Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon, Harissa, Lebanon.

"The just man shall fluorish like a palm tree,
like a Cedar of Lebanon shall he grow."
Psalm 92:12

Lebanon is a land of exceptional beauty and history. Situated on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the Lebanon mountain range rises majestically from the sea to snow-capped mountain peaks that reach over 10,000 feet. Nestled in the mountains in the north are the famous Cedars of Lebanon, often mentioned in the Bible such as the Books of Psalms, the Song of Songs, and the Prophet Isaiah. For example, the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem was built from the Cedars of Lebanon, as described in the First Book of Kings 5-7. The prophet Elijah attended to the widow and her son in Zarephath near Sidon in First Kings 17. Jesus and Mary visited Lebanon during his public ministry.

Lebanon has a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and she has become known there as Our Lady of Lebanon. God sent his angel Gabriel to Maryam, as she is called in Aramaic and Arabic, to announce she would be the Mother of Our Lord Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). And while she was living, she visited Lebanon with her Son! There is a Sanctuary in the village of Magdousheh in southern Lebanon dedicated to the Virgin of Mantara, where Mary stayed awaiting her Son when Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon. St. Helena of Constantinople, the mother of Constantine, donated an icon of the Virgin to the Sanctuary in 326 AD, and it remains there to this day. There is now the Shrine of Our Lady of Mantara (Our Lady of Waiting). Melkite Catholics live in the village today and preserve the heritage of Maryam, Our Lady of Mantara.

Our Lady of Lebanon is the Patron Saint of Lebanon. The Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church is located in Harissa, a mountain village about thirty minutes north of Beirut, the capital city. The statue of the Virgin was crafted in Lyons, France. The Blessed Virgin Mary was named the Queen of Lebanon by the Maronite Patriarch on Sunday, May 3, 1908 during the Inaugural Mass upon completion of the Basilica. To this day, the Anniversary of Our Lady of Lebanon is celebrated on the first Sunday of May. The Harissa Shrine, sometimes called Notre Dame du Liban, was visited by Pope John Paul II on May 10, 1997 in his effort to support Eastern Catholicism and to evangelize the youth. Located about 1900 feet above sea level, the view from the Shrine is breathtaking. Some pilgrims take the aerial gondola lift known as the Téléphérique from Jounieh on the coast up to the Harissa Shrine.

Jesus son of Mary was born in Bethlehem of Judea (Luke 2:4-7) and raised in Nazareth of Galilee (Matthew 2:23). Jesus of Nazareth was the first to evangelize the Gentiles when he visited Tyre and healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman, as noted in Mark 7:24-30. The Gospel of John 2:1-11 describes Jesus performing his first miracle when he turned water into wine at the request of his mother Mary at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee. The location of Cana includes many possibilities. The Cana southwest of Tyre in Lebanon today was located near the region of Galilee at the time of Jesus, and was identified by the historian Eusebius of Caesarea as the actual site. There is a grotto in Qana, Lebanon with large stone water jars as well as a sculpture symbolic of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.

Jesus Christ, following his Resurrection, commissioned his Apostles to be his witnesses in Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Early Christians who had been scattered from Saul's persecution went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:19). Indeed, followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26) and were also known as Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). After his Conversion on the road to Damascus, Syria, Saul first preached there in the city. He traveled to Arabia and then returned to Damascus, where he lived for three years (Galatians 1:17-18). Saul, now called Paul, and Barnabas traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria on the way to the Council of Jerusalem, telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, bringing great joy to all the brothers (Acts 15:3). On the return from the third missionary journey, Paul and Luke took a ship bound for Phoenicia (Acts 21:2) and stayed a week in Tyre and visited the disciples there. They also stopped in Sidon on the fourth missionary trip to Rome (Acts 27:3). Sidon and Tyre were considered part of Phoenicia during the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tradition has it that St. Peter founded a small church in Tortosa dedicated to the Virgin Mary on his travels through Phoenicia. The Church was visited by many, and through the intercession of the "Immaculate Virgin," many benefits were reported to have been granted "from on high in answer to the prayers of the faithful in time of need."

The Cedars of Lebanon, in the mountains near Hasroun, Lebanon, courtesy of Ina Rihani and Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church, Washington, D. C.

The Eastern Catholic Maronite Church of Lebanon evolved from the efforts of St. Maron, a monk in the fourth century who left Antioch, Syria for the Orontes River to lead an ascetic life. As he was blessed with the gift of healing, his life of solitude was short-lived, and soon he had many followers that adopted his monastic way. Following the death of St. Maron in 410, his disciples built a monastery in his memory and formed the nucleus of the Maronite Church. The martyrdom of 350 monks, for remaining true to Rome and the Council of Chalcedon (451), led the Maronites to seek refuge in the mountains of Lebanon. The Maronites, because of their monastic origin, have been able to withstand intense pressure and persecution to preserve their Church and maintain the Christian culture of Lebanon - right to the present day. The feast day of St. Maron is February 9 and is celebrated as a National Holiday in Lebanon. The Patriarch of the Maronite Church resides in Bkerke, near Harissa, leading his worldwide flock of over three million faithful in Lebanon and the Levant, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Mexico, and the United States. The celebration of the Divine Liturgy or Mass is spoken in the native tongue, Arabic in Lebanon, while the Consecration of the Eucharist is still celebrated in traditional Syriac Aramaic.

Lebanon is situated on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea; cities in purple were present during Phoenician times.

