Nimatullah Kassab Al. Hardini. Source Photo: Wikipedia.org
Nimatullah Kassab Al. Hardini. Source Photo: Wikipedia.org

Kfifan Monastery was made famous today by housing the remains of Saint Hardine and Blessed Estephan Nehmeh. Actually named Monastery of Saint Cyprian and Saint Justina, this convent belongs today – just like that of Annaya where the remains of St Charbel rests – to the Lebanese Maronite Order.

The name of Kfifan would designate a small locality. This locality is located about 450 meters above sea level, in the casa of Batroun, in North Lebanon.

The convent itself dates from the 11th century, ie from the time of the Crusades, but it would also include certain Paleo-Christian elements such as a column which can be admired on the first floor.

In addition, some note that a northern part of the convent would in fact be made up of the foundations of a fortress for an indefinite period, for lack of recent excavations. Others would suggest that these structures date from Roman times and more particularly from that of Emperor Hadrian.
The monastery will be, at one time, even around the 14th and 15th centuries, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate.

Read elsewhere

The History of Saint Cyprien and Saint Justine , Saints who are celebrated on September 26th.
The Convent’s Facebook page for more information on the calendar of liturgical celebrations.

After pronouncing his solemn vows in 1853, St Charbel also continued his theological studies there before being ordained a priest in Bkerké, the Maronite patriarchal seat, on July 23, 1859, and then joining the convent of Saint Maron in Annaya.

In addition to the tombs of Saint Hardine and Blessed Estephan Nehme located in the basement, the monastery also has a museum on the first floor where scenes of monastic life are represented as the monks could experience it in the 19th century.

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Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini

Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini. Image Source: Wikipedia.org

Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini is a saint from Lebanon who was born in 1808 in Hardine in northern Lebanon and who died in 1858 in a family of 6 children. His father was Girgis (Georges) Kassab from Hardine and his mother Mariam Raad from Tannourine, a locality located not far away. They will name him Youssef, Arabized form of Joseph. In Hardine, the future saint spent his first years of childhood between the monasteries and hermitages of his village, namely St. Doumit, St. Georges. The religious aspect was already very present in his family with a maternal grandfather Youssef Raad already a priest from the village of Tannourine.

The village of Hardine, which means: “pious and devout”, is also known for the particular devotion of its inhabitants. In fact, it has 30 churches and monasteries.

With 4 of his brothers and sisters, the young Youssef will move towards a religious life.

In 1828, then just 20 years old, the young Youssef joined the Lebanese Maronite Order, where one of his brothers, Élisée, was already. The latter were already present not far away, through the monastery that the congregation then owned in Houb.

There he will receive the name of Nimatullah or “Grace of God”.

Now called Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini, the young monk will first go to the monastery of Saint Anthony in Qozhaya near the holy valley of Qadisha. He spent his first 2 years of novitiate there. On site, one of his tasks will be to train in community life and in certain manual work such as the binding of manuscripts of holy books.

But it is from the 14 number 1830, that the future Saint will join the monastery of Cyprien and Saint Justine in Kfifan. There he received courses in philosophy and theology and there he perfected his gift of working on bindings, while working in the fields belonging to the order.

Saint Hardini will fall ill. It was then that his superior removed him from the work in the fields to ask him to become the tailor of his religious community.

He eventually became a priest in 1835, became director of the scholasticate and professor of moral theology until his last years. It is, not far from there, in a place called Bhersaf, that Saint Hardini will found a school called “School under the oak” where young villagers will learn various subjects free of charge, including reading and writing.

While Lebanon will go through the difficult periods of the civil wars of 1840 and 1845, with its lots of destruction and violence especially vis-à-vis the Christian community, Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini will be revealed in particular with his motto:

“The wise man is the one who saves his soul”

The altar of the Virgin of the monastery of Kfifane.
The altar of the Virgin of the monastery of Kfifane.

It is in this troubled context, with the destruction of many churches and monasteries that Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini will find the strength to found 16 altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary, including the one at the foot of the Kfifan Monastery.

He was then appointed in 1845 by the Vatican Assistant General of the Lebanese Maronite Order for a first term of 3 years. It is in this capacity that he will send the 7 new monks to the Jesuit college of Ghazir, just founded in 1843 and which will be at the origin of the University of St Joseph (USJ) following his transfer to Beirut in 1870.

These in turn will form theirs.

Between 1848 and 1849, Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini will meet at the monastery of St Maron d’Annaya then at that of Houb, near his native village.

His mandate as Assistant General will be renewed in 1850 for 3 additional years.

At the end of this second term, he returned to Kfifan to teach moral theology and then returned to his post of assistant general in 1856 for a third term. He will then have to reside at the monastery of Tamiche while pursuing his teaching career at the monastery of Kfifan.

It was during this period that there was in Kfifan between 1853 and 1859, among the pupils of Saint Hardini, a certain Charbel Makhlouf who would later become Saint Charbel.

The coffin of Saint Hardini in Kfifane.
The coffin of Saint Hardini in Kfifane.

As for Saint Hardini, he died on December 14, 1858, following a pneumonia contracted due to the cold.

Along with that of St Charbel and Saint Rafqa, the cause for the beatification of Saint Hardini will be presented to the Pope in 1926. He will be proclaimed Venerable in 1989, as the Lebanese civil war ended and blessed in 1998. He will be canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 16, 2004.

His remains now rest in a Cedar coffin at the Kfifane convent, in the midst of those he loved so much.

Blessed Estephan Nehmeh

Blessed Estephan Nehmeh. Photo Source: Wikipedia.org

More recently, on June 27, 2010, under the presidency of Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the monastery of Saint Cyprian and Saint Justine was the site of the beatification ceremony of another monk of the Lebanese Maronite Order, that of Blessed Estephan Nehme

Born in Lehfed in the caza of Jbeil, on March 8, 1889, baptized just like Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini, named Youssef, Estephan Nehmé comes from a large family. Her parents were Estephan Bou Haykal Nehmeh and Christina El Badawi Khaled

At his side, he will find 3 brothers and two sisters and will go to prayer very early on.

It was at the age of 16, in 1905, that he chose to enter the monastery of Kfifane under the name Estephan, like his father.

He will also reside twelve years in the monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq, ten others in that of Our Lady of Relief in Jbeil, three at St. Anthony of Houb.

In addition to prayer, he will also devote himself to handicrafts, in the fields and as a carpenter. He was appointed fieldmaster, or manager of the lands of the monasteries where he resided. His life will then be exemplary, especially during the First World War, when the population was severely affected by famine . A third of the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon, more than 200,000 people, will then die.

The remains of Estephan Nehmé at the Kfifane monastery.
The remains of Estephan Nehmé at the Kfifane monastery.

Blessed Estephan Nehmé died on August 30, 1938 at the age of 49 in the Monastery of Kfifane, after a tiring mission in the village of Meyfouk.

It was not until 1951, on the occasion of the burial of another monk, that his body was discovered intact. It is then that her remains will now be exhibited in a glass coffin at the Monastery where she resides.

It is also only after his death that miracles will appear. Some will be recognized by the Catholic Church as early as the 1960s.

In 2017, Pope Benedict XVI will declare him venerable, and in 2010, a decree of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, also approved by Pope Benedict XVI, acknowledges that these miracles took place through his intercession.

Getting there

You can access the convent via the road directly preceding the famous Madfoun dam. Along the way, a small stop can be organized with a visit to the Church of St. Nohra, the medieval chapel of Notre Dame located nearby and the famous crusader castle, all located in the town of Smar Jbeil.

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