Re­li­gious tourism

The sanc­tu­ary of Say­det El Man­tara

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

In south Le­banon, at the en­trance of Magh­douché vil­lage, the Greek-catholic Mar­ian shrine of Say­det El Man­tara (Our Lady of Await­ing) is an es­tab­lished na­tional pil­grim­age site. Though the site has been rec­og­nized by the Min­istry of Tourism (MOT) for a num­ber of years, with many travel agen­cies al­ready hav­ing in­te­grated it into their bi­b­li­cal tours, it has only just achieved its sta­tus on the world map of re­li­gious tourism, which will be marked at the end of May. The move is the re­sult of years of ef­fort from the re­li­gious au­thor­i­ties of the sanc­tu­ary and the MOT to achieve its in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion.

The shrine of Say­det El Man­tara is a place of pil­grim­age shared by all re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties and one of the ma­jor touris­tic sites in south Le­banon. Many his­to­ri­ans be­lieve that the de­vo­tion to the Vir­gin Mary in Le­banon, re­placed the wor­ship of the god­dess, As­tarte, the icon of Phoeni­cian wor­ship. So many of to­day’s Chris­tian shrines and tem­ples in the coun­try were con­verted from As­tarte places of wor­ship, in­clud­ing the Shrine of Say­det El Man­tara. Many years prior to the birth of Christ, the sanc­tu­ary’s lo­ca­tion was cho­sen as a watch­tower for the priests of the god­dess. The tra­di­tional tale be­hind the his­tory of

Say­det El Man­tara pur­ports that the Vir­gin Mary, as a Jewish woman, was pro­hib­ited ac­cess to some cities at the time. Some pop­u­lar tra­di­tions say that the Vir­gin Mary waited in a cave in Magh­douché dur­ing her preg­nancy with Je­sus and oth­ers dur­ing the time Je­sus Christ was preach­ing in Si­don.

Traces of a Ro­man road near the shrine demon­strate that the cave was prob­a­bly on the road link­ing Jerusalem to Si­don, via the an­cient Ro­man city Cae­sarea Philippi and the site Pa­nias, both lo­cated at the foot of Mount Her­mon. In 324AD, Saint He­lena, the mother of Em­peror Con­stan­tine I the Great, built a chapel ded­i­cated to the Vir­gin Mary at the lo­ca­tion where the tower cur­rently stands and the chapel was dec­o­rated with an icon of St. Luc. Due to re­li­gious per­se­cu­tions tak­ing place in the 8th cen­tury, the en­trance to the cave was hid­den, only to be re­dis­cov­ered ac­ci­den­tally in 1726 by a shep­herd who found an al­tar and a wooden icon. Since then, it has be­come a place of pil­grim­age, and in 1860, the GreekCatholic com­mu­nity took own­er­ship of the land and de­vel­oped it. In the early 1960s, Bishop Basil Khoury had the hexag­o­nal chapel built, along with a 28m high tower topped with the statue named “Madonna and Child,” by Ital­ian artist Pier­rotti. A few years ago con­struc­tion started on a large basil­ica with a seated ca­pac­ity of 1,200, which though in­com­plete is al­ready dec­o­rated with beau­ti­ful mo­saics and col­ored glass win­dows.

On 29 May 2016, the Bishop of Si­don, Mgr. Elie Had­dad, with the As­so­ci­a­tion “In the foot­steps of Je­sus Christ” (a team of specialists who trace the pedestrian routes fol­lowed by Je­sus Christ in south Le­banon), sup­ported by the MOT, will bring to­gether hun­dreds of re­li­gious per­son­al­i­ties, politi­cians, NGOS and tour op­er­a­tors to cel­e­brate the recog­ni­tion of the Greek-catholic shrine of Say­det El Man­tara (Await­ing Lady) as an

in­ter­na­tional Mar­ian shrine. The sanc­tu­ary will be re­lo­cated on in­ter­na­tional maps of re­li­gious tourism, with the sup­port of the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNWTO). The Gen­eral Sec­re­tary, Dr Taleb Ri­fai, will be at­tend­ing the cer­e­mony with sev­eral of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s del­e­gates. Through the event, Min­is­ter of Tourism Michel Pharaon wishes to de­velop re­li­gious tourism and pro­mote the thou­sands of re­li­gious sites spread across the coun­try.

For more info con­tact Rev. Samir Nohra 07 200436, melkite­

Photos: Min­istry of Tourism

Photo: Al­fred Moussa

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