Lebanon. Bishop Saadé handed over the relics to the Maronite Patriarchate on October 17th, 1998. The relics were preserved at the consignment office of the Patriarchal See before they were moved over to the Monastery of Saint Youhanna Maroun.

The church of the monastery was sanctified during the term of Patriarch Youhanna Maroun and dedicated to Saint Maroun. Its marble altar, next to the wall, is gold-lined, and in the center lies the sanctum sanctorum. The church was restored in 1996; its architecture is distinguished by relief building blocs and an illustrious vault. The church doors carry a variety of decorations and some ancient scripts, in addition to the wooden doors that add to its aesthetic value.


3- The Monastery of Saint Marounthe Sepulcher of Saint Charbel

Annaya is a Syriac word which means ‘the singer’ or the ‘shepherd’. Annaya is in the Caza of Jbeil (Byblos); it has an altitude of 1100-1400m above sea level, and located at 58km from Beirut. In this town, we find the monastery of Saint Maroun and the sepulcher of Saint Charbel.

After Patriarch Gabriel II was killed, the Maronites were dispersed and lived through a long period of unsettlement. Until a time came when they reached with the Shiites the “one third agreement” to regain their properties in the regions they had deserted. Among those Maronites, we cite the two worshipers Youssef Abou Ramia and Daoud Issa who later regained the “Tor” region (the current “Mahbassah” or “sanctuary” in which Saint Charbel spent his life in seclusion). In 1811, Abou Ramia and Issa also renovated the remains of the ancient temple found there, and constructed a house they called “the Monastery of the Transfiguration”. In 1814, they donated “the Monastery of the Transfiguration” to the Lebanese Maronite Order during the term of Father Superior or Abbot Ignatius Bleibel with the consent of Patriarch Youhanna Helou who requested that the monastery be dedicated to the patron Saints Peter and Paul, and appealed to the believers to assist the priests in completing the construction of the monastery.

Due to the financial conditions of the Maronite Order back then, means were hardly enough to support the monks; furthermore, the location was not suitable for the construction of the monastery. So, the Order decided to turn the old monastery into a hermitage or a sanctuary for seclusion. In 1820, the Maronite Order began to buy property from the local inhabitants and built some prayer cells. The monks completed the construction of all the cellars in 1841.

In 1842, the monastery faced a disaster due to the attack launched against it by the inhabitants of the town of Hjoula. The monastery was completely robbed of all its contents; its ancient manuscripts were burned; and one of the monks, Friar Iskandar Turtujani was killed.

After the restoration of the monastery, it was turned into an initiation monastery. Friar Charbel Makhlouf (Saint Charbel) declared his monastic vows there on October 1st, 1853. In 1977, the Maronite Order set up a special museum in the basement floor of the monastery to display Saint Charbel’s clerical attire and the sacred utensils he used. In addition, we find what the patients had left behind after they were graced with their healing. The second floor represents the reception area for visitors. The outer yard was also renovated, and it now contains an ancient water fountain.


Saint Charbel’s life stages

Youssef Antoun Makhlouf was born in 1828 in Bekaa Kafra (North Lebanon). He was raised as a Christian, and was fond of prayer ever since his childhood. He also followed the example of both of his maternal uncles who lived as hermits in the hermitage of the Monastery of Saint Antonious Qozhayya; thus so, Youssef got inclined to reclusion and a monastic life style.

In 1851, Youssef left his parents and his village heading towards the Convent of Our Lady of Mayfouq to spend his first year of his monasticism. He then left for the Monastery of Saint Maroun - Annaya where he joined the Maronite Order and took for himself the name of Charbel after one of the martyrs of the Antioch church in the second century. On November 1st, 1853, he declared his liturgical vows at the Monastery of Saint Maroun – Annaya and completed his theological studies at the Monastery of Saint Kibrianos –Kfifan in Batroun. He was ordained priest at the Patriarchal See in Bkerké on July 23rd, 1859.

Father Charbel lived in the Monastery of Saint Maroun – Annaya for sixteen years. On February 15th, 1875, he moved permanently to Saint Peter and Paul’s hermitage at the monastery. He was exemplary in leading the life of a saint and a hermit spending his time in prayer and devotion, rarely leaving his hermitage. His life was modeled on that of the ancient hermits and saints in prayer, lifestyle, and practices.

Father Charbel lived in the hermitage for twenty three years. During the celebration of the holy ceremony on December 16th, 1898, he was struck with hemiplegia (total paralysis of the arm, leg, and trunk on the same side of the body), and endured a period of suffering and agony that lasted till Christmas Eve. He died on December 24th, 1898. On Christmas day, his body was moved from the hermitage to the monastery to be buried in the monks’ cemetery now situated behind his statue.

Few months after his death, strong beams of light appeared around his grave. His body, which exuded sweat and blood, was moved into a special coffin. There, crowds of pilgrims started to visit the place supplicating his saintly intercession. Many were blessed with recovery and the spiritual grace of his intercession.

In 1925, a petition was raised to canonize him and declare his sanctity to Pope Pius XI. In 1950, father Charbel’s tomb was opened in the presence of an official committee of doctors who verified the intact condition of the body. After that incident, more people were miraculously healed, and pilgrims of all religions and sects flocked to the monastery seeking his saintly intercession.


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