Who Are The Maronites
The community of Beit Maroun endured difficult historical circumstances, due to the religious, political and dogmatic oppression of the Arab-Muslim conqueror on the one hand, and their anti-Chalcedonian environment on the other. Also, in the middle of the political persecution by the Byzantines, this community was deprived of the bare means of subsistence and was denied religious and political freedom, as well as spiritual and material stability. After the destruction of the monastery of Saint Maron, the Maronites decided to distance themselves from the conflict between the great powers at that time -the Byzantines and the Arabs-. In order to preserve their freedom and their religious, cultural and political identity, they took the most difficult decision to move from fertile and cultivable plains and join their fellow-believers in the arid, rocky and barren regions of Mount-Lebanon.
The emigrants took the old route, following the flow of the Orontes River and reached its source in Hermel (Lebanon). From there, they reached Mount-Lebanon, from both sides -Jebbet-Bshareh and Jebbet al-Mnaitra- where they basically settled, and where they moved their patriarchal residence to the monastery of Saint George in Yanouh-Byblos.
The newcomers have faced many challenges throughout their settlement in Mount-Lebanon, however, their biggest and most daring one was not their subsistence throughout all empires; it was rather their survival in a rough wild nature
During the reign of the Crusaders (1095-1291), the Maronites seized the opportunity to break their isolation, cooperated with the Franks, witnessed a religious freedom and renewed their relationship with the Church of Rome.
However, with the defeat of the Franks in the late thirteenth century, the Maronites have endured difficult circumstances under the rule of the Ayyubids and later the Mamluks (1291-1516), who started persecuting all those who collaborated and sympathized with the Crusaders, among which were the Maronites.
Many military campaigns, razed to the ground destroyed and swept completely away the “Maronite land”, namely the region of Ehden and Jebbet-Bsharreh in 1268 and in 1283, when Patriarch Daniel from Hadshit, leader of the resistance was captured and executed. The campaign on Kesserwan in 1305 eradicated all Maronites; it was so intense that no tree was left standing.
As a result of these campaigns, a lot of Maronites fled to the island of Cyprus, where there are several Maronite villages up until today.
The successive Mamluks campaigns against the Maronites, who were left without refuge or shelter, were exhausting. The Maronites’ fate had almost reached a dead end. Their number decreased in the cities and they were no longer well prepared. The Maronites who survived, stayed in Jebbet-Bsharreh, Zawya, Batroun, Jebbet al-Mnaitra and its surroundings. They suffered from poverty and misery, in addition to the exacerbating calamities of nature, deprivation and alienation from the outside world and axes of economic exchange. Their cultural heritage faded and the successive crises made them an easy prey for everyone.
In 1367, the Mamluks captured the Maronite Patriarch Gabriel of Hjoula and burned him alive on the outskirts of Tripoli. In 1440, following the Mamluks campaign against the residence of the Maronite Patriarchs in Ilige-Byblos, Patriarch John from Jaj (1404-1445) moved to Wadi Qannoubine and lived at the Monastery of Our Lady, which became the residence of the Maronite Patriarchs until the nineteenth century. From Qannoubine, the Maronite Patriarchs resisted, survived and prayed for their people to maintain their religious and political freedom. As Patriarch Sfeir said: “this is the freedom, without which, we have no life.”
Despite all persecutions, the Maronites remained, during all the Mamluk era, united under the leadership of their patriarchs and their local chiefs Al Muqaddamun.
During the Ottoman rule (1516-1918), the Maronites faced new challenges. On the political, demographical and economic level, their stability was strongly linked to their relation with local governors. For instance, the oppression of the Seyfa and Hamadeh, governors in the north and the districts of Batroun and Jbeil, forced many Maronites to leave these regions. Conversely, the Assafites, governors of Kesserwan and then, the Maanis and Chehabis, governors of the Chouf, encouraged those who fled the North to settle in the regions of Kesserwan, Metn, Chouf and Jezzine. The case of Fakhreddine II (1585 – 1635) is worth mentioning: With the help of the Maronites, he established good ties with the western Christians, asking for their support in order to gain independence.
