The Maronites and Lebanon, A Brief History
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The Maronites, along with the Byzantine/Melkites & the Syriacs, as well as other Eastern Christians, are living repositories of culture of the peoples of the Middle East.

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The Maronites and Lebanon

Maronite history is colored with the romance that attaches itself to a struggle of a determined people. Most nations in their history often have to make a choice between confrontation or cooperation and time has shown us that minorities usually pay for their continued existence through deformation of character or out right collaboration. The Maronites through perpetual resistance and the preservation of a precarious independence have escaped this fate. Not only have they survived, but they have survived uncowed. Maronite Coat of ArmsThe remarkable nature of their history lies hand in hand with that of Lebanon, for centuries being their retreat and fortress. Lebanon and the Maronites are inseparably attached. The Maronites have survived the storms of invasion, occupation, repression and suppression for over 1600 years, preserving their religion, traditions and state. Through the ages they refused to bow to their occupiers, at the height of the Umayyad dynasty the Maronites even exacted tribute as a price for their good behavior, in due course their Christian neighbors all succumbed to Islam but not Lebanon, holding a Maronite majority well into the 20th century, even their Syriac (Christian Aramaic) language was widely spoken well into the late 18th century and still survives today in their liturgy and in some of their villages. The mountain Maronites remain much as the earliest travelers found them, not having lost the virtues for which they have been admired. The ingenuity and perseverance with which they have tamed the hillsides is remarkable, striving for soil, capturing it from rocks laboriously, foot by foot. Their terraced vines, piled vertically one above the other, climb to the snows. Their minute orchards are often wedged in the faults and crannies of precipices. Such industry has its reward, the very rocks have grown fertile. Their long political struggle and the effort to squeeze a livelihood from the rocks and precipices have made them independent, courageous and provident.  

Maronite Patriarchs and Patriarchates over 1,332 years from the 6th century until the present (Maronite Patriarchs and Patriarchates

The Birth of the Maronites

Early Christianity in the region focused in and around the city of Antioch. The conversion of Antioch was carried out by the disciples of Jesus and the faith of its inhabitants was further strengthened by the work of the apostles Paul and Barnabas. The church of Antioch itself was founded by Saint Peter who was bishop there before moving on to Rome, and it was in this church where the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians. Along with Alexandria in Egypt and Constantinople, Antioch was one of the most important spiritual centers of the east. It outranked the others in biblical scholarship. Two factors, however, led to the gradual decay of the church of Antioch: its political position as a buffer state between the Byzantine Empire and its antagonistic powers; and its ecclesiastical division by schisms and heresies.

Branches of the original ethnic branches of the Apostolic Churches. Click to view a large version.

One of the most serious divisions of the early church was a result of a conflict over the nature of the divinity and humanity of Christ himself. It was maintained by the Monophysites that in the person of Christ there was but one nature which was primarily divine but had human attributes. A second school of thought held that in Christ there was both a divine nature and a human nature and that these were perfectly united.

A certain priest probably wishing not be distracted divisions of the early church retreated to the wilderness of the mountains not far from Antioch where he could completely dedicate himself to God. This hermit's name was Maroun in Syriac and Maron in Greek. Saint Maroun found however, that his true vocation lay in the preaching of the word of God and he began to attract people from far and near who were drawn by his godliness and wisdom and who desired to live under his spiritual guidance. As his disciples increased in number, they began to be called Maronites after their teacher. The earliest known source of 'Maron the monk' who 'planted the garden of ascetic life' in the region was by the powerful patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom who solicited St. Maroun's prayer and news was in an epistle in the year 404. Our principal historical source on the life of Maroun is Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrr, who wrote, some thirty years later the Religious History of Syriac Asceticism. Theodoret tells us that the mountain Maron chose for his retreat had been sacred to pagans and that he converted a pagan temple that he found there into a church which he dedicated to 'the true God'. In his description of the beginning of Maroun's life, Theodoret states that Maroun had 'already increased the number of saints in heaven' and that St. Maroun 'cured not only infirmities of the body, but applied suitable treatment to soul as well, healing this man's greed and that man's anger, to this man supplying teaching in self-control and to that providing lessons in justice, correcting this man's intemperance and shaking up another man's sloth'. If it were not for these references, the only indication of the saint's existence would be the oral tradition of the Maronite community itself.

Lebanon, the New Home

Maron is said to have died in the year 410 but some date his death later, in 423. It would seem that after his death, possibly to avoid persecution from the Monophysites, the disciples of St. Maroun relocated south, following the Orontes upstream towards Lebanon taking St. Maroun's body with them. A Maronite monastery called Beth-Maroun, was then built near Saint Maroun's tomb and Theodoret described the profound devotion which the monks of the monastery Beth-Maroun had to their departed spiritual father Maroun. The monastery became the nucleus of a community where men and women, under the guidance of the monks, could find material and spiritual happiness. The monastery was probably situated at Qal'at al-Madiq, in Northern Phoenicia, on the banks of the Orontes not far from Mount Lebanon, the monastery belonged juridical to the venerable patriarch church of Antioch. As the hardships of the early Christian church continued more and more the faithful set all their hopes on the Maronite community where, in spite of persecutions and devastating wars, the spiritual leaders guided and protected their faithful with moderation and wisdom. This is the reason why, even today, the liturgy and the organization of the Maronite community has strong monastic characteristics. It is also the reason why for centuries the spiritual leaders of the Maronites have kept watch over the political and social rights of their flocks.

Some years earlier, Saint Maroun's first disciple Abraham of Cyrrhus (350-422), who is called the Apostle of Lebanon, realized that, despite having some of the oldest Christian communities, paganism was thriving in Lebanon. In around 402 AD Abraham set out with some companions to convert the Lebanese pagans to Christianity by introducing them to the way of St Maroun. According to Theodoret, Abraham 'repaired to the Lebanon, where, he had heard, a large village was engulfed in the darkness of impiety'. He lived in that village and served as its priest for three years. Theodoret then tells us that 'after spending three years with them and guiding them well towards the things of God, he got another of his companions appointed in his place'. AbouZayd in his Study of the Life of Singleness in the Syrian Orient, From Ignatius of Antioch to Chalcedon 451 AD states that Abraham 'founded an eremitic community on Mount Lebanon. It was probably located in Aqura near the river Adonis', and that from Theodoret's account it would appear that 'Abraham founded an ascetic community with his companions in the Lebanese village'. Legend has it that the Adonis River, named after the Phoenician god, was renamed the Abraham River after that village and the region was converted to Christianity by Abraham and his companions.

The relocation of the Maronites to Beth-Maroun, so close to Mount Lebanon, enabled Maronite monks to regularly follow the example of Abraham and do their work not only in Mount Lebanon, but in the Lebanese coastal cities and the Beqaa valley as well.

