Re­li­gious tourism

Our Lady of Ilige

Lebanon Traveler - - CONTENTS -

The re­gion of May­fouk is breath­tak­ing, with its stun­ning moun­tain­ous ter­rain and pic­ture per­fect scenery. It is also a place of great re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance, of­fer­ing pil­grims the chance to visit a dozen sa­cred sites, in­clud­ing the monastery of Our Lady of Ilige (Say­det Ilige), one of the old­est seats of the Ma­ronite pa­tri­ar­chate. It has been the res­i­dence of the eigh­teen pa­tri­archs for 320 years, seven of whom were buried there.

The his­toric old church of the monastery was built in 1121 on the ru­ins of a pa­gan tem­ple, which are said to be ded­i­cated to the god Il or to Venus-as­tarté. Rem­nants of the tem­ple can be seen in the out­door walls of the church by the en­trance, where a stone re­sem­bling the curved head of a bull is vis­i­ble.

The in­scrip­tion above the gate re­veals that the church and the monastery were not built at the same time. The Syr­iac words carved on the slab above the lin­tel of the western door of the monastery in­di­cate that the con­struc­tion of the church ended in 1277. The church in­cludes a bema (char­ac­ter­is­tic of the pa­tri­ar­chal churches), with stairs lead­ing to it to the western side of the church.

The monastery suf­fered a se­ries of at­tacks and was aban­doned for a long pe­riod of time. Af­ter the church was renovated in 1746 and in 1766, the Ma­ronite Or­der as­sumed the af­fairs of Say­det Ilige. Monks worked hard to re­build the monastery and more restora­tion, un­der­taken by the Gen­eral Direc­torate of An­tiq­ui­ties, took place in the 1970s.

Since then, the Le­banese Ma­ronite Or­der, as­sisted by the lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, has con­tin­ued to pre­serve the monastery’s sur­round­ing. A sanc­tu­ary ded­i­cated to Say­det El Hazineh (Our Lady of Sor­rows) can be vis­ited via a path to the south side of the monastery.


Say­det Ilige used to hold the old­est Ma­ronite icon in Le­banon, a tes­ti­mony to its im­por­tance to Ma­ronite

her­itage. The icon was re­moved for restora­tion and can now be found in the monastery of Our Lady of May­fouk.


The vil­lage of May­fouk is lo­cated in the caza of By­b­los, 70km north of Beirut and 35km north­east of By­b­los. The monastery of Say­det Ilige is lo­cated 1,000 me­ters above sea level, in the up­per part of May­fouk vil­lage.


Thanks to the new high­way con­nect­ing Am­chit to May­fouk, the monastery can be reached in about 45 min­utes from the coast. Al­ter­na­tively, head there from Moun­sef, pass­ing Maad, Ghal­boun and Be­j­jeh on the way.

The site is open through­out the year. It is not rec­om­mended for those with walk­ing dif­fi­cul­ties due to the vast num­ber of stairs.


There are plenty of re­li­gious sites to visit in the area. Be sure to stop by the 19th cen­tury monastery of Mar Chal­lita, El Qot­tara, Mar An­to­nios, Mar Char­bel Her­mitage Sanc­tu­ary, Say­det El Wardiyah Church (Our Lady of Roses), Mar Saba Church, Mar Jiryes Monastery, Mart Moura Church and Mar Elias Chapel.


A sou­venir shop of re­li­gious items and lo­cal prod­ucts is lo­cated just at the en­trance of the site (09 765063).

Grab a bite at Nahr El Joz restau­rant (09 765766, 70 368402), which serves tra­di­tional Le­banese fare.

A tra­di­tional house, lo­cated a few hun­dred me­ters from the monastery, wel­comes guests look­ing to stay the night. For book­ings con­tact Layla Hashach (09 765063).

Cel­e­bra­tions and spe­cial events:

The Vir­gin Mary is cel­e­brated on the 15th of Au­gust

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