In 1908, the Patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church pronounced Virgin Mary as the Queen of Lebanon, and what symbol is more fitting for this pronouncement than the 13-ton statue of the Virgin Mary named Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa.
Also known as Notre Dame du Liban, Our Lady of Lebanon is the primary Marian shrine and pilgrimage site in the country. It is made of bronze but painted white and was constructed by the French in 1907. It stands majestically on Harissa in Jounieh, 16 km to the north of Beirut, Lebanon’s capital. The mountain was named Harissa after the small village that is found on its peak.
Our Lady stands with arms outstretched and head bowed low looking over the bay, the hill villages and the city below. Seafarers are welcomed by her as they enter the picturesque Bay of Jounieh.
Beside the much revered statue is the concrete and glass cathedral of the Maronite Catholic Church. The Maronite Christians are Eastern Catholics who follow the canonical, spiritual and liturgical teachings of Saint Maron. They are not very different from Roman Catholics since Maronites revere the Sacraments, Rome and the Pope just the same. The statue’s base is a small chapel where pilgrims and devotees converge to pray.
On May 10, 1997, Pope John Paul II made an official papal visit to Lebanon to visit Notre Dame du Liban. It was a significant visit since it marked the first official visit of a Roman Catholic pontiff to the Middle East. A year later, Rome chose Our Lady of Lebanon as the official shrine for the celebration of the World Day of the Sick that was to take place on February 11, 1999. The Pope encouraged the Lebanese to pray to their patron to watch over the plight of suffering people all over the world as she has watched over the suffering Lebanese people. More recently on January 28, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI prayed to Our Lady of Lebanon for peace in Lebanon and Gaza.
The Lebanese port city of Jounieh is the home of the beloved statue. It is also the largest Maronite Catholic city in the world. When civil war erupted in the capital city and put the entire country to a halt, Jounieh remained untouched and unfazed. In fact, it flourished during the war since most people from Beirut moved to the port city.
Jounieh is also the home of the Jeita Grotto, a mysterious system of caves that exudes awe and spiritually and where the largest and most magnificent stalactites are found. It is an underground treasure, a silent testament to the true beauty of this coastal city that lies within.
Jounieh is accessible by plane, land or sea from Beirut. Pilgrims will not experience any difficulty coming here on their pilgrimage to the statue. To reach Our Lady of Lebanon on Harissa, pilgrims and tourists are treated to a breathtaking ride on the téléphérique (cable car), which offers a magnificent view of Jounieh’s romantic bay, steep mountains, and pine-clad hills. The ride itself is a sought-after tourist attraction.