As conflict over the nature of the divinity and humanity of Christ raged, in 451 at the Council of Chalcedon, it was decreed that Christ was both God and man, having two natures, one divine and one human in unity. The Maronites were loyal supporters of the decrees of the Council in the region, and as a result, the opponents of Chalcedon showed themselves bitter enemies of the Maronites and began to brutally persecuted them. As a result of the dangers they faced, the following years began to witness a migration of Maronites into Lebanon and an increase in the rate of conversion of its population to Maronite Christianity.

Attacks on Maronites continued into the sixth century. In a letter addressed to Pope Hormisdas in 517, monks of St. Maroun inform him that they are being constantly attacked. They single out Antiochian Patriarchs Severus and Peter, who, they say, anathematize the Council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo, whose formula the Council had adopted. The Emperor Anastasius had sent an army against the Maronites closing monasteries and expelling the monks. Some had been beaten, others were thrown into prison and some killed. The Maronites also appealed to the Emperor in Constantinople, but to no avail. In one incident, while on the way to the monastery of St. Simon Stylite, Maronites were ambushed and 350 monks were put to the sword, even though some of them had taken refuge at the altar. The monastery was burned. This incident forced those Maronites that were living outside of Lebanon to take refuge there in larger and successive waves.

Throughout the sixth century of the Christian era, the disciples of St. Maroun continued to convert the inhabitants of Lebanon and its surrounding areas turning the population into Maronite Christians. For over a hundred and fifty years the Maronites and worked the land, terraced the mountains and built their villages.

The Arab Invasion

Between 635 and 637, Damascus, Baalbek, Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, and many other cities fell to Arab invaders. Many Maronites living in the low lands joined their brothers in the Mount Lebanon. The mountain offered no attraction to the desert Arabs who considered agriculture below there dignity and who new little of industry and nothing of maritime trade. The Maronites high in the mountain resisted and as the caliphs did not realize the strategic importance of Lebanon and left it to itself. Constantinople recruited mountaineers from the Taurus to infiltrate Lebanon and join the Maronites in harassing the Arabs. The resistance movement became known as Marada or Mardiates, meaning rebels. The Maronites became a problem for the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750), who facing a civil war with the followers of Ali, decided to pay a tribute to the Maronites so as to ensure good behavior. This arrangement lasted for over 40 years.

The Maronites, over the years, found themselves increasingly cut off, and any regular with Antioch and contact with the patriarchate of Constantinople became impossible, the Maronites therefore had to appoint in 687 their own Patriarch, Saint John-Maron who had been bishop of Batroun since 676. The Emperor of Byzantium, however, acted as if his royal authority extended over the Church. He appointed Patriarchs and interfered in ecclesiastical matters. The Christians for their part got into the habit of turning to him to solve their problems. When the Maronites chose a Patriarch for themselves, the authorities at Byzantium withheld their consent and the Emperor was very displeased. The Maronites were forced to hold off the Arabs with one hand and the Emperor of Constantinople with the other hand.

In 694, while invading the region, the imperial army of Justinian II also attacked the Maronites. The monastery on the Orontes was destroyed and 500 monks executed. The Maronites now had to face the Imperial Army. The patriarch led his people in combat, and after a number of engagements, the Maronites won a decisive victory at Amioun, in Mount Lebanon. The Imperialist generals, Moreek and Mooreikan, were slain.

There and then, the Maronite nation, conceived many years before, may be said to have been born.

'Maronite', says Edward Gibbon, the eighteenth century English historian, 'was transferred from a hermit to a monastery, and from a monastery to a nation. This humble nation survived the empire of Constantinople, which persecuted it'.  

The Maronites had to move high into the mountains to ensure their survival and independence. The Patriarch established himself at Kfarhay, in the mountains above Batroun, where he made the episcopal palace his seat. A number of other Patriarchs also resided at Kfarhay, among whom are Cyr, and Gabriel. Many of their followers flocked about them, trudging to Kfarhay, carrying their children and staggering under the burden of what simple belongings they had been able to bring as they were driven from their houses, their lands, and their property in surrounding areas. They now came to forge a living from a rocky, densely forested land, lacking in every amenity. The Anaphora of St John-Maron, in daily use, is a brilliant testimony to the faith of the Maronites in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their belief could not be shaken, nor could the assaults of their enemies disperse them.  

With the Arab invasion the Maronites put behind them the years of plenty and prepared for the years of hunger. They transformed rock into fertile soil in which they grew wheat and other grains, planted olive trees, grapevines and mulberry trees, and added to their traditional prayers a beautiful one:

'By the intercession of your Mother, O Lord, turn your wrath from the land and its inhabitants. Put an end to trouble and sedition, banish from it war, plunder, hunger and plague. Have pity on us in our misfortunes. Console those of us who are sick. Help us in our weakness. Deliver us from oppression and exile. Grant eternal rest to our dead. Allow us to live in peace in this world that we may glorify you.'

In their prayers the Maronites spoke of their hardships, hunger, disorders, and injustice, for these were things they were familiar with.

The Abbasids Dynasty (750-1258), which brought humiliation to the Umayyads did not spare Lebanon and treated it very much as an occupied territory. The Maronites staged revolt after revolt, and though successful in the beginning, in 759 in an attack on Baalbek, the Maronites met disaster. Severe repression followed and the Maronites found it very difficult to survive.

Finally, after 251 years spent by the Patriarchs in the region of Batroun, continued pressure forced them to find a new refuge, this time in the mountains above Jbeil, facing new difficulties on new soil. Patriarch John II, was obliged the to 'take refuge in the heart of Mount Lebanon in 938' as Patriarch DOUAIHY wrote of him. Finally, he settled in the vicinity of Aakoura. (The Annals, 50)  

The sojourn of the Maronite Patriarchs in the district of Jbeil lasted for 502 years, that is to say, from 938 to 1440 A.D. and these were years of constant turmoil as the plains and mountains Lebanon became a battle field for the Crusaders and the army of Islam.

Thirty-four Patriarchs resided in the region of Jbeil, through the troubled times, they were:

John-Maron II
Joseph El Gergessi (1110-1120)
 Peter (1121-1130)
 Gregory of Halate (1130-1141)
 Jacob of Ramate (1141-1151)
 John (1151 -1154)
 Peter (1154-1173)
 Peter of Lehfed (1173-1199)
 Jeremiah of Amshit (1199-1230)
 Daniel of Shamat (1230-1239)
 John of Jaje (1239-1245)
 Simon (1245-1277)
 Daniel of Hadshit (1278-1282)
 Jeremiah of Dmalsa (1282-1297)
 Simon (1297-1339)
 John (1339-1357)
 Gabriel of Hjula (1357-1367)
 John (1367- 1404)
 John of Jaje (1404-1445)

The monks lived in inaccessible and trackless mountain fastness and considered themselves happy if they were able to live in peace among their faithful people, treasuring the Christian teaching that had been handed down to them. They did not even have any fixed Patriarchal seat. They went from Yanuh down to Mayfuq, then to Lehfed, to Habil, back to Yanuh, to Kfifan, to Kfarhay, to Kafre, to Yanuh again, and to Hardine, and to Mayfuq again. If they accepted to live an austere life and to be like Abraham ever on the move, it was because it was their will to follow in the footsteps of St Maron, their master.