Phoenicia is the name given to those city-states that flourished on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and were identified as centers of maritime trade in ancient times. The coastal border of historic Phoenicia (in purple on above map) extended northwards beyond the present boundary of Lebanon to include Tortosa and the island of Arwad (or Arvad in Genesis 10:18 and Ezekiel 27:8, 11). Families began to inhabit the land around Byblos about 6000 BC. The Phoenicians were a peaceful, seafaring people expert in navigation and trade, and, beginning around 3200 BC, were the first to explore the Mediterranean Sea in boats made of cedar. Protected by the mountains of Lebanon from warring nations, they were able to differentiate from their neighbors and form a distinct culture and society. Byblos, Tyre (2750 BC), and Sidon became main centers of commerce. In the ninth century BC, the Phoenician language extended as far north as Cilicia in Asia Minor. Between the ninth and sixth centuries BC, the naval proficiency of the Phoenicians established the first trading system to encompass the entire Mediterranean from their homeland, in what is now Lebanon, to colonies in Cyprus, Carthage, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, and through the Straits of Gibraltar to Cadiz on the Atlantic coast of Spain and Lixus on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.

The Phoenicians developed the alphabet circa 1400-1250 BC in order to communicate with the diverse cultures and tongues of their trading partners. It was the Phoenician alphabet that was widely received and readily adapted throughout Greece and the Mediterranean world, as it was only 22 letters based on sound, as opposed to the myriad of symbols in cuneiform and hieroglyphics prevalent at the time. The words phonic and phonetic have the same root as the word Phoenicia.

The word Bible, which means "the book," is derived from the city of Byblos, which was a trading center for papyrus, the writing material for early books. The legend of the Phoenix, the bird consumed by fire only to regenerate, is based upon the Phoenician people, whose land was occupied and towns destroyed many times by warlike peoples, only to regenerate time and again. Phoenicia survived waves of invasions from the powers of the ancient world, such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, the Hellenic influence of Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, and finally the Romans. In fact, the Greeks were the ones that named the seafarers the Phoenicians, or phoinikes. The Romans spelled it phoenix! The land was still called Phoenicia at the time of Jesus Christ. Phoenicia gives all the people of Lebanon a unique heritage to their country.

St. George of Lydda, Palestine, a Christian Martyr in 303 AD under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, is the Patron Saint of Beirut, Lebanon. St. George Bay just off the coast of the St. George Hotel in Beirut is where St. George is said to have slain the dragon! Legends of St. George spread throughout Europe following the Crusades. St. George has also become the Patron Saint of Victory, Warriors, England, Georgia, and Moscow. His feast-day is celebrated April 23.

Lebanon was governed as part of Syria when the Roman Empire conquered the region in 64 BC. Constantine and Licinius of the Roman Empire issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD which provided toleration of Christianity. The Emperor Theodosius in 380 AD established Christianity as the state religion of the Byzantine Empire. Protected by the Byzantines and the Christian Ghassanids of Syria, Christianity prospered in Lebanon, especially with the foundation of the Maronite Church. Syria was conquered by Islam in 636 AD following the life of Muhammad, but Christianity thrived with the Maronites in the mountains of Lebanon. During the Crusades to the Holy Land, the Crusader Raymond of Toulouse discovered the Maronites near the Cedars of Lebanon on his way to Jerusalem in 1099. Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre were incorporated into the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem by 1124, while the northern portion of Lebanon was ruled by Raymond's son Bertrand of Toulouse when the County of Tripoli was established in 1109. The Crusader castle of Beaufort by the Litani River in southern Lebanon was completed in 1139. The Ottoman Empire assumed control over the region of Greater Syria beginning in 1517. However, following an international outcry over the 1860 massacre of Christians on Mount Lebanon and in Damascus, France under Napoleon III sent troops to Lebanon to preserve peace and Lebanon was established as a separate state within the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon was designated a Mandate of France by the League of Nations in 1920 after World War I. The Republic of Lebanon achieved its independence on November 22, 1943.

Lebanon is the crossroads of the East and West. The country has served as a center of culture and trade for the entire Middle East. The Lebanese people are noted for their adaptability and hospitality. The Lebanese people have migrated all over the world, reflecting their Phoenician heritage. Arabic, French, English, and Armenian newspapers proliferate in Beirut, as the Lebanese people have one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. The economy of Lebanon is based on banking, jewelry, mountain terrace farming, tourism, and trade. Lebanese artists are major producers of Arabic music for the entire Middle East. The intellectual ties to the West are reflected in the presence of two major universities, the American University of Beirut, founded in 1866, and L'Université Saint Joseph, founded in 1875. Lebanon is the birthplace of Kahlil Gibran, the author of The Prophet, a book of poetry that has sold over ten million copies in twenty languages worldwide. The country is unique, for one can go skiing in the mountains in the morning, and swimming in the Mediterranean in the afternoon. Noted historical sites include Byblos, Baalbek, and the Crusader castle of Beaufort. All share in traditional Lebanese cuisine, which represents the classic Mediterranean diet. Famous for their health benefits, Lebanese prepared dishes such as grape leaves, kibbeh, tabooli, hummus, falafel, baba ghanouj, and baklawa are enjoyed the world over!

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo of Seville, Spain - The Holy Family on the Flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-21), Palazzo Bianco, Genoa, Italy, 1645.

Once predominantly Christian, the population achieved balance between Christian, Sunni, and Shiite due to Palestinian refugees from Israel. The dramatic influx of over a million refugees from Syria and Iraq obscures the true religious composition of the nation. March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, is a National Holiday in Lebanon, as the Virgin Mary, who is revered by Christians and Muslims alike, provides unity among Lebanese of every faith.

Our Lady of Lebanon, please pray for peace, peace in our hearts,
peace in our family, peace in our land, and peace throughout the world.

Our Lady of Lebanon, Harissa, Lebanon. Courtesy of Ina Rihani and Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church, Washington, D. C.


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