ENFEH, Lebanon: For more than 900 years, Our Lady of the Guard, a Greek Orthodox monastery, has been a part of the religious history of the northern coastal village of Enfeh.
This week, members of Lebanon’s Orthodox clergy rededicated Our Lady of the Guard after years of restoration to revive the interior paintings.
Our Lady of the Guard is located in the marshy region of Enfeh, overlooking the water where the seabed holds rich marine life that attracts the area’s fisherman. It’s also surrounded by idyllic fields of myrtle, a plant nearly extinct along the shores of Lebanon.
Crusaders built the monastery and church atop Byzantine ruins in the 11th century and decorated the interior nave with elaborate paintings throughout the 12th century.
The complex, along with several other prominent sacred sites in Enfeh, has attracted Lebanese, Syrian and other religious tourists from the region and Europe, especially in late summer for Eid al-Saydeh, a mid-August holiday celebrating the Virgin Mary.
For decades, Sister Catherine al-Jamal has managed the monastery and led a number of fundraising and restoration projects. In 1999, she supervised restorations of the site’s frescoes with the help of Father Amberoise.
“The nun who gave her life and devoted herself and her efforts and her compassion to Virgin Mary and everyone,” said Tripoli Archbishop Efram Keriakos, who led the rededication ceremony. “The value of this work is not in the stones but in the humans, and this humble woman deserves the credit in renovating this monastery.”
These days, with the cooperation of the National Cement Company and several architects, the whole monastery has undergone a comprehensive restoration process where the waterfront and the reception room were fully refurbished, with the addition of a new hall that was built to reflect the original architectural style.
The rededication was a celebration of efforts both within the church and by local patrons to beautify the convent. Noticeably absent was the usual lineup of national politicians, something Keriakos said was an intentional move to protect the religious atmosphere of the celebration.
“This monastery ... is a sacred land,” Keriakos said. “We also celebrate Virgin Mary who is the lady of this monastery and we honor all those who honored the Virgin in this region and around the world.”
Father Ambroise, who led the artistic revival, painted new frescoes inside the church and restored several others that had become faded and damaged.
He arrived at the church in 1997 to review the frescoes and study the history of the convent. He said that he was grateful to Sister Catherine for giving him the chance to be a part of the restoration project.
Walking through the church, Father Ambroise explained a number of the motifs, Old and New Testament scenes painted in the Byzantine style to mimic the original frescos.
After the consecration, Sister Catherine thanked those who contributed to the restoration of the monastery, such as the chairman of the National Cement Company, Pierre Doumit, and its manager Roger Haddad, both of whom were responsible for organizing the rededication.
“Our Lady of the Guard monastery and Sister Catherine have taken care of the people in this region for many years and for that they have a special place in our hearts,” Haddad said at the rededication. “Since we have now a chance to pay them back, we want to be one of the biggest contributors in preserving this monastery.”