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Cedars of Lebanon
Spiritual Meaning of the Cedars of Lebanon
The spiritual meaning of the Cedars of Lebanon is linked to their size and long life. They symbolize strength and eternity because they withstood many turbulent periods of history. That is why the Cedars represent an important cultural symbol in Lebanon, a country in the Middle East that has a heritage rich with a wonderful history.
The Cedars of The Lord
The Cedars area is a bowl formed by glaciers made uneven by geological disturbances. What remains today is an amazing landscape where the Qadisha Valley, the ancient cedars, and the historic villages are in close vicinity. The wall stone of the cedar field was built by order of Queen Victoria. About 400 cedar trees remain in Lebanon, each a magnificent survivor of the forests that once graced most of Mount Lebanon.
The cedar played a major role in the early history of the cities of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre. The oldest group of the Cedar trees in Lebanon is north of Beirut near the village of Bsharre at 1,920 meters above sea level. Encircled by a stone wall, the 400 trees are very old.
In ancient times, the cedar wood was valued for its long-lasting quality. It was easy to work, had a wonderful fragrance, and was in great demand. The Old Testament says that around the year 1,000 before the Common Era, Solomon, King of Israel, ordered “that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me to build a house for the name of the Lord my God”. It is said that thirty thousand workers were sent by Solomon to join King Hiram's men to cut cedars for the temple.
The Cedar wood was also used in building the Phoenician fleet. The early Phoenicians cut them down to build ships and exported the timber. Invading armies burned the wood for fuel. Settlers cut and cleared the land for farms and pasture. Erosion resulted from the altered climate. Goats did the final destruction. A current program is being advocated by the Lebanese government to replant the mountainous areas. A cedar tree is the national emblem of Lebanon and is displayed on its flag.
When Lebanese expatriates travel to Lebanon, they make a point of visiting these living monuments to antiquity. A three-hour drive along the coast north of Beirut into the mountains leads to the Qadisha Valley walled by twisted rock layers. The town of Bsharre –the birthplace of Gibran Kahlil Gibran, the poet, philosopher, painter and writer– is to the side of the gorge.
Called “Cedars of the Lord,” the trees are considered sacred by the Maronite Catholics, a Christian group that forms a third of the population of Lebanon. The trees are under the protection of the Maronite Patriarch who built a little chapel in 1843 in the center of the forest and prohibited the destruction of the “holy cedars”. They are guarded day and night.
The Cedars International Festival is held every year in August to honor the consecrated trees that boast national pride.
My father was born in Tourza, a small village neighboring Bsharre. The name Tourza is Aramean meaning the beautiful mountain. In ancient times, Tourza was a Phoenician kingdom in itself that dates back to the year 3000 B.C. In the Roman age, the story of St. Marina that probably took place during the fourth and fifth centuries mentions Tourza as a prosperous and inhabited city. Tourza played a significant role during the Crusades when the crusaders turned the Delmaz Grotto into a fortress.
As a child, I spent a couple of summer vacations in Bsharre. My cousins and I used to wander the streets dreaming of adventures. We even climbed a small portion of the mountain that leads to the Cedars just to prove that we can do it. This is my first memory of feeling really afraid up to a point where I refused to continue the climb. My cousins encouraged me to finish it and I did. We felt so proud of our achievement that day.
We knew that the adults in the village kept an eye on us. I stopped counting the number of times we heard adults say, “Where are you going? It’s getting late. Go home to your mother.”
Qannoubine Monastery Church, Qadisha Valley
The Qadisha Valley has many monasteries and hermitages and has long been a sanctuary for Christians looking for solitude and safety. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998 because of its early Christian monastic settlements and nearby remains of the great forest of cedars of Lebanon.
Qadisha in the Aramaic language means ‘holy’. The valley has served as a site of meditation and refuge for thousands of years drawing Sufi mystics and Christian ascetics.
It is one of the most important early Christian monastic settlements in the world. Its monasteries, some of them truly old, are located in dramatic positions in a rugged landscape. The rocky cliffs of the Qadisha Valley served for many centuries as a place for meditation and shelter. The Valley has a large number of monasteries and hermitages going back to the first spread of Christianity. This Valley was the center of Maronite monasticism characterized by solitude, where the social dimension of life was sacrificed to the supremacy of religious experience.
Its natural caves, carved into the hillsides and decorated with frescoes, prove that its architecture was conceived for the spiritual and essential needs of an austere life. Monks, hermits and peasants who lived in the region grew grain on terraces. Some of these terraces are still being cultivated.
First Maronite Mummy Ever Uncovered
Eight well-preserved mummies of Maronite villagers dating around 1283 A.D. were uncovered by a team of speleologists from the GERSL scientific organization in the Qadisha Valley between 1989 and 1991. They were found with a wealth of artifacts in the 'Asi-al Hadath’ cave.
According to initial studies, the mummies belong to the Maronite community of the Hadath al Gibbet village located on the edge of the Qannobine Valley. The mummies are now housed at the National Museum in Beirut, Lebanon. Their undamaged graves lay in the neighborhood of the Cedars of God in Northern Lebanon. All eight bodies were buried simply and were fully shrouded and interred at 40 to 80 cm underground. It seems that no gold, valuable earthly possessions, or adornments escorted the bodies on their journey to eternity.
 The New York Times. “A Lesson From the Cedars of the Lord”. Seibert, D. (1970). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1970/07/12/archives/a-lesson-from-the-cedars-of-the-lord.html
 Baldati website. Retrieved from https://www.baldati.com/page/262/Tourza
 Ancient Origins Restructuring the Story of Humanity’s Past. Klimczak, N. (2017). “Unravelling the Mystery of the Maronite Mummies: Why Were Medieval Mummies Hidden in a Cave?” Retrieved from https://www.ancient-origins.net/history/unravelling-mystery-maronite-mummies-why-were-medieval-mummies-hidden-cave-007392
Welcome to Lebanon special edition LCB. North Lebanon.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Liliane Najm
Liz Westwood from UK on May 28, 2020:
This gives interesting information about the Cedar tree and also an insight into Lebanon and its history.