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Home The Sanctuary by Joseph T. Khoreich
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Assumption, Ain Ebel Print E-mail
Written by Joseph Toufic Khoreich   
Friday, 11 December 2009 03:33


The sanctuary of Our Lady of Assumption,

Ain Ebel, South Lebanon


History and architectural characteristics



1-     From the beginning why this devotion to Virgin Mary?

In Lebanon, there are hundreds of  shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There  are sereral reasons behind this exceptional devotion to the Mother of God (Theotokos) which has existed  since the beginning of Christianity in Phoenicia (old Lebanon).


     Located on this same line of faith,  most churches in Lebanon remained faithful to this tradition, especially as Mary, daughter of the region, is the symbol of the Universal Church, the People of God. By her holiness, she unseated the female goddesses of Eastern peagan religions and occupied the hearts of millions of believers for generations all over the world.


     Ain-Eblians were not an exception to this religious path through their membership in the Chalcedonian tradition (official Catholic and Orthodox one) known by its special veneration to the Virgin Mary ,in contrast to some other traditions .

From the 17th Century, under the Ottoman Empire, thousands of Christians returned from Cedar’s Mountain and other countries in southern Lebanon District, Bilad Bechara, (Land of the Annunciation, the nickname given to this region). In dedicating their first chapel to Our Lady of Assumption, between 1600 and 1630, the new inhabitants of Ainebel wanted, undoubtedly, to express their dual commitment to their authentic religious and national traditions. The Chapel of the Patriarchal Sea in the holy valley (Quadisha) dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption still bears the same name. The first Aineblians, kept for their new sanctuary the same denomination as it was in their original regions.


The first chapel

b- It was built in the early 17th century atop the hill overlooking the spring’s small village. It was served by its first parish priest Father Youssef Abdel-Massih Elias Tawil .The small parish was very privileged and proud that its Father,  a scholar educated at the famous Maronite College of Rome, founded in 1584. This feeling, never departed, was not without justification. Indeed it flowed to the small parish morale and spiritual, cultural and social demands that have borne fruit over time in many vocations of priests, even bishops and one Patriarch Cardinal.

Having an area not exceeding 96 m2, the ancient chapel served as parish church for a community of several dozen families of farmers for nearly three centuries. Until the middle of the 19th century, the number of parishioners did not exceed 1000 believers. Later in 1906 there were approximately 1500 inhabitants in the main parish of the new Tyr’s Diocese (famous ancient roman metropolis and former Phoenician city).





Proposed new sanctuary

 c- Meanwhile, in 1866 the Archbishop of Saida, Mgr Boutros Boustani, religious and social reformer, known by his national struggle for Social Justice against the Ottoman policy, made his diocesan tour and arrived in Ain-Ebel, 6 years after the massacres perpetuated against Christians in 1860. Although it must have been difficult to identify the state of despair in which the war had thrown these Christians, the archbishop  was able to relate while encouraging his flock with promises of sunny days and cooperating with the Lebanese missionaries, Jesuits and nuns of Sacred Heart in commencing construction of the first schools and places of worship in the region of Jabal Amel.

In such a context, Ain Ebel was with his first school and health centers. At the same time, the new sanctuary began to emerge spacious, modern and strong. The construction was headed by master masons and architects both of Lebanese and Italian decent. The parishioners were enthusiastic. They worked with all their best efforts providing personal finance, counting also on migrants’ donations, making their way to Argentina, Palestine and Egypt. They also counted on the quests undertaken by missionaries. In the various stages of construction, the villagers showed remarkable generosity. All together and voluntarily, men, women, adults and youths, worked and performed all the tasks related to construction.


Project Phases

d- Between 1866 and 1917 the project passed through several stages. However, 60 years after the foundation was placed, the building was yet to be completed. Several obstacles opposed, some of which came from the Ottoman State for political and religious reasons. In fact, the Turkish authorities ordered a halt to construction nearly 15 years after commencement, under the pretext that the people of Ain Ebel were building a military fortress. Other barriers were divisions fed by proselytizing and new foreign culture at the expense of other local Christian communities.



e- Reports written by the missionary fathers relate that during the visit of the first archbishop of the diocese in 1907, Choucrallah Al-Khoury, the sanctuary was still without tile, its roof without bricks or steeple. This work was carried out between 1907 and 1920.

Unfortunately each phase was marked by tragedies and obstacles from various external conditions which hindered the advancement of the project. Indeed in 1920, another great tragedy struck Ain Ebel, causing  partial destruction of the sanctuary and a great loss of life. Approximately 100 people, the majority of which were women and children, were massacred by hostile bands opposed to the project of Greater Lebanon, for which the Aineblians were the most enthusiastic supporters in South Lebanon. Therefore one more martyrium should be added on 5 may 1920. The sanctuary would be the target of shells several times over the years. Not only partly destroyed and burned in 1920, but in the years of the Lebanese war as well. The village was caught between the dual Israeli and Palestinian fire. And most recently, the sanctuary suffered serious damage when the war exploded on 12 of July 2006 between Israel and Hizbollah. (as we can see from the pictures taken of the occasion). 