Their dwellings were extremely humble, and deprived of all show of riches and pomp, but magnificent in their simplicity and detachment from the world. However, 'the devoted inhabitants of Yanuh, being pious and good Apostles, insisted on building a residence for the Patriarch, in green stone, very attractive and solidly constructed'. (DOUAIHY, The Annals 50)

The Patriarchal seat at Mayfuq, which still exists, is a true work of art. If the greater part of the construction is devoted to the church, as was the case of the other residences vestiges of which are scattered about, this was because the Patriarchs were above all men of prayer and so wanted their places of residence to be in the first place retreats for prayer.

In 1017 a non-Christian sect, the Druze, entered the Lebanese stage. The sect owes its name to Al-Darazi ('the tailor'), a Turk from Bukhara, who served as a tailor in the of Al-Hakim, the sixth Fatimid caliph-imam in Cairo. Al-Hakim was on of the most enigmatic figures of history committing irreconcilable acts of extreme violence and brutality as well as benevolence. He greatly oppressed both Jews and Christians, he even went so far as to forbid them from riding horses and forcing them to wear black robes and black turbans so that they would be easily recognized.

Al-Hakim demolished the the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, this added to the tension between Islam and Christendom and ultimately lead to the Crusades.

The Crusades

In 1097 The Crusaders set off from Europe to deliver the Holy Land from the hands of Islam. By 1099 the Crusaders had reached Lebanon, after a three month siege of Arqah, the fortified birthplace of the Roman emperor Alexander Severus, by Raymond of Saint Gilles the Count of Toulouse, the Crusaders headed south through Tripoli, Batroun, Byblos (Jbeil), Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre towards their goal, Jerusalem.

For three centuries the Maronites were cut off from the rest of the world, blockaded with in their mountains; and when the Crusaders swarmed into the East, their discovery of the Maronites came as a surprise. The Holy See itself was astonished to learn of their continued existence when their disappearance had been taken for granted. Subsequently there were strong ties formed between the Maronites and the Crusaders, particularly after the arrival in the East of St Louis, King of France.

William, archbishop of Tyre and chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, states in his Chronicle that when the Crusaders arrived at Tripoli, Maronites descended from the mountains 'to come and testify to the Crusaders tender sentiments of fraternity' and that the Crusaders 'addressed themselves to the fideles of Lebanon, as to wise and sober minded men, and having exact knowledge of the roads and localities, to ascertain what would be the safest and most practicable road to Jerusalem'. The Maronites thus joined the Crusaders and accompanied them to Jerusalem.

The Maronites were also described by Jaques de Vitry in his 'Historia Hierosolymitana' of the twelfth century 'men armed with bows and arrows, and skilful in battle, inhabit the mountains in considerable numbers, in the province of Phoenicia, not far from the town of Byblos. They are called Maronites, from the name of a certain man, there master, Maroun'.

It was during these confused times that some described the Maronites as Monothelite heretics, who believe that in the person of Christ there existed two natures but one will. They claim that the Maronites converted on mass upon the arrival of the Crusaders, the Maronites say that a proclamation of faith may have been mistaken for a conversion. There appears to be no evidence of any heresy and the Maronites adamantly deny that they were ever heretics and state that they have forever been faithful to the decrees of the Vatican.

Pope Innocent III saw with his own eyes what men of prayer the Maronite Patriarchs were on the day when Patriarch Jeremiah of Amshit came to see him during the proceedings of the Latran Council of 1215, in which the latter participated. 'The Pope that the Patriarch be depicted in a painting to be made for St Peter's. When over the centuries the painting had lost much of its radiance, Pope Innocent XIII that it be retouched. This painting represents the Patriarch raising the host that had frozen in his hands while he was celebrating Mass, with the Pope attending'. (DOUAIHY, Chronologie des Patriarches Maronites, 24).

These Patriarchs did not leave behind them great works, such as fine Churches or castles or universities. Nevertheless, they succeeded like the Apostles in watching over their flocks as mothers and fathers do over their children, and to pass on to them the teachings of Our Lord. They formed a people full of the faith, blessing when insulted and enduring when persecuted. When at last they had completed their lab ours in one place, they carried the torch and went elsewhere.

During the thirteenth century, Lebanon knew some decades of relative peace. The Maronites were even able to undertake the construction of a number of Churches, an activity which Patriarch DOUAIHY recorded as follows: 'At that time, Christianity spread throughout the East and was openly proclaimed. Bronze bells were rung to summon the faithful to prayer and to the sacred services. Those who received the outpourings of God's grace founded convents and built Churches, for the people yearned to serve the Almighty and to perform good deeds. Father Basil of Besharri had three daughters: Mariam, Thecla, and Salomeh. Mariam constructed the shrine of St Saba in Besharri in Mount Lebanon; Salomeh, that of St Daniel in Hadath; and Thecla, that of St George in Bkerkasha as well as two churches in Koura...' (The Annals, 104)

By 1291 the Crusaders were all but defeated, but the relationship that they had made with the Maronites was to endure. These Christians of Lebanon were most responsive to western influence and in the Latin states they were accorded the rights and privileges pertaining to Latin bourgeoisie including the right to own land. Some Maronites followed the Crusaders to Cyprus where their descendants make up a healthy Maronite community.

It is estimated that during the Crusades 50,000 Maronites fell in battle under the standard of the Cross.

Under the Mamluk Sword

Of all the lands of the East, Lebanon was to suffer the most in the last years of the Crusades and over many years to follow. Not only did it have to face four Mongol waves between 1260 and 1303 that left most of the low lying towns and cities in ruins but also Mamluk reprisals were brutal. General anti-Christian feeling was channeled against the Maronites. They suffered every humiliation, their Churches were set of fire, their villages plundered, and their vineyards destroyed. The Mamluk army went deep into the Maronite heart land and demolished Besharri, Ehden, Hadath, and Jubbah all high up in the mountain in the shadow of the cedars.

In 1302 and 1306 to 1308 the Mamluk campaigns were mainly directed against Kesrouan as reprisals were not only taken against Maronites but also against schismatic Muslims. Kesrouan, which according to tradition is named after an early Maronite prince, had at the time a mixed population of Maronites, Shiites, and some Druze. In the battle of Sawfar in 1307 a Mamluk army of 50,000 came close to annihilating a Kesrouan contingent of 10,000 and went on to devastate the Shuf district. Men, women and children were slaughtered, and tress were cut down. After the Mamluk campaign the Shiites left Kesrouan and moved to south Lebanon.

