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Medieval scriptoria were valuable spots for meetings and cultural exchanges for monks, scribes, and copyists who abounded from the furthest dioceses to work on the same manuscripts, either by writing or copying them. Some Syriac manuscripts mentioned both the Jacobite and the Maronite patriarchs, thereby confirming the collaboration that took place between the monks of these two Churches.

Eastern monasteries served as schools and universities, as was the case in Europe. Their importance was tied to the wealth of their libraries and the output of their scriptoria. The latter provided spaces for valuable cultural interactions when monks, scribes and copyists from distant dioceses came together to study, write or copy the same manuscripts. In Lebanon, a Maronite book could therefore be the work of a Jacobite*, and vice versa.

The Scriptoria

The Maronite-Jacobite cultural interaction is documented through literature, including two books from the Borgia Library in Rome. In these publications, one can notice that the Explanation of the Mass by the Jacobite bishop of Omid, Dionysius Bar Salibi (+1171 AD), was, in fact, the work of a Maronite monk scribe from Lebanon. On the other hand, the Book of the Maronite Mass from the same library was copied in 1677 by Jacobite bishop Athanasios of Mardine, with the collaboration of an anonymous Maronite scribe.

The Syriac books that mentioned both Jacobite and Maronite patriarchs leave no doubt about the collaboration between the monks of these two Churches, who worked together within the same scriptoria, and sometimes on the same manuscripts. They shared common churches, such as Mar-Edna and Mar-Georgios in Hardin. Each of these churches had two altars, one for each denomination, just like today’s twinned monasteries. As such, within the churches of Mar-Elias-Shouaya and Broumana, Maronites and Rum (Eastern Orthodox) coexist within joint structures.

However, one would need to envision the occurrence of two churches that shared the same rite and liturgical language during the Middle Ages. Given their common culture and language, it was therefore expected for Maronites and Jacobites to produce within the same scriptoria. However, the Rum (Eastern Orthodox) who shared the Chalcedonian faith with the Maronites ended up joining them as they compiled their works in Syriac or Garshouneh. This is manifested in the collections of the Rum Catholic Monastery of the Holy Savior in Joun.

Even the Maronite village of Ehden, known for its staunch Chalcedonian stance and opposition to Jacobite proselytism, was compelled to embrace without discrimination the entire Syriac literary tradition, which was predominantly Jacobite in the Middle Ages. As such, the Book of Mysteries (manuscript Vat. Syr. 170) by the maphrian Gregorios Bar Hebraeus was copied at Our Lady of Ehden in the year 1808 of Alexandre (1497 AD), under the Maronite patriarch Simeon Peter, son of David of Hadat.

The Jacobites in the Qadisha

The undisputed presence of the Jacobites in the villages and monasteries of Qadisha engendered unavoidable exchanges and interactions. At that time, their important presence in Bsharri had become incontestable.

During the era of the Maronite patriarch Jacob of Hadat (1445–1468), the mqadam (lord) of this town embraced the anti-Chalcedonian cause of the Jacobites, and in his conversion, he influenced a segment of the residents of Bsharri, Hardin, and Lehfed. In the latter, the Jacobites attempted to institute their own mqadam.

At the Maronite Council held on August 16, 1580, at the patriarchal seat in Qannubin, Patriarch Mikhael Rizzi (1567–1581), escorted by seven of his bishops, received the representatives of the Jacobite patriarch, led by the bishop of Hardin. These events would no longer occur after the establishment of the Maronite College in Rome in 1584. Moreover, from that point on, the Maronites’ need for the Jacobites dwindled as they began to develop a plethora of intellectuals in Rome. The situation that prevailed in the Middle Ages took a reverse turn: henceforward, the intellectual development among Syriac Churches was to be led by the Maronite Church.

The medieval Saint James monastery on the Qadisha, (formerly Jacobite). ©Amine Jules Iskandar

The Breakup

Suspected of heresy, the Maronite patriarch Luca of Bnohra (1283–1300?) was deposed and replaced by Jeremiah (of Dmalça), with the support of Count Bohemond the Seventh of Tripoli. Luca would be harshly criticized by the Maronite bishop of Cyprus, Gabriel Barcleius (1450–1516), for allegedly refusing to receive the Pope’s emissaries who came to condemn the Jacobites. Barcleius went as far as accusing him of monophysitism.

