Many countries claim their own Marian shrines such as Fatima, Medugorje or Our Lady of Lourdes.
For Lebanon many flock to the Maronite shrine of Saydet Beshwat, deep in the scenic village in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon. The original Church was built in 1741 after a Byzantine wooden icon of the Virgin Mary was discovered in one of the deep caves below the current site.
In 1880, after a request from the villagers, a Jesuit priest organised for a copy of the statue of Our Lady of Pontmain to be erected in the Church. Pontmain in France is also the site of a Marian shrine where it is reported there was an apparition of Our Lady to some children in 1870 during the Franco-German war.
Our Lady of Beshwat wears a gold crown and a blue star-spangled robe. She carries a crucifix and a rosary in her hand. Pilgrims, both Christian and Muslims flock to the site seeking the intercession of Our Lady of Beshwat and for that reason a new larger church has been built next to the old one.
Many people claim that they have experienced miracles in their lives because of her intercession. One such experience was reported by an expatriate, Tony Sukkar who suffered from a disease which paralysed his upper body. He visited the site and sought the intercession of Saydet Beshwat and was healed. He subsequently constructed a statue of the Virgin Mary in his nearby home town of Deir el Ahmar in her honour.
A short distance from Saydet Beshwat, on the road towards Zahle, is a little village called El Karaak. A mixed village of both Christians and Muslims where you will find the Church of St Anthony of Padua standing beside the mosque of the Prophet Noah.
In the past Druze and Jews also lived in the town, but they left during the Civil War. The mosque is built on roman ruins and is alleged to contain Noahs arc below it. Muslims believe that Noah is buried there. They believe Noah lived for an extraordinarily long time and kept growing and was extremely tall. For that reason his tomb is extremely long.
A little further is Zahle which is known as the bride of the Bekaa. Perched high on the mountain overlooking Zahle is Our Lady of the Grapes.
The feast of Our Lady of the Grapes is one of three related feasts devoted to Mary in the Maronite liturgical calendar and unique to it. The feasts are celebrated as follows:
15 January for the seeds
15 May for the ears of wheat (the harvest)
15 August for the grapes
It is believed that the origins of these feasts may initially have been agricultural pagan feasts to do with planting and harvesting. However, in the Maronite context they have come to symbolise the Mystery of the Eucharist. They form the ingredients for bread and wine, linking the Virgin Mary to the Holy Eucharist.
In Syriac spirituality and in the imagery of the poetry of Saint Ephrem, there is a special focus on Mary’s womb receiving Jesus. We are reminded of this in our Liturgy hymn for the transfer of offerings. Through the harvests of wheat and grape we receive the gifts of bread and wine, which become for us the body and blood of Christ and like Mary we receive Christ to dwell in us.
Alleluia! Our Lord Jesus said
“I am the Bread of Life.
From the Father I was sent as Word
without flesh to give new life.
Of the Virgin Mary I was born,
taking flesh as man;
as good earth receives a seed,
her womb received me.
Priestly hands now lift me high
above the altars.”
Alleluia! Our gifts, Lord, receive.
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