Christian worship places in South Lebanon
The provinces of Sidon and Tyre
On a hill overlooking the coast a few kilometers from Sidon stands the sanctuary of Saydet El Mantara or Our Lady of the Guardian (from the Arabic “Natra” which means “wait”).
According to tradition, Mary, mother of Jesus, followed her son on his journeys between Cana, Tyre, Sarafand, and Sidon. Popular Christian tradition in Lebanon says that it was on this hill in Maghdoushe that the Virgin awaited the return of Jesus from his apostolic wanderings.
The cave of Saydet El Mantara was made into a sanctuary by early Christians. Then in the 1720’s a villager discovered an icon of the Virgin on a small altar at the bottom of the cave-by then long forgotten and covered over. Today the site is marked by a small modern tower on which stands a statue of the Virgin holding the infant Jesus. An annual pilgrimage takes place in Maghdoushe every September 18 to mark the feast of the birth of the Virgin.
The Maronite community built this church in 1610 on a piece of land donated by Jalal ed-din family. Today, it is used for other purposes. Its bell is the only thing that is preserved till now.
It was built in the 15th century (the cathedral of the Byzantine Antiochian archbishopric in Sidon) following the Christian worship that dates back to the 7th century. Its dome is the biggest in the city and its altar dates back to the Mameluke period. Its iconostasis dates back to the 18th century. In 1819, the church was divided into two parts: one for the Greek Orthodox community and another one for the Greek Catholics. The latter part is closed in order to be renovated. At the door of the Greek Orthodox bishop (part of the cathedral) is a small chapel dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The church tradition places the memory of a meeting between these two Saints (around 58 AD) according to the Acts of the Apostles.
It was constructed in 1856. The Franciscan Fathers are in charge of the church. They live in the ancient headquarters of the French consulate (Khan el Franj) next to the convent and to the school of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition.
This cathedral lies outside the boundaries of ancient Sidon near the Greek Orthodox archbishopric.
It dates back to 1896. The cathedral and the archbishopric contains frescoes (scenes from the old and new testaments) as well as mosaics (were put in 1996 in the front part of the altar) that date back to the 6th century. They were brought from a ruined church discovered in the village of Anan.
Jesus himself speaks of Sarepta (modern Sarafand) a small town between Tyre and Sidon, in which he had to pass while going from one city to another when he mentioned the life of prophet Elias. He said, “But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land. But unto none of them was Elias sent save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow”. (St. Luke 4 ÷ 25-26).
Today, no traces are found in Sarafand pertaining to this incident.
Evidence that Cana El Jaleel (Cana of Galilee) is located in the south of Lebanon demonstrates the historical and Christian importance of this part of our country. This evidence not only includes Eusibius of Caesaria, the church historian who lived in the third century and the writings of Saint Jerome, but also the rock-carved hermitages that provide further proof of the early presence of Chritinity in the region.
The thesis that Christ’s first miracle, changing the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, took place in the small region has been upheld by several modern historians. In addition, the Gospel of St. John tells us that Christ performed a second miracle in this place. A nobleman from Capernaum journeyed to Cana to ask the Nazarene to cure his son, who was seriously ill. Jesus granted his request and the son was cured.
Cana is also the village of Nathaniel, one of Jesus’s first disciples, who is certainly the apostle Bartholomew of the Synoptic Gospels.
Today, in addition to the sanctuary of El Jaleel at Cana and that of Al-Sharquieh, south of Nabatiyeh, this region is considered a holy place. The cave of Cana has been restored by the Ministry of Tourism and declared an historic site.
Recent archaeological discoveries reveal traces of the first Byzantine church in the world found in Tyre. More Byzantine churches have been discovered in the area around Tyre.
From the Crusade era, there are remains of a cathedral that dates back to the 4th century. It is built on the ruins of a large cathedral which was pulled down in 303 upon the order of Diocletian.
It was reconstructed by The Venitians in 1227. William of Tyre was appointed bishop of the cathedral from 1244 until the end of the Crusade period. The kings of Jerusalem were crowned in this cathedral. It contained the tomb of the German Emperor, Frederic Barberousse.
During that period there were other churches named after the Saints Cosmos, Damian, Demetrius, John, Mary, Peter, Thomas (on the remains of Saint Thomas Church; the present church was built during the 18th century), James, Nicolas, Marine, Marcus (for the venetians), Lauran (for the Genoese) … All these churches were destroyed when the Franks were driven from Tyre and the Levant in the late thirteenth century.
Currently each of the Christian communities ( Orthodox , Greek Catholic and Maronite) has its own church and archbishopric in Tyre.