Eight kilometers southeast of Sidon, lies the town of Maghdouche, which originates from a Syriac word meaning “crop collectors”, and is also another name for “holy” in Seryani and Arameic. Knowing that the town has always been famous for its top quality orange-blossom water and its rich agriculture explains the origin of the first appellation. The second one is inspired by early Christian times when the Virgin Mary, who accompanied her son Jesus to Sidon, waited for him to finish his preaching at the top of the hill where Maghdouche is today.
The cave where she used to spend her nights is what we know today to be “Our Lady of Mantara” or “Our Lady of Awaiting”, the same one that earned Lebanon this year its name on the international religious tourism map.
Since it was rediscovered on 8 September 1721 by a young shepherd, the cave has become a pilgrimage site in Lebanon, where people come to honor the Virgin Mary, especially on the occasion of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, 8th of September. In 1963, the people of Maghdouche built a cathedral as well as a modern tower above the cave, where rises a bronze statue of the Virgin Mary carrying her son Jesus.
What makes “Our Lady of Mantara” a religious heritage site deserving such global recognition?
In a country where the wealth of religious tourism holds more than 4000 religious heritage landmarks, Maghdouche is blessed to be one of the sacred places that Jesus stepped on. Stretching from Jerusalem to the Lebanese coast, the Roman road passed by the village of Maghdouche where the Virgin used to wait for her son in prayer while He was preaching in Tyre and Sidon.
Carrying over two thousand years of history, the cave is symbol of humility and faith, forever honoring the Virgin Mary and commemorating the holiness of a land which, despite years of suffering and hardship, has triumphed through the unity and love of its people, becoming a gate for peace.
English translation: According to holy tradition the Holy Virgin accompanied her son when he journeyed to Tyre and to Sidon. However, as we know, Jewish women were not allowed to go into pagan cities. Therefore, as Sidon was a Canaanite town and therefore pagan, Mary waited for her son in this grotto at Magdousheh, for the Roman road which ran from Jerusalem to the Lebanese coast passed by this village. Here she waited in prayer and meditation, from which comes the name Our Lady of the Wait – al Mantara. We allocate to the cave of Our Waiting Lady several miracles. The Virgin pays especially attention to the needs of children and sterile women.
The Phoenician route and the role of Lebanon in religious tourism
Lebanon constitutes one of the 18 countries that trace the Phoenician route, the network of the nautical courses which Phoenicians used since the 12th century B.C. as their main trade and cultural lines of communication in the Mediterranean Sea. More than just a trade-based itinerary, the route aims at interconnecting and reviving the cultures and tourism of the participating countries.
By joining the International Religious Tourism Map as part of a series of events held in the scope of the launch of the religious tourism program in the Levant countries (organized by the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism and the “World Tourism Organization”), Lebanon plays a major role in connecting the cultures of the Mediterranean region through tourism, particularly religious tourism.
The inclusion of the shrine of “Our Lady of Mantara” on the world pilgrimage map alongside Bethlehem in Palestine, Bethany in Jordan, Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, and Medugorje in Bosnia & Herzegovina, is an initiative that hopes to gather believers from all over the world in this holy site, contributing in the building of communication bridges between different cultures and religions and the reviving of a historical region that has been the crossroads of cultures and religions.
This little country of mine called Lebanon never ceases to amaze me. I am proud more than ever to be Lebanese, regardless of my faith or religion, because despite the little dot we are on the world map, we’ve made it big to the international religious tourism map. Because we’re a country that has been a beacon of knowledge and a founder of civilizations for thousands of years. A country that has embraced so many cultures and religions for centuries. A country that, despite years of wars, has always succeeded in spreading messages of hope and peace and faith, earning its title of “country of message” by Pope John Paul II. A country that proudly joins today the most prominent Christian holy sites to foster, through its heritage, cross-cultural exchange, mutual understanding, and regional development.
Lebanon, I hope you will always inspire the peace and openness that you preach so wholeheartedly, and that you’ll always be a beacon of hope for the world.
PS: “Our Lady of Mantara” was officially announced an international pilgrimage site during the Holy Month of Virgin Mary, May 2016. You can catch a glimpse of it in the below video.
Where to stay around Maghdouche
If you’re looking to enjoy a retreat in this beautiful area of Lebanon, I recommend staying in L’Hote Libanais‘ latest addition and a lovely bed & breakfast in Jinjleya, minutes away from Maghdouche. Find more about Gladys here, and get ready to fall in love with your host and this new little corner of paradise.