'On Monday, the second day of Muharram, Akush Pasha, governor of Damascus, marched at the head of a military force into the mountains of Kesrouan. The soldiers invested these mountains and, having dismounted scaled the slopes from all sides. The governor invaded the hills, and his soldiers trampled underfoot a land whose inhabitants had believed it impregnable. The enemy occupied the heights, destroyed the villages, and wreaked havoc in the vineyards. They massacred the people and made prisoners of them. The mountains were left deserted." (The Annals, 288)

The Mamluk scorched earth policy in Lebanon spared nobody and succeeded in nullifying the fighting power of the Maronites, dissident Muslims and the Druze. The Mamluks had realized the strategic importance of Lebanon and decided that it could never be allowed to be so troublesome again. Lebanon, they felt had to be fragmented, and so it was divided in three provinces. The provinces fell under muslim governors, each of whom acted almost independently and maintained a court.

The Patriarchs themselves over the years also had their share of the general misfortune, suffering as much as any. One was tortured, another harassed, another compelled to flee, another put on trial, and yet another burnt alive.

'In 1283 Patriarch Daniel of Hadshit in person led his men in their defense against the Mamluk soldiery, after the latter had assaulted the Jubbeh of Besharri. He succeeded in checking their advance before Ehden for forty days, and the Mamluks captured Ehden only after they had seized the Patriarch by a ruse. In 1367, patriarch Gabriel was conveyed from Hjoula, his home district where he had taken refuge during the persecutions, down to Tripoli, where he was burnt alive at the stake. His tomb still stands in Bab el Ramel, at the gates of Tripoli. In 1402, there was great hardship. Many of the dead remained without burial, many of which died of hunger. It was a tragedy without parallel." (DOUAIHY, The Annals, 338).

The Churches that have survived from this period are small, but they testify to the renewal in our mountains of the mission in Our Lord Jesus Christ, which began when he trod the soil of Lebanon. The priests administered the sacraments and preached the word of God. Despite the dangers they faced daily the Maronites did not loose give up their faith or weaken their determination to survive, no matter what was thrown at them, they would not be assimilated. Not only did they openly and defiantly practice their Christianity but managed to keep contact with Rome throughout the difficult years.

Pope Eugene IV (1431-47) invited the Maronite Patriarch to attend the Council of Florence in person, the Patriarch however, sent Fra Juan as his delegate, being motivated by concern about the risks of the voyage. Fra Juan had an audience with the Pope, at that time presiding the works of the Council, after which he returned to Lebanon bearing the Pallium.

'When the worthy friar reached Tripoli, there was a large crowd who came to greet him; unfortunately however, there were also soldiers sent by the governor to arrest him, the official in question being persuaded that the Christians had met in Florence to prepare the launching of another crusade against the Muslims of Syria. On learning of the envoy's misfortune, the Patriarch sent emissaries to reassure the governor about Fra Juan's intentions. After having pocketed a substantial bribe, the governor set his prisoner free after the latter had promised to return after completing his mission. Fra Juan made his way up to Our Lady of Mayfuk, which was then the seat of the Patriarch, and delivered him the Pallium together with a letter from Pope Eugene IV. But he then set off for Rome again, this time passing through Beirut and ignoring his earlier promise to the governor of Tripoli, who naturally enough flew into a rage and sent his soldiers to arrest both the Patriarch and other leading personalities. Finding nobody at the patriarchal residence, he plundered and set fire to the houses around and even killed a number of the local inhabitants. Those of his men who continued the search for the Patriarch destroyed the monastery, killing some of the monks and taking the others in chains to Tripoli. The Patriarch was obliged to leave the monastery of Mayfuk and from then on lived under the protection of Jacob, Mukaddam of Besharri.' (The Annals, 210).

As if the miseries brought on by man were not enough, the Maronites also had to fight nature, in the form of earthquakes, plagues, drought and famine. In the two hundred and fifty years of Mamluk rule, Lebanon and its neighbors are said to have lost two-thirds of their population.  

When finally they found themselves in a situation, which knew no other solution, the Maronites had to move Patriarchal seat further into the mountain, the chosen place was the valley of Kadisha, Syriac or the Sacred Valley.

The Sacred Valley

As one advances into the deep-cut valley of Kadisha, one is surrounded by mountains towering over the gorge, leaving only a patch of the sky visible overhead, it is all crag and mountain rock, soaring heights and plunging depths. It is a land still bearing the imprint of its Creator, and is a source of revelation and inspiration to action. If one looks down from the shoulder of one of the great mountains into the three-thousand-foot depths of the gorge below, one is overwhelmed by a sense of power, and one wants to seize some twisted tree- trunk or jutting crag so as not go falling into the vast space between plunging cliffs. One European traveler recounted how the Patriarch, like a second Moses risen from the pages of the Old Testament, guided his people from his austere retreat among the rocks. Our Lady of Kannoubine was where the Patriarch took refuge during the period of great hardship, which lasted 383 years, it was the seat of 24 Maronite Patriarchs from1440 to1823, they were:

John of Jaj 1440-1445
Jacob of Hadeth 1445-1468
Joseph of Hadeth 1468-1492
Symeon of Hadeth 1492-1524
Moussa Akari of Barida 1524-1567
Michael Rizzi of Bkoufa 1567-1581
Sarkis Rizzi of Bkoufa 1581-1596
Joseph Rizzi of Bkoufa 1596-1608
John Makhlouf of Ehden 1608-1633
George Omaira of Ehden 1633-1644
Joseph Halib of Akoura 1644-1648
John Bawab of Safra 1648-1656
George Rizkallah of Bseb'el 1656- 1670
Stephen Douaihy of Ehden 1670-1704
Gabriel of Blaouza 1704-1705
Jacob Awad of Hasroun
Joseph Dergham Khazen of Ghosta 1733-1742
Symeon Awad of Hasroun 1743-1756
Toubia El Khazen of Bekaata Kanaan 1756-1766
Joseph Stephan of Ghosta 1766-1793
Michael Fadel of Beirut 1793-1795
Philip Gemayel of Bikfaya 1795-1796
Joseph Tyan of Beirut 1796-1808
John Helou of Ghosta 1808-1823

All of those named above were God-fearing men, servants of their people. The valley stands witness to their holiness and the sincerity of their quest for God through austerity and frugality. People said of them, 'Their crosses are made of wood, but their hearts are made of gold.'

