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Panoramic Views > North > Bcharreh > Qadisha and Qannoubine Valley

Qadisha and the Qannoubine Valley, Holiness and Sainthood

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 resting-place.

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 others.

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 << (2008-03-01)


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