Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Garden of the Holy Valley: The Monastery of St. Anthony

   I'm posting some photos of the recently restored monastery of St. Anthony of Quzhaya I took when Anne and I toured the Qadisha or “Holy Valley” in the north of Lebanon. The mountain side site is visibly dramatic and includes the use cave-like openings in mountain sides for religious spaces (seen in the third and fifth photos down). Partly built into a mountain, the monastery boasts spectacular forest and valley vistas.

          St. Anthony of Quzhaya is one of the oldest monasteries of the valley of Qadisha (located in the Mount Lebanon range in the northern part of the country), and several hermitages attached to it date back to the 12th century AD. Today visitors can tour these places, including a library, hermitage cave, and a cave-like museum that houses, among other treasures, a 16th century printing press that printed a Bible in the Syriac language to escape the notice of Ottoman authorities (second photo).  
         We encountered this ancient black-metal printing press and a sample of its work in a alphabet using diacritic marks I’ve never seen before – not Hebrew, not Greek, so quite possibly Syriac -- on our tour.   
        We also found huge urns of amphora design, with big handles on each side for carrying, that looked to me like something from 1000 BC when that design was common throughout the Mediterranean. The wall caption, however, stated they date only from the 18th century AD. Some parts of the world change more slowly.
          According to Internet sources, St. Anthony Qozhaya owns large properties in the Qadisha Valley, in Ain-Baqra and in Jedaydeh, and is one of the richest monasteries of the Maronite monastic order.
          The Maronite Christian church remains an important force in Lebanon. In a sense it is the principal reason that Lebanon exists today as an independent country, separate from Syria, to which it was historically affixed by earlier rulers, including the Ottoman Empire and the Romans. When France acquired protection over this part of the Middle East following the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in World War I, it drew borders around the Maronite Christian population and created the state of Lebanon as a homeland for the Maronites. Coastal cities including Beirut were affixed to the new state to make it economically viable.