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 referred to in the Bible, such as the Books of Kings, Psalms, the Song of Solomon, 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 I Kings 17. Jesus and Mary visited Lebanon during his public ministry.

Lebanon has a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and she has become known there as Our Lady of Lebanon. For, while she was living, she visited there with her Son! There is a Sanctuary in southern Lebanon near Sidon dedicated to the Virgin of Mantara, a place where Mary stayed awaiting her Son when Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mantara (Our Lady of Waiting) was a place of pilgrimage for early Christians. 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. Melkite Catholics live in the village today and preserve the heritage of Mantara.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church is located in Harissa, a small town about thirty minutes north of Beirut, the capital city. The Blessed Virgin Mary was named the Queen of Lebanon by the Maronite Patriarch in 1908 upon completion of the Basilica. The Shrine was visited by Pope John Paul II in May of 1997 in his effort to support Eastern Catholicism and to evangelize the youth. Located between Jounieh on the coast and Bkerke, Harissa is surrounded by numerous churches and monasteries.

Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre.
And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.
But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit
immediately came and fell at His feet. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race.
Mark 7:24-26

Jesus Christ was the first to evangelize the Gentiles when he visited Tyre and performed a miracle for the Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter, as noted in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30. He then went through Sidon and then on to the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31). The Gospel of John 2:1-12 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 Cana southwest of Tyre in Lebanon today was located near the region of Galilee at the time of Jesus. The church historian Eusebius of Caesarea in 339 wrote that Cana of Galilee is the Cana south of Sidon. No one can say for sure in which of the towns named Cana the miracle of the wedding feast took place. There is a grotto in Qana, Lebanon with large stone water jars as well as a sculpture symbolic of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles.

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 originated from St. Maron, a monk in the fourth century who left Antioch 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 Patriarch of the Maronite Church resides in Bkerke, near Harissa, leading his worldwide flock of over three million faithful, in countries such as Lebanon, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, 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 Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Contemporary Map of Lebanon.  Lebanon is situated on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.  The Litani River courses through the fertile Bekaa Valley between two mountain ranges, the Lebanon and anti-Lebanon mountains.  Note that the northern border of Phoenicia (in purple) extended northwards beyond the present boundary of Lebanon; cities in purple were present during Phoenician times.

Phoenicia is the name given to those city-states that grew on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and were identified as centers of maritime trade in ancient times. 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 Canaanite 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, 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 source 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 the wave 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 64 BC. In fact, the Greeks were the ones that named the seafarers the Phoenicians, or phoinikes. The Romans spelled it phoenix! Phoenicia gives all the people of Lebanon a unique heritage to their country.

Jesus Christ commissioned his Apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Following his Conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), Paul first preached there in the city. He traveled to Arabia and then returned to Damascus, Syria, where he lived for three years (Galatians 1:17-18). St. Paul later stayed a week in Tyre and visited the disciples there after his return from his third missionary journey (Acts 21:2-3), and also stopped in Sidon on his fourth missionary trip to Rome (Acts 27:3). Sidon and Tyre were part of Phoenicia during the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

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, and Christianity prospered in Lebanon, especially with the foundation of the Maronite Church. Lebanon came under the influence of Islam in the seventh century after the life of Muhammad. During the Crusades, 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 under King Baldwin I in 1109, while the northern portion of Lebanon was ruled by Raymond's son Bertrand of Toulouse when the County of Tripoli was established. The Ottoman Empire assumed control over the region of Greater Syria beginning in 1517, but, following an international outcry over the 1860 Damascus massacre of Christians, 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, English, French, 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!

A favorite pastime in Lebanon and the Middle East is the table or board game Taawlah or Backgammon, also known as Shesh Besh. The game is one of the oldest in the world and likely originated in Mesopotamia about 5000 years ago. The most popular variety is Mahbouseh. In this type of game, you start off with all your 15 checkers (or pieces) at the 24 point, and then move them around to your home table. If you land on your opponent's uncovered checker, that piece is taken captive and becomes "imprisoned," and forms a block at that point. He cannot move that checker or land on that point until you move on. This is to your great advantage, because your opponent cannot take his checkers off the board until he has all his pieces at home!

Once predominantly Christian, the population achieved balance between Christian, Sunni, and Shiite due to Palestinian refugees from Israel. However, the dramatic influx of thousands of Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq leaves the true religious composition of Lebanon unknown. Many Christian families who have fled to Lebanon are Armenian Catholics from Aleppo, Melkite Catholics from Homs and Qasayr, and Chaldean Christians from Mosul. March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady, has become 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.


1 Sara Mary Haddad. Family Notes and Recipes.
2 Chorbishop Seely Beggiani of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary, Washington, D. C. The Maronite Church. New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Thomson and Gale, Washington, D. C., volume 9, 2003.
3 Navarre Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible. Four Courts Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2001-2005.
4 Ronald Roberson. The Eastern Christian Churches, Seventh Edition. Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome, 2008.
5 Kamal Salibi. A House of Many Mansions - the History of Lebanon. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1988.
6 Maria Eugenia Aubet. The Phoenicians and the West. Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, London, 2001.
7 Sanford Holst. Phoenicians - Lebanon's Epic Heritage. Cambridge & Boston Press, Los Angeles, California, 2005.

The Bible
Kahlil Gibran
The Eastern Catholic Churches
The Phoenician Alphabet
The Crusades