and the Qannoubine Valley,Holiness
This is a valley quite unlike any other in Lebanon.
It is inseparable from the story of a great Nation
and of a community, which is unique, the Maronites.
One of the jewels of nature in North Lebanon, the
valley is hewn from the rock at the foot of the highest
peak of the Lebanese mountain chain, Qornet es-Sawda,
which rises to 3083 meters.
After Tourza, the valley of Qadisha, which in Aramaic
means the holy or sacred, divides into two branches,
the valley of Qozhaya and the valley of Qannoubine.
Before becoming known near Tripoli to the west as
Nahr Abou Ali, a stream grandly called Nahr Qadisha
flows along the floor of the valley, which stretches
along a rounded trench with 200-meter-high vertical
cliffs on either side and then penetrates the mountain
mass to a depth of 20 kilometers up the great moraine
crowning the famous forest of the many-thousand-year-old
Cedars of Lebanon.
The valley of Qannoubine begins at an altitude of
900 meters and finally reaches 1,900 up on the slope
of Qornet es-Sawda. It is indeed a holy valley, one
where every rock, stone, pebble, trunk, tree and grain
of earth bears the imprints of a great past civilization,
that of the cenobia where cenobite monks lived in
small communities, whereas the hermits lived alone.
On the mountain slopes one may see hundreds of grottos
where the holy anchorites used to live, above the
sacred limpid water winding along the river bed. Churches,
monasteries and shrines there are here by the score,
and caves where our former patriarchs still sleep
in the Lord, all to be reached by rugged paths zigzagging
up to the heights. Here is our Pantheon, our St.-Denis,
our cathedral of Reims, both fortress and impenetrable
retreat where many Maronite patriarchs took residence
or sought refuge between 1440 and 1823 when pressed
first by the invading Mamelukes and then by the Turks.
This valley whose rocky walls are pierced by the holy
laura of the monks recalls the earthly Paradise and
is further crowned by the ancient Cedars. It is like
a twofold Jerusalem of heaven and of earth, for Qannoubine
is both at the same time, a lofty place of refuge
and also of prayer for a thousand years, during which
the valley held out against the invaders, extremists
and conquerors of every description.
Churches, hermitages and caves are scattered all around.
Scores of bodies have been discovered. well preserved
after many centuries, with pieces of pottery and the
remains of paintings and frescoes on the walls, and
sometimes the remains of patriarchs in their last
On the crest running in a circle around the valley,
there stand a number of villages. To the south at
1450 meters above sea level, one sees Haddeth al-Jubbet,
from where one has a superb view of the whole arena,
then Hasroun and Bekaa Kafra, the highest village
in Lebanon, where the famous modern hermit Saint Sharbel
was born. In the background there is the extensive
agglomeration of Bsharri, birthplace of the celebrated
writer Khalil Gibran (1893-1931). Turning back northward
and then westward one finds the villages of Hadshit,
Blouza, Ban and Ehden, the latter facing Hadeth and
treasuring the mortal remains of Joseph Bey Karam,
hero of Lebanese independence.
The valley, thoroughly enclosed, has in its sides
and along its river bed famous thousand-year-old grottos
and hermitages where there lived and sought shelter
the monks and clergy of the Maronite Church, along
with others, less numerous, Ethiopians and even Muslims,
who came to adore God in solitude. On the heights
of Hoca one may visit a certain Colombian father,
Padre Daria Escobar, who entered the Maronite Church
and the Order of Lebanese Monks. Also to be visited
is the shrine dedicated to Saint Anthony, and the
Monastery and Church of Our Lady of Qannoubine, where
there is a fresco showing Christ amid the Holy Virgin
and Saint Stephen. There are two niches with representations
of Saint Joseph bearing on one hand the Child Jesus
and in the other a carpenter’s saw and an effigy of
the prophet Daniel. On the northern façade
of the church one sees the Crowning of the Holy Virgin
by the Holy Trinity and a crowd of patriarchs.
Another place to visit is the sanctuary of Saint Marina,
whose story is popular to the point of having become
a legend. She remained all her life disguised as a
monk and now one may behold the grotto and the oak
tree of Saint Marina, the sanctuary being hewn in
the rock and having very ancient and badly damaged
religious paintings on the walls. There are also the
grotto of al-Assi “the resister, the obstinate”, the
grotto of Assia, the grotto of Saint Barbara, and
The Maronite “Nation” considers this valley to be
its spiritual cradle; not only does it enfold the
tombs of the patriarchs of times past, but above the
southern ridge overlooking the valley is the present
patriarchal summer seat at Dimane. Visiting all these
sites of fairy beauty and legend is a fascinating
occupation as one climbs the winding pathways along
the rocky cliffs that take your breath away and finally
reaches some sanctuary with peeling naive wall-paintings
dating back to the early Middle Ages.
At Qozhaya there is an interesting museum showing
the tools once used in the villages and a printing
press with Syriac and Arabic type dating from the
17th century. In fact the valley is renowned for its
armed resistance down the centuries to the forays
of conquering Arabs, Mamelukes and Turks.
The cedars which crown the valley are all that remain
of a forest that once covered the whole mountain chain
of Lebanon, parts of which are still to be seen at
Jaj, at Hadeth, at Tannourine and as far away as Barouk.
Those of Bsharri are up to 25 meters tall and 12 meters
round the trunk, and of the two hundred that are left
a dozen are a thousand years old. It is not surprising
that the Cedar has become emblem of Lebanon enshrined
on the national flag. In this place one forgets oneself
by leaving aside material considerations in order
to commune with the Divine.
- The Hermitage of Hoca: >> View
Movie << (2007-09-01)
- Monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubine: >>View Movie