Their suffering the people faced united them under their leaders, in turn under the authority of the Patriarch. The Mukaddam of Bsharri was the chief of this whole region and he established some semblance of peace and order. But even the times of peace were not without trouble as people constantly feared for their lives, a report made by a traveler who visited Kannoubine in 1475 states:

'The Maronite nation has lived under occupation enduring continuous oppression and tyranny. All over Lebanon one finds ruin, tears, and terror. Under the pretext of gathering a certain tax called the Gezia, the authorities strip the peasants of all their belongings and beat them with sticks, and torture them in order to extract from them all that they possess. Many would have perished had not their aged patriarch, Peter son of Hassan, come to their rescue. Terrified by the perils that threatened his people, the Patriarch gave away all the revenues of the Church to satisfy the rapacity of the tyrants. The door of the patriarchal monastery was sealed, and the Patriarch sometimes had to hide in caves as did Popes Urban and Sylvester.' (Marcellin de Civezza, Histoire universelle des missions franciscaines, Paris 1858, vol. 3, p. 209)

In Wadi Kannoubine, the Maronites heard the Gospel and lived by it. Theirs was a life of sacrifice inspired by the true faith and by hope, and so their lives were directed. They were an example of unity and love. In Wadi Kannoubine the Maronites had no need to be urged to pray. Wadi Kannoubine is in itself an invitation to the forgetfulness of self, to meditation, and to prayer, an invitation that the Maronites did not refuse. 'They spent their time as the first Christians did, learning from the Apostles' (Acts II:42). Some of them felt the need to live a life more fully devoted to prayer; many men and women sought God away from the haunts of men, and soon the caves in the valley became the retreats of hermits devoted to the inner life of union with the Creator.

The Maronites at that time were always under the threat of famine through failure of the crops. They were also under the threat of attack on their persons whenever they went out to their fields. But they lived without hate towards any, anxious only to fulfil their mission in this world. They were the Apostles of Jesus Christ. They labored in patience and in hope. They looked on their enemies as people for whom Jesus had died, people to whom they must convey the message of the Gospel. They made such progress in virtue that in 1515 Pope Leo could write them a letter of encouragement in which he said: 'You have acted without allowing the persecutions and the hardship inflicted on you by the infidels, enemies of Our Savour, and from the heretics and schismatic, to turn you away from the faith of Christ.'

Even though the Maronites endured famine and privation, and were pursued by enemies, they did not bow. They did not accept to be downtrodden. Wadi Kannoubine was indeed their last stronghold, if it was lost, all would be lost. Now the Maronite people reacted with vigor and initiative. These men and women devoted to prayer, and particularly to the life of the hermitage, increased in number. Schools were opened and the pupils flowed in. Religious orders were founded.

The Ottoman Crescent

For two and a half centuries the power of the Mamluks had been supreme, but by the the start of the sixteenth century the balance of power had shifted. Ottoman Turkey had emerged. Under Salim I, the Ottomans clashed with the Persian Safawids, destroyed their army and occupied Mesopotamia, then they turned their attention to the Mamluks. The Ottoman-Mamluk clash took place on 24 August 1516, on a plain north of Aleppo called Marj Dabiq. The Ottomans had a well trained and experienced body of infantry, heavy artillery and long range muskets. The Mamluks of the other hand clung to personal valor and hand to hand combat. The Ottomans victory was decisive. The old Arab era had ended, a new one, Ottoman, began.

As soon as the Ottoman victory was complete, a Lebanese delegation of chiefs presented themselves to Salim to offer homage. Among the delegates, and indeed their spokesman, was a man by the name of Fakhr-al-din Al-Maani. The Maanis first appear in 1120 when they were instructed by the Saljuq governor of Damascus to settle the central slopes of Lebanon and harass the Crusaders on the maritime plain. The Manis were to adopt the Druze religion. Fakhr-al-din kissed the ground before the victories sultan and lavished praised upon him. The Sultan greatly impressed with Fakhr-al-din's seeming sincerity, personality, and grand eloquence, confirmed Fakhr-al-din and his companions in their fiefs and also confirmed the autonomous privileges they had enjoyed under the Mamluks.

The Ottomans did not want any trouble from Lebanon and so the tribute imposed was very light, the Ottomans wanted to concentrate on more urgent matters in Persia and Egypt and felt it expedient to leave the mountaineers alone. Thus the latest waves of conquests that engulfed the area failed to reach the heights of Lebanon where its Maronite sons persisted in their ancestral way of life and watched what was transpiring in the plains below. Earlier conquerors such as the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Romans all left their mark chiseled at the foot of Mount Lebanon at Nahr el Kalb, now their monumental structures are empty and crumbling. There was no reason to believe that these fresh upstarts would leave much more of a permanent impression, even if they were to stay for four hundred years.

The Ottomans, however, realized that Lebanon could be a source of discomfort to them and so decided that it could not be allowed to stand united. Lebanese history from the 16th century to 1840 largely records the efforts of the Turk to divide the country and of the Lebanese emirs to unite it against Ottoman rule. On the whole the Lebanese emirs (princes) were surprisingly successful, two among them, Fakhr-al-din II and Bachir II, were outstanding.

Prince Fakhr-al-din II

After the death of his father, the twelve year old Fakhr-al-din II was rushed to Kisrwen by his mother where he was raised by a Maronite family, the Al-Kazins. When Fakhr was entrusted with a fief in the Shouf, he could finally realize his childhood dream, for fifty years 1585-1635 he fought for Lebanese independence and in so doing created Greater Lebanon. By means of marriage, bribery, intrigue, treaties and war he carved out his kingdom. On the domestic level Fakhr had three objectives: security, prosperity, and unity. His army consisted of 40,000 disciplined and well trained professional. New garrison stations were built and artillery imported from Europe. A Maronite Khazim commanded his army and another served as his chief counselor. In 1611 he sent a Maronite bishop on a confidential mission to the Pope and the grand duke of Tuscany. A secret treaty was signed between Lebanon and Florence.

In 1613 the Porte moved against Fakhr with 50,000 troops and a sixty galley fleet. Prudence dictated flight on the part of Fakhr and so he escaped on a French vessel to find a warm welcome at the court of the Medicis. Cosmo II of Tuscany received his Lebanese ally in style. Fakhr wrote to his people:

Having set before our eyes a goal toward which shall unswervingly move - the goal being full independence of our country and its complete sovereignty - we are resolved that no promise of reward or threat of punishment shall in the least dissuade us.'

In 1618 Fakhr returned to Lebanon to much rejoicing but found that in his absence his seat at Dier al Qamar had been assaulted by his rival Yusuf Sayfa. Fakhr swore vengeance and lost no time in implementing his oath. His men captured Crac des Chevaliers, demolished the Sayfa palaces in Akkar and Tripoli and removed their stones so as to rebuild Dier al Qamar. Next came the turn of the pasha of Damascus, in the battle of Anjar,4000 Lebanese captured the pasha and cut down 12,000 of his men. Lebanon, Syria and Palestine was now under the rule Fakhr-al-din II. Nothing was left for Fakhr, in the words of a biographer of his time, but to declare himself sultan. Fakhr-al-din II preferred the title of 'Emir of Mount Lebanon, Sidon, and Galilee'.

