A city in southern Lebanon in the district of Saida, 50 km from Beirut, it is known to host the famous shrine of the Virgin of Maghdouche. This would be the place where the Virgin would have waited for Jesus to visit Sidon, the ancient name of Saida, during one of his apostolic visits.
She is said to have stayed at the site, in the cave now called Mantara, because of the ban on women entering pagan cities, hence the name now attributed to her, namely “Our Lady of Waiting”.
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Unlike Harissa, which is rather a contemporary shrine, the place of Maghdouche is therefore linked to the Life of the Virgin, itself.
On this site, a Phoenician inscription and a snake carved into the rock, could trace the origin of this sanctuary back to Phoenician times. Some sources also indicate the existence of a troglodytic place of worship dedicated to Astarté that could be the same.
The first shrines
However, the first shrine was built in the 4th century, by Emperor Constantine the Great at the request of his mother Helen. It was already a tower of which there is no trace today. It is believed to have collapsed in an earthquake in 550 AD.
A second shrine will be built by King Louis IX more commonly called Saint Louis, a king builder, originally the Holy Chapel in Paris which was intended to house the holy relics. He passed through Sidon in the spring of 1253 where he learned of his mother’s death.
The Mantara cave was not rediscovered until very late, around the 1720s, some evoking in 1721 or 1726, by a shepherd. The latter is said to have found an icon of the Virgin Mary and the Child, Jesus Christ, at the bottom of the cave. It will then become a place of pilgrimage open to all denominations.
The Current Sanctuary
The establishment of the current shrine dates back to the purchase by the Greek Catholic Church of the premises in 1860. A cemetery has also been set up in its enclosure.
The cave was transformed into a church in 1880 and a 36-metre-high tower was built in the 1960s At its base, a chapel and at its top, a statue of the Virgin bearing Jesus Christ as a bronze child.
From its summit, you can see all the surroundings of the city of Saida.
The site was severely degraded during the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990. Not far away is the Palestinian camp of Ein Helwé that the shrine dominates.
Shortly after the end of the civil war, a rehabilitation campaign was undertaken by the religious authorities. The aim was to show Christian families displaced by the conflict that they could return to the land and to restore the site to its role as a meeting of all Lebanese denominations.
Moreover, it was decided to build a basilica allowing the reception of many more people and today is about to be completed.
Since 2016, the shrine has been on the international religious tourism map.
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