Listen to the article

Mount Lebanon’s medieval literature was that of exchanges and openness, not only between the mountain’s communities but also between the furthest provinces of the East. Manuscripts traveled between Tur Levnon (Mount Lebanon) and Tur Abdin, right through Mabbug, Nusaybin, Mardin, Edessa, and Diyarbakir, reaching sometimes the Egyptian desert. 

Mount Lebanon’s medieval literature was that of exchanges and openness, not only between the mountain’s communities but also between the furthest provinces of the East. Manuscripts traveled between Tur Levnon (Mount Lebanon) and Tur Abdin, right through Mabbug, Nusaybin, Mardin, Edessa, and Diyarbakir, reaching sometimes the Egyptian desert.

During the Middle Ages, the monasteries of Lebanon and Upper Mesopotamia were brimming with scriptoria where thousands of manuscripts were produced, including illuminated ones. To this art of writing and illumination, an abundance of frescoes with Syriac inscriptions adorning churches, caves, and chapels was added during the Frankish period. Hundreds of monks resided in these valleys’ monasteries and sanctuaries and were divided between Chalcedonians (Maronites and Roums -Eastern Orthodox-) and Monophysites** (Jacobites).

Scriptorium of the Abbey of Echternach, represented in the “Book of the Pericopes” of Henry II, 1002-1012 AD. ©Wikimedia

A shared culture

While the Roums incorporated the liturgy in Greek language, Maronites and Jacobites -despite their divergence on the issue of Chalcedonian faith-, practiced the same liturgical language and the same Syriac rite. The Maronites and Jacobites were less urbanized than the Romans, and they shared the same mountainous affinity and cultural references. As such, they collaborated in writing, illuminating, painting, and building. While in the fields of architecture and frescoes, they worked harmoniously with the Franks and the Roum, their utmost collaboration bore the fruits of their creative uniqueness in the realm of literature.

The Jacobites, who were clustered around the wealthy monasteries of Upper Mesopotamia, from Mardin to Hah, and from Nineveh to Diyarbakir, enjoyed a significant cultural growth compared to their Maronite neighbors who were centered in the region of Mount Lebanon. The largest number of intellectuals and writers were Jacobites including Gregorios Bar Hebraeus, his brother Bar Sauma, Dionysios Bar Salibi, Yaacouv Bar Shakako, and their patriarch Michael the Great. Up until the establishment of the Maronite College in Rome, it was predominantly the Jacobitescribes who contributed to the monasteries’ libraries across the mountain.

In his article about the Maronite Rite, Father Mikhail Raggi emphasized the Jacobites “who boasted a number of scholar monks amongst them-, flooded the monasteries and churches as well as the entire country, with their ritual manuscripts among other things. And their scribes started writing books on behalf of the Maronites. The latter were astounded by the developments in terms of science and art.” According to Father Raggi, when the Maronites “noticed the extent of their community’s poverty compared to the Jacobites, they borrowed the latter’s ritual and canonical books, and adapted them according to their own rites and to the Chalcedonian dogma.

The Qadicha and its numerouscavities converted into monasteries. ©Amine Jules Iskandar

Jacobite Influences

In this distinctly ecumenical atmosphere, the boundaries between different communities got blurred as they shared the same literature that could either be found in the same library, or within the same publication. As an example, the Maronite manuscript of the Anaphora, Vat. Syr. 29, which was written in Cyprus in 1846 per the Greek calendar (1535 AD), had been assembled from the anaphora of three non-Chalcedonian bishops: Eliezer Bar Savta of Baghdad, Maruta of Tikrit, and Thomas of Maraache. Added to these three anaphora was the one from the Maronite patriarch Saint John Maron.

The books of the Maronites and the Jacobites –both of which belonged to the Western Syriac group-, circulated interchangeably and indiscriminately between their churches and monasteries, from Tur Abdin to Tur Levnon (Mount Lebanon) and vice versa. Thus, the Synaxarion of the Holy Fathers of Omid (present-day Diyarbakir) was written in 1415 in Aqoura, Mount Lebanon. During the 19th century, Jacobite bishop Maruta Peter bought it from the Maronite priest Joseph Charbel, even though this work was initially Jacobite. It mentioned the following:

“The Holy Fathers’ Synaxarion… is the eternal property of Saint Peter’s Church in the village of Ain Kura (Aqoura) near Yanuh… It was written by the sinner Rabban Sergius, son of deacon Bar Sauma, son of Simeon the priest from the Zwein family, on the 25th of March in the year 1726 of Alexander the Macedonian (1415 AD).” “In the time of our fathers: our father and leader, the venerable Mor Ignatius Behnam, Syriac Patriarch of Antioch, Mor Dioscorus Behnam, Maphrian of the East, and Mor Philoxenos, Bishop of Hardin the blessed… It was offered for the soul of his mother Shmona, wife of deacon Bar Sauma Zwein…” (Manuscript 34 from Diyarbakir’s Syriac Library).”

The term “Syriac” meant “Jacobite,” as the Maronite patriarch was known as the “Patriarch of Lebanon.” This is how one can determine the Jacobite origin of this book. Furthermore, the colophon mentions a “Maphrian,” which is a title specific to the Jacobites and correlates to an archbishop.

Bell tower in a grotto of the Qadicha.

Ecumenism between Western Syriacs

At times, the colophon transcends the mere reference to one or the other of the two patriarchs, as it mentions both simultaneously, revealing the spirit of ecumenism shared by these two Western Syriac components. Such is the case of manuscript 115 from Bkerke’s patriarchal library, written by the Jacobite priest John of Hadchit. It states that it “was completed in the year 1812 of the Greek calendar (1501 AD), on March 4, at the time of the Patriarch of Mount Lebanon, Mor Peter, and the Patriarch of the East, the Syriacs’ Patriarch, Mor Noah. It was written by the humble sinner Yohanon (John)… of Hadchit the blessed, in Mount Lebanon the blessed… And this book belongs to Saint John (monastery) in the territory of Hadchit.”

In this note, the Jacobite patriarch is thus referred to as the “Patriarch of the East” and “of the Syriacs,” whereas the Maronite patriarch, in this case, Simeon Peter, son of David of Hadat (1492-1524), is referred to as “Patriarch of Mount Lebanon.”

That same Jacobite scribe, John of Hadchit, was also the author of the Gospel book of the Maronite church of Baalbek, which he copied in the year 1803 of the Greek calendar (1492 AD).

Let’s also examine the most significant Maronite manuscript, the Codex Rabulensis or Laur. Plut. I. 56. It was written in the year 897 of Alexander (586 AD) by Western Syriacs before they split into distinct Churches. Or take a closer look at the book of the Four Gospels (Laur. III), translated in Mabbug in the year 819 of Alexander (508 AD), finalized in Edessa in the year 1068 of Alexander (757 AD), and then safeguarded in the Qadisha before being transferred to the Laurentian Medici Library in Florence. Page 30 mentions the following: “This book belongs to Our Lady, in the monastery of Qannubin.”

Mount Lebanon’s medieval literature was that of exchanges and openness, not only between the mountain’s communities but also between the furthest provinces of the East. Manuscripts traveled between Tur Levnon (Mount Lebanon) and Tur Abdin, right through Mabbug, Nusaybin, Mardin, Edessa, and Diyarbakir, reaching sometimes the Egyptian desert.

Anchor** In the 21st century, the term used to refer to Jacobites is miaphysitism instead of monophysitism.