As lord of Greater Lebanon he now felt free to proceed with his economic program which was to bring great benefits to his people. His Christian leanings and European dealing again angered the Porte who in1633 launched a land and sea offensive against Fakhr. 80,0000 troops from Syria and Egypt and a 22 galley fleet converged on Lebanon. Facing them was a force of 25,000 Maronite and Druze. After initial victories Fakhr-al-din II was captured and sent to Constantinople were on13th April1635 he along with three of his sons were executed.

The Maronite College of Rome

It was during the reign of the Maanis that the Maronite College in Rome was established. On July 5th, 1584, Pope Gregory inaugurated the Maronite College in Rome, satisfying the aspirations of the community and opening to its students the way to success. In his bull the Pope declared:

'We hope that the students of this college during the days ahead, after being formed in piety and the true religion, which are of the tree of Sion and of the teaching of the Roman Church, head of all the Churches, will return home to the cedars of Lebanon to serve their community, renewing in their country faith in God. This is why, with full knowledge of the facts and by virtue of our apostolic authority, we establish the Maronite College, where the students of this community may learn good behavior, devotion, the true doctrine, and all the virtues which every Christian must have.'

With the arrival of the first students in Rome, the dreams of the Pope became a reality, and the whole Maronite community began to emerge from the shadows. More than that, the Maronite community now had means of access to Europe and to the world beyond, and was able to play its role as an intermediary between East and West and cement Latin-Lebanese relations.

One of the earliest graduates to remain in Europe was Gabriel Sionite, who taught Syriac and Arabic in Rome, occupied the chair of Semitic languages in what is now the College de France on Paris, served as an interpreter to King Louis XIII, worked on the compilation of the Paris polyglot Bible which was the first to include Syriac and Arabic in its columns. The Career of of Gabriel was exactly paralleled by Ibrahim al-Haqili (Echellensis) who also worked with him on the Bible. Others include Mirhej Ben Namroun, who was also a professor and an interpreter.

Another outstanding Maronite figure was Joseph Assemani, who as director of the Vatican Library made it a world leading depository. His research covering Syriac, Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian, and Ethiopic, were embodied in his massive Bibliotheca Orientalis which remains a mine of information to this day. As the historiographer of the king of Naples and of Italy, he produced a four volume work which won him citizenship of that country. The Pope sent Assemani as his delegate in 1736 to the synod held at Dier al Louaizeh and the resolutions reached sealed the union between the Maronite Church and Rome.

Perhaps the most famous graduate was Patriarch Douaihy who was able to compile, among many other works, the earliest major history of jis church and community, making him the father of Maronite history. Furthermore he 'visited every diocese to choose holy and educated priests. He examined the liturgical books, corrected the errors introduced into them by the copyists, read and adapted the works of historians, both eastern and western, and wrote books some of which are still unpublished.' (Patriarch Jacob Awad)

The Patriarchs now found themselves in a position to encourage the education of their people. As the famous Lebanese Synod said:

'In the name of Jesus Christ we urge you all, the ordinaries of the dioceses, of the towns, villages and hamlets, and of the convents, to work together to encourage this undertaking, which will bear much fruit. The chiefs of the people must find teachers wherever they can, and take the names of all the children able to learn, and order the parents to bring their children to school even against their will. If they are orphans or if they are poor, let the church or the monastery feed them, and if it cannot, let it contribute one half of the cost and the parents the other.' (The Lebanese Synod, 529)

Now western religious communities began to settle in Lebanon. The Capuchins were the first in 1626, followed in 1635 by the Carmelites and in 1656 by the Jesuits. The process went steadily ahead.

These religious orders came in order to serve the Lebanese. They opened schools in which the youth of the country were formed, schools whose academic level was on a par with those of Europe itself.

Schools were opened one after the other, until there was one adjoining every Maronite Church. Some, such as those of Ain Warka, Mar Abda, and Haouka, flourished and gained a reputation for themselves. Once the Lebanese, at that time mostly Maronites, had acquired a good education, they were at the forefront of Arab intellectual progress, and played a leading role in the cultural Renaissance of the Middle East.  

First Maronite Order was established in 1694, when 'Gabriel Hawa, Abdallah Qara'li, and Youssef Bin Albeten, approached Patriarch Douaihy to request his permission to establish a religious community that follows a religious rule and constitutions under the authority of superiors who would be under a superior general. The members would take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, under the patronage of St Anthony, the father of hermits. The Patriarch looked favorably on their demand, thanked them, and blessed their enterprise.' (Debs, 253)

Prince Bashir II

The Shihabs succeeded the Maans in1697. They originally lived in the Hawran region of south-western Syria and settled in Wadi at Taim in southern Lebanon. The most prominent among them was Bashir II, who in many ways was much like his predecessor, Fakhr al Din II, wanting a strong and independent Lebanon. Bashir was an ultra-liberal, his palace contained a mosque and a chapel, he himself was a Maronite Christian by baptism, Muslim by matrimony, and Druze by convenience rather than by conviction.

Bashir strong reign of over 50 years interrupted by self imposed or enforced exile was marked by a steady move towards expanding Lebanon, developing it and making it autonomous in defiance of the Porte. Bashir centralized his authority and consolidated his realm, he executed his rivals and destroyed his foes, criminals were dealt with without mercy. He also established firm contacts with the outside world and the West in particular. Bashir's Lebanon became the safest region in the Ottoman empire and its reputation spread attracting new settlers from neighboring lands.

His ability as a statesman was first tested in1799, when Napoleon besieged Acre, a well-fortified coastal city in Palestine, about forty kilometers south of Tyre. Both Napoleon and Al Jazzar, the governor of Acre, requested assistance from the Shihab leader; Bashir, however, remained neutral, declining to assist either combatant. Unable to conquer Acre, Napoleon returned to Egypt, and the death of Al Jazzar in 1804 removed Bashir's principal opponent in the area. When Bashir II decided to break away from the Ottoman Empire, he allied himself with Muhammad Ali, the founder of modern Egypt, and assisted Muhammad Ali's son, Ibrahim Pasha, in another siege of Acre. This siege lasted seven months, the city falling on May 27,1832. The Egyptian army, with assistance from Bashir's troops, also attacked and conquered Damascus on June 14,1832.

