The Shrine Of The Lady Of Lebanon

The Shrine of The Lady Of Lebanon an Eternal, National and Religious Monument
By Fr. Emile EDDE M.L. Catholic Center for Information

The idea of building a Shrine

The inauguration

Guardianship and administration of the Shrine

Harissa: Shrine of the Orient

Since 1908, the churches of Lebanon officially started commemorating the Lady of Lebanon’s day in a solemn ceremony the first Sunday of May. On that day, the statue of the Virgin Mary was erected on top of a new sanctuary over the hill of Harissa.

And here we recall the most important phases the Shrine of the Lady of Lebanon has witnessed from the moment the idea of building it emerged until our present day.

The idea of building the Shrine

The late Maronite Patriarch Elias HOYEK, Patriarch of Antioch and the Whole Orient and the apostolic delegate in Lebanon and Syria, the Archbishop Carlos DUVAL were the first to come up with the idea of building the Sanctuary of the Lady of Lebanon.

On 8 December 1854, the Pope Pius IX had established the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and had announced it through his infallible apostolic authority. The Catholic World in particular was shaken by this great event which filled every heart with happiness, joy, and tranquillity. Fifty years after this event that is in 1904 the ecumenical Church celebrated the fiftieth anniversary for establishing this dogma. The late Patriarch HOYEK and the Apostolic Delegate the Archbishop Carlos DUVAL conferred upon the Lebanese people faith and enthusiasm for honouring our Mother the Virgin Mary. They thought of installing a religious monument that would perpetuate the memory of Confirmation of the Immaculate Conception and praise the love of the Lebanese for Mary throughout the generations.

After consulting several bishops and priests, the two prelates decided to name this monument “The Lady of Lebanon”. This wonderful idea of the prelates which was immortalised by history had a great and wide impact. After discussions, studies, and consultations with several engineers, they chose the region called “The Rock” on the Summit of Harissa, The “Rock”, a splendid hill, overlooks the city of Jounieh and the Mediterranean sea as well as Beirut and the mountain. It is located in the neighbourhood of the apostolic embassy – that was called the Papal Legation – and at a near distance from the residence of the Maronite Patriarch in Bkerky, a region one can never stop admiring.

As if inspired by divine providence, the officials chose this hill as a symbol of the splendour and sainthood of the Virgin Mary, Lady of Lebanon. Thus, a lovely sanctuary would be elevated with an artistic statue of the Immaculate Conception, Mother of God.

The monument (statue) is made in France from moulded bronze. It has a height of eight and a half meters, a diameter of five meters, and weighs ten tons. It is, hence, unique in its beauty. The Virgin Mary stretches her hands towards the capital, Beirut, as if saying: “Come to me, oh believers, and satiate yourselves from my blessings”.

The pedestal of the statue is built from natural stone. It has a height of 20 meters, a lower periphery of 64 meters and a higher periphery of 12 meters. To reach its top at the statue’s feet, one has to climb a spiral staircase of one hundred and four steps.

The small sanctuary and the pedestal of the statue were achieved by the end of 1907 by the contractor Ibrahim MAKHLOUF from Ain-El-Rihaneh and supervised by the general president of the association of Lebanese Missionaries, Father Chekrallah Khoury Archbishop of Tyre later on.

The inauguration

After the completion of the Shrine, the inauguration was fixed on the first Sunday of May 1908. On that historical day, delegations started gathering from all parts of the world with their flags and fraternities. The public squares and the neighbouring regions were crowded with people. At ten O’clock in the morning, the apostolic delegate Frediano GIANNINI began the religious ceremony by blessing the construction of the sanctuary and the statue.

Afterwards, his Beatitude the Patriarch celebrated the Pontifical Mass with the Cupertino of some bishops and priests. Were present the governor of Mount Lebanon (represented by Izatlu Barbar El-KHAZEN), the brigadier of the Lebanese army, and other officials.

During the Mass, his Beatitude delivered an impressive sermon about the love of the Lebanese and their remarkable devotion to the Virgin Mary. Then, the celebration ended with a religious procession of the Lady of Lebanon’s Icon in the square of the sanctuary, and his Beatitude announced that the annual anniversary of the Lady of Lebanon would be celebrated on the first Sunday of May.

Guardianship and administration of the Shrine

Since the Sanctuary – Shrine was built due to the efforts of the Maronite Patriarch and the Apostolic Delegate, ownership and guardianship had to be in the hands and under the supervision of the Maronite and the Latin Churches. This was stipulated in the agreement registered in Bkerky on 18 January 1907.

Both guardians decided to entrust the service and the administration of the sanctuary of the Lady of Lebanon to the Association of Lebanese Missionaries. The general president at that time, Father Joseph MOUBARAK carried out the official handing over in the Papal Legation in 1908.