On the educational level, the Maronites were the first in the Levant to open up to the western cultures, owing to their relations with the Popes. In fact, in 1584, the Pope Gregory XIII, established in Rome the Maronite College in Rome, where many young Maronites pursued their studies. Some of them returned to Mount Lebanon and held many ecclesiastical positions, while others stayed in Europe and excelled in the “Republic of Letters”; they played the role of mediators between eastern and western cultures, translating books from Arabic into Latin and vice-versa, establishing oriental collections in western libraries and teaching oriental languages. These facts granted the Maronites their reputation, depicted by the saying: “Erudite like a Maronite”.
In a related context, the monastery of Saint Antonios in Kozhaya saw the first printing press in the eastern part of the Ottoman Sultanate, where the Book of Psalms was printed in 1610 in Syriac and Garshuni letters. The Lebanese Maronite Order reintroduced this printing press in 1805, but its activity was limited to printing liturgical books, which the monks needed for their daily prayers, such as the missal and other service books.
In the eighteenth century, the Maronite community experienced a significant demographic and geographic expansion from Mount Lebanon to the north of Chouf, Jezzine, and the region of Sidon... At the end of this century, there was a transformation in the highest ruling authority in the emirate when the Emir Youssef Chehab, was baptized as Maronite and became the first Christian governor to rule Mount Lebanon, under Ottomans.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the political situation in Mount Lebanon experienced many major transformations. The interference of the Ottoman governor of Acre, Jazzar Pasha (1777-1804) in the internal Lebanese politics, the fluctuation of the politics of Emir Bashir II (1788 – 1840), the conquest of the Egyptians (1831-1840), all destabilized the relations between Mount-Lebanon components, especially Maronites and Druze and led to several religious clashes between 1840 and 1845. The heterogeneous political system, called Qaim Maqamiyatayn, did not succeed in solving the problems and resulted in many peasants’ revolts, namely in 1858 against feudalism and ended with the 1860 massacres, resulting in the death of more than 12000 Maronites in Mount-Lebanon and Damascus.
Then came to light, the Mutasarrifate system in 1861, undertaken by the European powers in agreement with the Ottomans. This system appointed for the first time a Christian Catholic but non-Lebanese governor to rule Mount-Lebanon. This system ensured stability until World War I.
The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the blooming/flourishing of higher education in Beirut, especially with the foundation of the American and Jesuit universities that received the Maronite elites, who were later on involved in the political, economic and intellectual life. This era witnessed the blooming/flourishing of journals, periodicals and printing presses in all regions.
In fact, the Maronites participated in the Arab enlightenment movement Al nahda which led to the rise of Arabic language and literature. This movement led to re-establishing the Arab nationalism to counter the Ottoman’s Turkification movement.
In this same Era, the region saw the growth of sericulture and silk craftsmanship. This has ensured economic autonomy in Mount Lebanon and enriched commercial exchanges. Thus, Mount-Lebanon’s reputation for sericulture grew, reaching the other side of the Mediterranean, namely Marseille and Lyon. This sericulture and silk industry was a real social revolution in this region. It is also important to mention that the exportation of silk from Beirut’s port to Marseille, laid the foundations for maritime transport agencies in Lebanon.
After the 1860 massacres, many Christians, including Maronites, fled to Egypt. However, Antonios Bachaalany, a Maronite from Salima (Baabda district) was the first emigrant to the New World, where he reached the United States in 1854 and died there two years later.
World War I (1914 – 1918) brought with it scourge, injustice, famine, and darkness. At the end of WWI and despite the misery it was experiencing, Mount Lebanon welcomed tens of thousands of oppressed immigrants from neighboring regions, such as the Armenian and Syriac people, who had fled the massacres and genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire against them.
The state of Greater Lebanon was declared in early September 1920 under the French mandate. The constitution of 1926 gave all citizens equal rights and the freedom of faith and ex
Elie T. Elias and Jad Kossaify