Ibrahim Pasha and Bashir II at first ruled harshly and exacted high taxes. These practices led to several revolts and eventually ended their power. In May1840, despite the efforts of Bashir, the Maronites and Druze united their forces against the Egyptians. In addition, the principal European powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia), opposing the pro-Egyptian policy of the French, signed the London Treaty with the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman ruler) on July 15,1840. According to the terms of this treaty, Muhammad Ali was asked to leave Syria; when he rejected this request, Ottoman and British naval units bombarded Beirut and troops landed on the Lebanese coast on September 10,1840. Faced with this combined force, Muhammad Ali retreated, and on October 14,1840, Bashir II surrendered to the British and went into exile in Malta and later Constantinople where he died in1850.

Patriarchal Palaces of Dimane and Bkerke

Under Bashir II, as conditions slightly improved, the Patriarchs envisaged the transfer of their seat to Dimane in the summer, Bkerke in winter. The first Patriarch to consider such a move was Youssef HOBAISH, who occupied a house overlooking the valley and belonging to a partner in ownership of a farm west of the village. But the first to act on the idea was Patriarch Hanna EL HAJJ, who built the Patriarchal residence in Dimane now known as the Old Residence, in the center of the village, while near it he erected the church of St John-Maron, now the parish Church. The present residence was the work of Patriarch Elias HOAYEK, who laid the foundation stone on September 28,1899.

In1703, cloister of Bkerke was built by Sheikh Khattar EL KHAZEN. It had a little Church with a presbytery alongside. In1730, it was taken in charge by the Antonine order. In1750, Bishop Germanos SAKR and Sister Hindyieh Oujaymeh took it as a house for the Congregation of the Sacred Heart. In1779, an apostolic decree was issued dissolving the Congregation of the Sacred Heart and putting the house at the disposition of the Maronite community for any useful purpose. In1786, the Maronite Synod of Bishops declared that Bkerke should be a dependency of the residence at Kannoubine. In1890, Patriarch Hanna EL HAJJ restored it, adding part of the ground floor and the whole of the upper story. Brother Leonard, the Lazarist, was the architect. He also planned the residence at Dimane.

Nine Patriarchs have used Dimane as a summer residence and Bkerke as a winter one:

Youssef Hobaish of Sahel Alma 1823-1845
Youssef El Khazen of Ajaltoun 1845-1854
Boulos Massad of Ashkout 1854-1890
Hanna El Hajj of Dlebta 1890-1898
Elias Hoayek of Hilta 1898-1931
Antoun Arida of Bsharri 1932-1955
Boulos Meoushi of Jezzine 1955-1975
Anthony Khoraish of Ain Ibl 1975-1986
Nasrallah Sfeir of Reyfoun 1986-

Autonomous Lebanon

The early part of the 19th century was dominated by acts of aggression by the Druze against the Christians which culminated in the deaths of many thousands of Christians at the hands of the Druze with Turkish assistance in the Massacres of1840-1860 which were finally halted in July 1860 when the great powers finally decided to act, France taking the initiative by dispatching 7,000 troops. The Ottomans fearing this intervention, sent their foreign minister, Fuad Pasha, to Lebanon ahead of the French and put an end to the violence. The French troops landed in Beirut in August 1860.

On October 5,1860, an international commission composed of France, Britain, Austria, Prussia, and the Ottoman Empire met to investigate the causes of the events of 1860 and to recommend a new administrative and judicial system for Lebanon that would prevent the recurrence of such events. The commission members agreed that the partition of Mount Lebanon in1842 between Druze and Christians had been responsible for the massacre. Hence, in the Statute of June 9, 1861

Lebanon was separated from Syrian administration and reunited under a non-Lebanese Christian mutasarrif (governor) appointed by the Ottoman sultan, with the approval of the European powers. The mutasarrif was to be assisted by an administrative council of twelve members from the various religious communities in Lebanon. Maronite nationalists strongly objected to a non-Lebanese governor and insisted on self rule.

This Statute which was revised on September 6,1864 and also adhered to by Italy in1867 recognized and guaranteed the autonomy of Lebanon, but not the Lebanon of Fakhr-al-Din and Bashir, but one stripped of its maritime and inter-mountain plains with their cities and reduced to its mountainous region. Only Mount Lebanon was to be out of the Ottoman grasp. The leading signatory, Turkey, cherished the conviction that Lebanon, without its ports, cities, and plains was unviable and could not survive. Turkey was wrong, despite the mutasarrifs being totally incompetent and completely subservient to Constantinople, Lebanon, thanks to the efforts of its inhabitants, not only survived, but registered a record of prosperity, security, and progress that made it the envy of the provinces of the Ottoman empire. Lebanon's neighbors found expression in the saying 'Happy is he who owns but a goat's enclosure in Lebanon.'

Youssef Bey Karam

In 1866 Maronite nationalist uprising took place against the first governor, Dawood Pasha. The uprising was led by a gallant and dashing young man by the name of Youssef Karam.

Youssef Bey Karam was born in Ehden, in Mount Lebanon on the 5th May 1823. His father was Sheikh Boutros Karam, then Lord of Ehden and surrounding district, and his mother was Marian, daughter of Sheikh Antonios Abi Khattar Al Ayntouri. French-schooled Youssef began his education at an early age, and he was a keen student. At the age of 7 years, he was well versed in Aramaic, Arabic, French and Italian. Later on, he was tutored in the arts of unarmed combat, horsemanship, shooting and fencing. He was a devout Maronite.

In 1840, Karam aged 17, fought beside his father and elder brother against Egyptian armies then occupying Lebanon in the battles of Hayrouna and Bazoun. Youssef showed remarkable skills as a fighter and leader, and his reputation and influence in the area steadily grew. So much so that in 1846, when his father died, Youssef succeeded him as ruler. Karam ruled with fairness, and his reputation and influence as a soldier and politician continued to grow and spread.

To win Lebanese support the governor, Dawood Pasha, offered Karam a senior Government post but Karam refused and insisted on nothing less than self rule for Lebanon and so Dawood issued an order exiling Karam to Turkey in 1861. In 1864 however, Karam returned to Lebanon where he was greeted as a national hero. War was inevitable.  

The first confrontation took place near Jounieh on the 6th January 1866. Karam was attending Mass at St. Doumit Church when regular Turkish troops attacked his men stationed outside. A fierce fight followed, and Karam, aided by neighboring villagers, defeated the Turkish troops. Karam immediately wrote to Istanbul and European Governments detailing the causes of conflict, and championed his people's right to defend themselves.

Dawood Pasha however, determined to rid himself of Karam and deal a fatal blow to the Lebanese nationalist movement tried to set a trap. Dawood instructed his military Commander, Amin Pasha, to arrange a meeting with Karam in the presence of the Maronite Archbishop at Karem Saddah. The meeting was arranged for Sunday the 28th January 1866. Whilst the meeting was in progress, Turkish troops were sighted advancing at nearby Bnasha toward Karem Saddah. The meeting was abandoned, and one of the fiercest battles was fought at Bnasha involving some 800 of Karam's men opposing a far greater number of Turkish troops. Here, Karam won a decisive victory which led to a string other victories: the battle of Sebhell 1st March 1866, Ehmej 14th March 1866, Wadi El Salib 22nd March 1866, Aytou 5th May 1866, Ey El Yawz 7th June 1866, Wadi Miziari 20th August 1866, Ehden 15th December 1866, Ejbeh 10th January 1867 and Wadi El Sabeeb 17th January 1867.  