2-     Restorations over the past 40 years

2-1 On the first centennial of the founding of the sanctuary (1966), the Archbishop Joseph Khoury agreed with the parish committee (Waqf ) to launch new restoration work both inside and outside of the church to meet the growing needs of the parish, which kept increasing.

a- A platform (tribune) was created in the back of the sanctuary to provide a wider space for the choir and the assistants.



b- At the same time the stairs to the roof through the stands had been constructed so as to provide them easier access.

c- The surface of the walls and decorations, damaged by moisture and age, were cleaned and retyped with cement. This operation has yet to regret the loss of some old decorations very popular in their time, and which we still feel the nostalgia.

d- Layout from the main square next to the building construction of a 3 storey presbytery to provide housing for priests of the parish and build a room for parties, office space for committee meetings, receptions and movements of pastoral and social activities.



e- Displacement martyrium, housing the bodies of the martyrs of 1920 and later those of the Lebanese war.



f- Expansion of a space (a kind of pelouse) near the shrine of Saint  Charbel.



Recent restoration

2-2-After the withdrawal of Israeli occupation in 2000, new requirements came to light: a general restoration was needed after thirty years under the shadow of the dark days of war, which does not appear reaching its conclusion.  During 2002-2005 a project was implemented, thanks to the contributions of migrants in the Arab and Western countries. Restoration costs  of nearly $200,000 consisted of the following:

a -Scratching the surface of cement to clean the stone walls and columns. This operation updated an architectural style semi-gothic novel, highlighting a colonnade and arches that invite the eye to the admiration and the spirit to rise to the Sublime, glorifying the true Creator.



b-  General tiling and carpentry seats .

c- Renewal of the elctrical,  audio and sound equipment.

d- Restoration of the brick roof. Note that this operation was repeated again immediately after the bombing and rocket rounds incurred during July and August 2006. Declaration of the end of hostilities between the belligerents, on the evening of the Assumption Feast (August 14) was perceived by residents of Ain Ebel as a miraculous sign.



3-architectural and artistic features

a- The sanctuary is composed of 3 naves, 3 altars surmounted by beautiful arches, 2 rows of 4 columns each having a diameter of 1.93 m . It has a large bell .

b- dimensions: length 28.65 m Width: 14,50 m Height: 11,45 m

c- In addition, the sanctuary has 3 major portals, 11 windows, 12 rosaries or circular cavity embedded in the walls. There are several other holes in the walls of the main vault to aide the sound effects (acoustic) within the sanctuary.

d- a large marble altar designed and run by Lebanese artists and sculptors . It was installed in 1939, replacing an old wooden altar.



e- 3 large paintings adorning each one of the 3 altars:

In the center of the three altars hangs a painting, a reproduction of a painting by the spanish  Bartolommeo Murillo from Seville; other copies of his adorn various shrines in Europe and in America under title "The Virgin and Child" which was originally done in 1664.




- Above the altar on the right hangs a smaller painting dedicated to Saint Joseph. It is classic Italian Renaissance style, signed by the painter Nimr Daher Hadad and dated 1933,



- Above the altar on the left, a painting of the same size as that on the right represents Saint Maron, patron of the Maronite Church. It is signed by the Lebanese painter Maroun Daw. Its local style is less refined than the previous painting.



f- an old sacristy, presbytery of 3 floors, as above, using 2 spaces, a martyrium, a memorial of Saint Charbel, a memorial representing the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes with jets of water.

g- It is important to remember that the engineers who designed the plan of the sanctuary had provided two small altars in the middle of both aisles or naves, left and right. The first altar is dedicated to Saint George and the second to Saint John Maron, first Patriarch of the Maronite Church (c. 687). To date the work has not been completed for various reasons. However, it is desirable that these two works are not overlooked or forgotten.

h- The one most interesting item of the sanctuary, not to be omitted, might be the relief embodied in the west wall above the main door or the female entrance. It is a great high slab (120 cm? ) on which three cross spears, the emblem of the Emperor Constantine the first, are engraved. This archeological item was found among the ruins of the site  of Chalaboun located 2 km in the north of the village. According to research of the archaeologist French philosopher Ernest Renan (1861), it is a slab that covered the tomb of  Prince Ghassanid an Arab Christian from the 4th - 6th centuries. The sign means Pax Chrsiti = Peace of Christ which confirms the religious and cultural identity of the region during that time. All these patrimonial treasures must be well known and safeguarded by all. 




Designated as a pilgrimage stage at the jubilee of the second millennium, the shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption of Ain-Ebel continues to attract pilgrims and tourists, especially every  year on 14 - 15 of August. The procession which takes place in religious ceremonies and festival organized for this purpose are the culmination of the year. Visitors come from all sides to get water from the roots of faith and Christian traditions in this Holy Land of southern Lebanon, where Jesus, Mary and the apostles often came, according to the Gospel.

This historical reality that the world, and especially the Lebanese tend to forget was recalled to memory by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Lebanon in 1997 when he said : “Lebanon is a Holy Land” . The Lebanese contemporaries of Jesus were among the first witnesses of the Good News and we are their descendants. It is a great privilege.

By perpetuating these traditions and Christian memories in a Lebanese area exposed to be deserted near the southern borders,  Ain ebel wants to perpetuate a Christian presence and Marian testimony: Jesus living with Mary and primitive Christianity on a land they had ever visited during their life on earth, not far from their native land, where the young girl from Nazareth had received the message and where the Redeemer was born, lived, crucified, died and rose .


Joseph Toufic Khoreich 



Last Updated ( Friday, 05 February 2010 00:29 )

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