Home SHORT HISTORY OF THE MONASTERY OF SAINT ANTHONY THE GREAT VALLEY OF QOZHAYA
The Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great (Mar Antonios al-Kabir) is situated at a height of 950 meters above sea level in the celebrated Valley of Qozhaya, " the Living Treasure ", in the Zghorta district of North Lebanon. The pine trees and oak trees cover the great hills surrounding it. Fruit trees of every description grow all along the valley which extends into the Valley of Qannubin to form the great Qadisha Valley, thus bearing witness to the history of eremitic life and the quest for holiness in Lebanon.
Historians and scholars suppose that this Monastery was first built and began to be occupied by hermits at the beginning of the fourth century. It was several times looted, set on fire and razed to the ground, but there still remain vestiges dating back to the seventh century. We may obtain a rough idea of the antiquity of this Monastery from some rare documents which have come down to us, especially :
-a cooking-pot and its lid left to the Monastery of Qozhaya by Father George (Jerjes), a priest serving the village of Qarhin, ill the year 1000 of the Christian era.
-The nomination in 1154 by Patriarch Peter (Butrus) II (1154-1173) of one of the monks of the Monastery of Qozhaya, named Isaiah (Ishaaya) , to be superior of the monks of Saint John's (Mar Yuhanna) Monastery at Cosband (Koutsobentis) in Cyprus ( Cf. manuscript of Rabboula, 586 A.D., f. 7b).
-A silver-plated copper dish in the Monastery engraved with the date 1168.
-A title deed at the Monastery attesting that the monks of Saint Anthony's Monastery at Qozhaya had bought a plot of land in 1179 (575 of the Hegira).
-A bull of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) dating from 1215, addressed to Patriarch Jeremiah (Ermiya) al-Amshiti (1199-1230) and recalling that the Qozhaya
Monastery constituted the first Maronite episcopal see.
The Monastery has always been the stronghold of eremitical life within the Maronite Church as well as a school for the formation of monks. Its hermitages, in particular that of Saint Bishai, have always attracted ascetics wishing to live a life of mortification away from the world. Among these austere hermits, one can cite patriarchs Moses (Moussa) al-Akkari (1524-1567), Michael (Mikhayel) ar-Rezzi (1567-1581), Sergius (Sarkis) ar-Rezzi (1581-1596), and Joseph (Yusuf) ar-Rezzi (1596-1608). It is worth noting that, according to certain sources, it was during the time of Patriarch Sergius ar-Rezzi that in 1584 the first printing press was introduced into the East, and the psalter was printed the first time in 1585. A second printing press was in Qozhaya in 1610, and the library of the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik conserve a copy from the psalter printed in that year .
After being handed over to the Lebanese Order in 1708 by Bishop John (Yuhanna) Habqouq, the Monastery was in the direct charge of one of the founders, Father General Abdallah Qaraali (1699-1716). It served as the Mother House of the Order from 1708 to 1723 because of its historical, ecclesiastical and social importance.
After they had lived some time at the Monastery of Qozhaya, the Lebanese Monks found that the produce of what they possessed was not enough to meet all their expenses. So they rented arable land, some of it belonging to the local inhabitants and some of it public property known as the Baklik. They also rented from Sheikh Issa Hamadeh, at that time governor of the country, the farmland of Ain Baqara, for the sum of ten cents (piastres) a year. This farm lies north of the town of Ehden, above the villages of Ban and Kfarsghab. The monks worked and improved the land so effectively that finally they actually purchased it in due form, and quite recently they have added reservoirs of water to irrigate its extensive orchards.
It was from the Monastery of Qozhaya that the Order spread and grew, with more and more monks scattered all over Lebanon. The Monastery became the pillar and reference-point of the Order until it was even called " the Order of Qozhaya ".
The Monastery fell victim to several natural catastrophes, like the one which in 1714 cost the life of one of the founders, Father Joseph (Yusuf) al-Bitn. The monks suffered persecution from oppressors who several times drove them out of the Monastery, beat them, and threw them into prison. Pressure was even exerted on them by certain religious authorities.
In 1723 the monks were obliged to leave the Monastery because of the oppressive measures of the rulers of the country, who crushed them under the weight of taxes. They were able to return only because of the insistence of the Consul of France in Tripoli. But in 1726 they had to leave once again, this time for two years, and go to Kesrouan.
In 1847 the General Chapter decided to build the monasteries of Saint George (Mar Jerjes) at Aashash and Saint Anthony the Great at Jdaydeh in Zghorta, to each of which was attached part of the property of the Monastery of Qozhaya. Other property of the Monastery of Qozhaya was divided among the Convent of Saint Simon Stylites (Mar Simaan al-Amoudi), Qarn Aytu, and the monasteries of Our Lady of Deliverance (Saydet an-Najat) at Bsarma, Saint Joseph (Mar Yusuf) at Ban, and Saint Anthony (Mar Antonios) at Shikka.
In 1877, the monks of Qozhaya were persecuted by the Governor (Mutasarref) Rustum Bacha, who was preparing a plot with some religious and political authorities against the Monks of the Monastery of St. Anthony of Qozhaya.
During the First World War (1914-1918) the Monastery received and fed a great number of refugees. As a result of this generosity it ran up heavy debts, which however it lost no time in honouring.
In 1926 the monks had the old building demolished, leaving only the church, the large basement (the present museum), and four cells of the corridor of Father Ignatius (Ghnatios) Shikri. Two new storeys were constructed, work finishing in 1928.
In 1993, the Monastery was restored. In 1994 the great underground basement was restored and now serves as a museum in which are gathered what remains of the printing press of 1783 and various manuscripts, liturgical objects, ancient pottery, and a crozier offered by Louis IX, King of France (1226-1270).
The museum was inaugurated on November 10, 1994, on the occasion of the opening of the celebration of the tricentenary of the Order, by Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Butrus Sfeir (1986 ), with the attendance of the Apostolic Nuncio, the Maronite bishops, and the Superior Generals, Mother Generals and monks of the two Orders, Mariamite and Lebanese.
In December 1998, the Monastery Saint Anthony of Qozhaya, all the valley of Qadisha and the Cedars of Lebanon were classified by the UNESCO as worldwide cultural heritage.
In 1999 the work of restoration was continued, both inside and outside. A new fruit gardens were planted and exploited.
It must be mentioned here that the Monastery of Qozhaya possesses a library containing archives, scholarly compendia and Syriac manuscripts. As in its early days, it is still a center of pilgrimage and prayer for those in search of a place suitable for prayer, recollection and solitude, and those wanting cures or advice. Pilgrims also come to consult the hermits Father Antoine RIZK and Father Youhanna KHAWAND, and Father Dario ESKOBAR. Father ESKOBAR is from Colombia, who is living in the Hermitage of Our Lady of Hawqa since August 15th, 2000.
The Monastery remains a beacon of salvation and holiness; this is the fact that imparts to it all its charisma and fascination!