So successful was Karam, that he finally decided to march on 'Beit El Din', the Governor's residence, over-throw Turkish rule and install a Lebanese national government. Thousands of people joined Karam in his march to 'Beit El Din', and Dawood Pasha was forced to flee to Beirut. Victory must have seemed imminent to Karam and his men. In Beirut however, Dawood Pasha rallied support from the European Ambassadors. These emissaries warned Karam that as their government were parties to the Lebanese constitution which allowed Turkish rule over Lebanon, they were bound to support Turkey and would actively oppose Karam and refuse to recognize any government he may form. At a meeting at Bkerke, the French Ambassador Karam in the name of Napoleon III, to leave Lebanon in return for French guarantees of safety for his men and people and the implementation of all of Karam's national demands. Karam was warned that to refuse would mean to place his men and the welfare of his people in jeopardy. On Thursday the 31st January 1867, Karam left Lebanon on board a French ship bound for Algeria. Karam's demands were not met and so he traveled from Algeria to European capitals describing, for the rest of his life, the plight of the Lebanese people and their desire for a sovereign and independent state. A strangely a very similar situation was to occur 123 years later when the French gave similar guarantees to another Maronite leader. In 1990 General Michel Aoun also left Lebanon into exile on board a French vessel.

On the 7th April, 1889,Karam died of natural causes in Razinia, near Napoli, Italy. His last words were "God ... Lebanon". He had a simple burial and his grave stone read "This is the resting place of Youssef Boutros Karam, Prince of Lebanon". In September1889, his body was taken to Ehden, Lebanon, to St. George Church. In September1932, a statue of Karam on his horse was erected outside of the church, as a monument to the man who devoted his life to the liberty. His actions and philosophy, "I shall sacrifice myself, that Lebanon may live", became an inspiration to future generations in the pursuit of a free and independent Lebanon.

World War I

The outbreak of World War I in August1914 brought Lebanon further problems, as Turkey allied itself with Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Turkish government abolished Lebanon's autonomous status and appointed Jamal Pasha, then minister of the navy, as the commander in chief of the Turkish forces, the fourth army, in Syria and Lebanon, with discretionary powers. Jamal lost no time in dealing with Lebanon, considered the most disloyal of all the provinces. Known for his harshness, he militarily occupied Lebanon.

Nationalist feelings were running high in Lebanon and in other parts of the Ottoman Empire such as in Armenia and the Turks were not willing to tolerate anything that may lead to the break up of their Empire. In February1915, frustrated by his unsuccessful attack on the British forces protecting the Suez Canal, and an Allied initiated a blockade of the entire eastern Mediterranean coast to prevent supplies from reaching the Turks, Jamal Pasha vented his anger on Lebanon and its people.

In August 1915, Jamal replaced the Armenian mutasarrif, Ohannes Pasha, with a Turk, Munif Pasha and abolished Lebanon's autonomy. Before the end of the month a military court was established in Aley and thousands of Maronites were imprisoned or exiled for little reason. In 1916 Turkish authorities publicly executed 16 Lebanese of various religions in Beirut, for alleged anti-Turkish activities. The date, May 6, is commemorated annually as Martyrs' Day, and the site in Beirut has come to be known as Martyrs' Square. Jamal earned his new title of al-Saffah, the blood shedder. Using the war as cover the Turks hoped to finally put an end to the troublesome Lebanese who had resisted Turkish rule for so long. Conscription was imposed and it was so decided that Lebanon was to starve. The Turks committed mass murder by commandeering Lebanon's food supplies and requisitioning its beasts of burden and so caused hundreds of thousands of deaths from widespread famine. The Druze fled to Houran. The land of Lebanon became a paradise for disease and plagues claimed thousands of souls. Furthermore, the Turkish Army cut down trees for wood to fuel trains or for military purposes, and it was the huge Cedar forests that suffered the most with over 60% being cut down in three years.

In a letter to The Times on 15th September 1916 quoted by George Antonius in his book 'The Arab Awakening' an American woman resident of Beirut writes how she passed 'women and children lying by the roadside with closed eyes and ghastly, pale faces. It was a common thing to find people searching the garbage heaps for orange peel, old bones or other refuse, eating them greedily when found. Everywhere women could be seen seeking eatable weeds among the grass along the roads.' Another American resident in 1917 states: 'the scenes were indescribable, whole families writhing in agony on the bare floor of their miserable huts. Every piece of their household effects had been sold to buy bread, and in many cases the tiles of the roof had shared the same fate. It is conservatively estimated that not less than 120,000 persons have died of actual starvation during the last two years in Lebanon'.  

To compound all of these problems, the war also deprived the country of its tourists and summer visitors, and remittances from relatives and friends abroad were lost or delayed for months. The Maronite Church opened its doors to the poor as much as it could and Patriarch Anthony ARIDA set up a cement making factory and also the Kadisha Electricity Company to provide jobs for hundreds of young men.

During this period, Lebanon suffered more than any other Ottoman province, loosing over one third of its population to slow and painful deaths. Suffering under Turkish rule however was not limited to Lebanon, the Armenians also felt the fury of the Turk in what is now known as the Armenian Genocide.

Relief for Lebanon came in September1918 when the British general Edmund Allenby and Faysal I, son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, moved into Palestine with British and Arab forces, thus opening the way for the liberation of Lebanon and Syria.

Flying the Cedar Flag

Thirsty for freedom, the Lebanese people delegated in1919, the Maronite Patriarch Elias HOAYEK to go to the Peace Conference at Versailles and to demand independence on their behalf. The Patriarch went to Versailles and explained the problems of Lebanon, negotiated effectively, and accomplished his mission. He thus put the future of Lebanon on a firm footing and obtained satisfaction for the national aspirations. Soon after this famous Treaty of Versailles, the San Remo Conference was held in Italy in April 1920, and Allies gave France a mandate over Lebanon and Syria. France then appointed General Henri Gouraud to implement the mandate provisions.

On September 1,1920, General Henri Gouraud proclaimed:

'At the foot of these majestic mountains, which have been the strength of your country, and remain the impregnable stronghold of its faith a freedom; on the shore of this sea of many legends that has seen the triremes of Phoenicia, Greece and Rome and now by a happy fate, brings you confirmation of a great and ancient friendship and the blessings of French peace, I solemnly salute Grand Liban, in its glory and prosperity, in the name of the Government of the French Republic.'

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