Marina was a woman who disguised herself as a man to join her father, a layman who gave up everything after the death of his wife and became a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubin in the Qadisha Valley of Lebanon.
Father Marinos, as Marina was known, had been falsely accused of fathering a child. When confronted, Marinos said nothing in her own defense, and so the abbot expelled her from the monastery. Marinos, having been believed of “fathering” the child, was given it to raise. So Marino carried the child and took a refuge in a neighbouring cave after he was expelled from the monastery. Marina felt sorry for the child and tried to breast feed her. A miracle happened and milk flowed from Marina breasts.
When she died her secret was revealed and the superior was called on to testify to her innocence.
It was only then that the Abbot, the monks, and the people of the surrounding villages knew that Marinos was a woman who obviously had been falsely accused. Marina became a venerated saint in Mount Lebanon and from there her veneration spread to Jerusalem, Constantinople, Italy, Venice, France and many other places. Her story has been told in many languages.
On the road from Jbeil to Tripoli in an area called Qalamoun, the Grotto of Saint Marina stands, stately guarding the sea. A large cave that extends for about 20 meters, mostly on a horizontal plane. It is 7 meters high and 5 meters deep, and the entrance lies some fifteen meters up the cliff wall.
This grotto shrine was famous for the beautiful frescos that once ornamented its wall, 12 icons that decorate its walls andrepresent various phases of Saint Marina’s life.
“the complete length of these paintings is 8.40m and their height must have originally reached about 3m. However, unfortunately all the lower part has disappeared, the rock having been cut away. Furthermore, the paintings have suffered greatly from the weather and even worse, the faces of Christ and the saints have been intentionally erased. These frescoes are composed of two layers, the first dates back to the Byzantine period and carries Greek inscriptions,the second layer dates back to the Crusader period.
Inside the Saint Marina cave, a tomb is engraved in the rock, in addition to a small bassin into which water seeps from the cave walls. Breastfeeding mothers get blessed by the water of the pool.
The paintings are actually unique documents in Syria and Lebanon and one has to go as far as Abou-Gosh in Palestine to see paintings of this style. The inscriptions accompanying and explaining these paintings are sometimes in Greek, but more often in Latin.”
Unfortunately, the effect of running water has been to remove most of the panels of paintings on the left. More damage has been done by locals who live in this area, who have erased or hammered the faces of all the figures without exception.”
According to local tradition, women of the area who lack milk or suffer other nursing problems visit her grotto and pray, light candles, and even bless themselves with water which flows there. They believe that they will be blessed with milk and therefore some refer to this shrine as the “Milk Grotto.”