Since the Association of Lebanese Maronite Missionaries became in charge of the administration of the Sanctuary, it has undertaken several constructions after buying adjacent properties that made it a Lebanese and an international shrine.

When the visitors noticed the work and renovation carried out in the shrine and its surroundings, they realised the value of this religious project. The following was written on the sanctuary’s register: “They excelled in what they renovated around your sacred sanctuary. Revive in our hearts the emotions worthy of your worship and restore the virtuous Christian life in Lebanon, oh Mother of life and piety”.

Harissa: Shrine of the Orient

During the installation and the inauguration of the Shrine of the Lady of Lebanon, no one thought that Harissa, such a small village, could become the Christian pole of countries of the Orient. However, this is not strange, since the Christ came from Bethlehem, miracles flowed from the grotto of Lourdes, and the queen of the sky rose above Harissa like the Cedars of Lebanon.

Initially, both the Maronite Patriarch and the apostolic delegate merely intended to install a monument. Nevertheless, the love of the Lebanese in general and of the Christians in particular rendered this shrine a sacred pilgrimage place and an international shrine.

Since the sanctuary of the Virgin was built in Harissa and her statue was erected on top of it, successions of delegations started marching towards the sacred mountain and believers thronged from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, European and American countries, and others. They came to join their voices to the echoes of generations that beatify the Virgin. Some of them even shed tears of penitence at the feet and returned to Jesus Christ, source of the sacred water.

Ahead of the visitors, spiritual and secular authorities, prominent figures and common people came by millions. Each shrine in the world has its own characteristics and the Harissa shrine has a familial characteristic. Since it was built, believing families crowded at the Virgin’s feet with beating hearts and love gifts. How many marriages blessed by the Virgin became a source of well-being and blessings! How many children washed with baptism water enlightened their homes and were a source of joy! How many souls that came shedding tears of sadness and grief returned smiling and full of life! How many families that seeked her shelter attained success and salvation!

In the Sanctuary registers, one can read the most sincere and impressive testimonies.

One look at the statue of the Virgin on top of this Enchanting hill inspires poets and genuine artists with the splendour of representation, subtleness of feeling, and delicacy of expression.

In their journeys and tours, tourists search for historical monuments and beauty. They feel in awe before the temple of Baalbeck, and monuments of Jbeil, Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut, and are enraptured in the Shadows of the Cedars. However, at the feet of the Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, they show reverence and worship purity and piety.

The name of “the Lady of Lebanon” has crossed the countries of the Orient and reached overseas. Wherever the Lebanese goes, he always mentions Lebanon and the “Lady of Lebanon”; he seeks her presence in his home and work, his happiness and sadness, difficulty and prosperity, arrivals and departures. One of the most important events the shrine of the “Lady of Lebanon” has witnessed, is the 50th jubilee of its construction in 1954. It is also the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Immaculate Conception dogma. During this jubilee, the Pope Pius XII sent to Lebanon his representative, His Eminency Cardinal Angelo RONCALLI who was elected later on by the College of Cardinals as the Pope John XXIII.

Since this historical Jubilee, there was an annual increase in the crowds who came to visit the shrine, especially in May, the month of the Virgin. However, how could this small sanctuary be wide enough to welcome the pious visitors?

Those in charge of the administration of the Sanctuary resorted to a temporary solution. They erected a tent made of plastic, wood, and zinc in the square of the Sanctuary where, for years, all the religious ceremonies were held during the month of the Virgin. Meanwhile, they were striving to free the neighbouring lands. Thus, they bought a piece of land big enough to build a Basilica, which would contain thousands of persons.

Patriarch Paul Meouchy installed the Cornerstone of the Basilica on 15 August 1970, after opting for an original and great plan, drawn by the architect Fouad El-KHOURY. The President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Papal Ambassador and a huge number of ministers, deputies, prominent figures and lots of people attended the ceremony. The association of Lebanese Maronite Missionaries in charge of the administration of the Shrine – along with an executive commission supervised the work through its general president Father Sassine ZAIDAN followed in 1971 by his successor Father Joseph Endary.

The Basilica was edified with God’s help and the participation of the Lebanese believers and others. Since 1990, great celebrations started taking place in it. It can contain four thousand believers who can sit and admire the statue of the Virgin through a glass front of 20 meters with 42 meters height. The elevation of the dome of bells is of 62 meters. The building rose high above the hill as a testimony of faith and loyalty and to fulfill a precious wish which preoccupied those who are near and far for a long time.

The Shrine of the Virgin Lady of Lebanon is a clear evidence of the worships of Mary, which is deeply rooted throughout history. We have elevated it over the Summit of the mountain as a national and religious perpetual monument.

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