Exploring The Mini Shrines In The Villages of Christian Lebanon

Beirut, as seen from Broummana in Mount Lebanon
Beirut, as seen from Broummana in Mount Lebanon

Many of you know that I’m Lebanese and that I try to go back to Lebanon at least once a year. Last year, I posted two blogs about my visits: one about my  March 2016 trip and one about the Feast of the Assumption, which falls on August 15th. You all enjoyed my posts so much that the former post appeared in the Aramco Expats online edition and the other one resulted in my getting more emails than any other post!

Given that it’s August 15th today, the day of the Feast of the Assumption, I thought I’d show you, in pictures, how much the Virgin Mary is celebrated in Lebanon. It’s a national holiday there, and everyone named Mary is celebrated! I drove my dad crazy when we would go for walks as I stopped to photograph every shrine we passed. Making it a challenge to find unique and hidden shrines added to the fun.

In these photos, you’ll find shrines dedicated not only to the Virgin Mary, but to other saints that are important to Lebanese Christians. These include Saint Sharbel (also spelled Charbel), Saint Elias, and Saint Thecla. You can read more about the saints specific to Lebanon here.

This post is meant to give you a glimpse of what it’s like to walk and drive around the small Christian mountain village of Broummana, 20 minutes east of Beirut, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. You will hear church bells ringing all day on Sunday and on other days of the week. Going to church is a daily activity for many. Outings to visit churches or larger shrines are common all year round. It would be an understatement to say that people in this small village are religious because they are very religious! Many activities revolve around the local churches. Check out this huge church square overlooking the beautiful mountains of Mount Lebanon:

Church veranda for public use and celebrations
Church veranda for public use and celebrations

The mini shrines are typically at the front of people’s properties, near the road, for others to see and enjoy. They can be on trees, set high on pedestals, or set in the woods. And, they can be indoors at public places like hospitals.

These shrines are so much more than the physical structures because they represent a devotion to God and to the saints they depict. They’re a daily reminder about the blessings of life and the need to pray and feel connected spiritually to God, nature, and each other.

These shrines are well-maintained and you will often find fresh flowers or lit candles that have been intentionally placed by passers-by and devotees. It’s common to cross oneself every time you pass one of these shrines and to say a quick prayer. There’s a sense of peace, belonging, and comfort as you walk around and see the number and variety of shrines.

Have a look at all of the different mini-shrines and bigger shrines dedicated to saints, below. The captions will tell you more about each one:

Public mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Public mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Mini shrine on the side of a road with Virgin Mary inside
Mini shrine on the side of a road with Virgin Mary inside
Mini shrine for Saint Elias on private property
Mini shrine for Saint Elias on private property
Shrine to the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Shrine to the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Indoor shrine for the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Indoor shrine for the Virgin Mary at Bhannes Hospital
Mini shrine dedicated to Saint Sharbel, the Virgin Mary, Saint Elias, on private property
Mini shrine dedicated to Saint Sharbel, the Virgin Mary, Saint Elias, on private property
Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary high on a pine tree
Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary high on a pine tree
A shrine for Saint Thecla, in a church square
A shrine for Saint Thecla, in a church square
Mini shrine on private property, dedicated to Saint Thecla
Mini shrine on private property, dedicated to Saint Thecla
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Outdoor altar and shrine for the Virgin Mary, hidden in the woods
Virgin Mary mini shrine on private property
Virgin Mary mini shrine on private property
Shrine on the grounds of Deir Mar Chaaya, a monastery
Shrine on the grounds of Deir Mar Chaaya, a monastery
Mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary
Mini shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary

 

Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary outside an old-style Lebanese villa
Mini shrine for the Virgin Mary outside an old-style Lebanese villa
One of my favorite shrines, this mini shrine used a mirror to incorporate nature
One of my favorite shrines, this mini shrine uses a mirror to incorporate nature

So, what do you think? Have you seen so many shrines in such a concentrated place before? Many Catholic and religious parts of the world have such shrines and I’d love to hear where you’ve seen some!

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