The last stretch of our hike in Qadisha Valley took us to Our Lady of Qannoubine monastery…. which reminded me a bit of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings.
This is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, if not the oldest (?) (the word ‘qannoubine’ comes from the Greek ‘koinobion’ which means ‘communal life’). After walking all morning without breakfast, sandwiches in the nuns’ kitchen felt like heaven to me. Afterwards I spotted these growing everywhere: Huge grapes! They looked so perfect!The view was breathtaking.
By noon the sun was really bright and few other pilgrims and tourists started to arrive at the monastery. Just as we were leaving, I got separated from Imad and Suhail (= the English-speakers of our little group). I ended up in the Cave of St. Marina, a short walk away from the monastery, along with the kids and Suhail’s brother, who wanted to share with me the story of Marina. The problem was that he didn’t speak any English and my Arabic is on the level of a 2-year-old :-). The kids did their best in trying to translate, but it took a long time for me to understand everything! Marina’s story is quite interesting:
Saint Marina was local girl who lived her life disguised as a monk. Since she was a young girl, Marina knew she wanted to enter the monastery to follow her beloved father who had retreated to the Qannoubine monastery. In order to enter the monastery as a boy, she shaved her head and took on the identity of Monk Marinus.
As years went by, Marinus began teaching about spirituality in the nearby villages. One night, it was late and she had to stay overnight at a local inn. During the night, one of the other guests at the inn, a Roman soldier, took a liking to the inn-keepers daughter and raped her. The soldier threatened the girl and told her to tell everyone that it was Monk Marinus who had forced himself on her. After hearing what had happened from his daughter, the furious innkeeper knocked on the monastery door, demanding Marinus to answer for his crime. (The wrongly accused) Marinus had not only shamed his house and his daughter, but the entire religious community. The abbot sent Marinus away to live in a nearby cave; the harshest punishment imaginable for Marina whose life was totally devoted for the monastery.
Nine months later, the innkeeper’s daughter gave birth to a baby. The innkeeper brought the child to the monastery demanding that Marinus take care of what was his. Marinus took the child as “his” own, and kept her secret even when she was excommunicated from the monastery — the community she had served and loved for years. Marinus ended up living the rest of her life in extremely harsh conditions in this cave that we visited. It is a tiny cave maybe 500-800m from the main monastery.
Some of Marinus’ fellow monks took pity on him and occasionally brought him and the child some food. Only when Marinus died and the monks took the body back to the monastery to prepare it for burial, they realized that he was actually a woman: For all these years Marina had carried her secret, taken care of a son wasn’t even hers, and said nothing.
The telling of the story was one of the loveliest experiences I have had; the kids worked so hard to find words in English and at first, I misunderstood all the twists, turns and gender-bending of the story. They even asked other people in the crypt to help translate the story better; finally a new translator was found, and after a re-telling, I too got to understand the full story of Marina the Monk.
After Marina’s cave, we began our hike back. The walk wasn’t too bad, but the afternoon sun was brutal, and so we ended up hitchhiking a ride from a local “mountain-truck”. I really don’t know how else to describe it; the truck was something between a moped and a truck, but the squeaky ride was really fun!
The kids were huge fans of Modern Talking and so as soon as we got back to the car, the valley was filled with not chanting and incense, but the high-pitched voices of Modern Talking (and the kids!) as we drove up the mountain back to Bcharre.
Never would I have thought that I needed to travel to an ancient sacred valley in Lebanon to hear Modern Talking again :-)!