From the time of the Latin States (12th–13th centuries), to justify themselves against Roman accusations, the Maronites rejected all types of heresy (especially monothelitism) and upheld their enduring orthodoxy. This theory grew stronger during the Mameluk period (14th–15th centuries) with the advent of the first Latin missionaries, and in the 16th century with the Roman inquisitors. Furthermore, it would welcome even greater support in the 17th and 18th centuries through the publication of academic works by the Maronite College of Rome. However, simultaneously, the arguments put forth by the Maronites to justify the deemed heretical excerpts (monophysite) in their manuscripts only served to highlight the extent of the interaction they enjoyed with their Jacobite brethren. According to the Maronite scholar Faustus Nairon (1628–1708), Patriarch Sergius Risiuis (or Sarguis Rizzi) (1581–1597) wrote to Cardinal Carafa on August 15, 1583: “A few people have written to you that some statements against the main Holy Church (Catholic) are found in our books. However, do we only recognize what the Holy Church recognizes? And whatever is found in certain copies could have been introduced into the Maronite books by communities that have been living among us for a very long time.” (quoted by Bishop Joseph Debs).


The two apses of a twinned troglodytic church in Hardin.  ©Amine Jules Iskandar

The Deportation

During the Mameluk period, under the Latin missionaries’ influence, Gabriel Barcleius, Maronite bishop of Cyprus (1507–1516), initiated a confrontation with the Jacobites. Barcleius was a Franciscan, trained in Rome, and a student of the Flemish Belgian Fra Gryphon. The Maronite bishop worked towards the Latinization of his Church and its purification from anything perceived as heretical by the Holy See. Barcleius was only one of many Maronites trained in Rome, and the Vatican’s increasing influence brought about intellectual prosperity, but at times, it also led to a form of heritage loss.

Unfortunately, the hunt for the Jacobites was not limited to books, as towards the end of the 15th century, the situation escalated. The deportation of Ethiopian monophysites from Lebanon angered Abdel-Menhem, Bsharri’s mqadam who converted to Jacobism. He threatened the residents of Ehden whom he held responsible for this deportation and sided with “Muslims from Danniyeh in order to attack them,” as reported by Patriarch Estephanos Doueihi.

“After having invoked Our Lady of the Fort, the Maronites of Ehden pounced on the enemy” at the foot of their village in Toula, according to patriarch Doueihi. The Abdel-Menhem’s dreadful defeat resulted in a large number of casualties and compelled the Jacobite fighters and monks to flee. Some went on to join the Ethiopians in the Nebek desert, others sought refuge in their historical stronghold of Hardin, while others settled in Tripoli or immigrated to Cyprus. The Jacobite population was left without a clergy, and this is when it was believed to have transitioned to the Maronite Church along with its parishes and monasteries.

In a poetic zajal style, this is what Gabriel Barcleius wrote about the mqadam: “Maron was hated by him, his faith was denied to him, and Jacob resided in his heart.”

The relations with the Jacobites improved in the 19th century. Thus, Prince Bashir II the Great (1795-1840) had personally taken an interest in the case of the Jacobite churches in Lebanon.

The relations with the Jacobites gradually returned to a state of relative normalcy in the 19th century. As such, Prince Bashir II the Great (1795-1840) became personally involved in the matters of the Jacobite churches in Lebanon. Indeed, he corresponded with the Jacobite bishop Antonios of Diyarbakir, as well as with the Maronite patriarch Jean Helou (1809-1823) regarding Our Lady of the Court in Tripoli. From this period onwards, the Maronite Church tried to support the Syriac and Armenian communities, particularly in the aftermath of the First World War genocide.

*The Jacobites are Western Syriacs just like the Maronites. However, the Maronites are Chalcedonians while the Jacobites are miaphysites. In the present day, they are referred to as Orthodox Syriacs.

Maronite medieval monastery in Mayfouq. ©Amine Jules Iskandar