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The Kaftoun monastery superbly established within the red limestone hollow cliff in Kaftoun, Koura caza.

The monastery houses a priceless and unique double-faced Byzantine icon (1.11 meters in height and 80 centimeters in width) of hieratic style and dating from XI century. It contains inscriptions in the three languages: Arabic, Greek and Syriac. The front side has a representation of the Mother of Hodigitria God with the infant Jesus and the reverse side depicts the baptism of Jesus. The two angels in medallions in the right and left upper corners on the front face of the icon are in the same style as the reverse side depicting the baptism of Jesus in a style pertaining to XIII and XIV centuries. This leads curators to conclude that they were added on the principal face two centuries later.

The biography of this icon remains anonymous, yet it bares curious similarities to finds in the churches of Turkey dating from the same era. Bilateral icons, such as this one, were sometimes carried in procession, but most of the time had their place in the inner sanctum of the church. A face turned towards the faithful to see and another turned inward and visible only from within the interior sanctuary This icon was illegally lifted out of the monastery twice before. The first time was in the summer of 1972. By the grace of God and the collaboration of the Interpol it was found in London and returned to its rightful place. The second time was in 1977; it was returned by the robber, after a dream during which a vision of the Virgin Mary appeared to him and made him become aware of the consequences of his action.

Damaged by these successive flights, the Icon was sent to France for restoration by the presiding custodian Bishop George Khodr. The icon remained in France for nine years during which it was exhibited many times. The icon was returned to Lebanon, in 1998, and turned over to the monastery of Kaftoun. It is now exhibited in a special vault, under glass, within the confines of the church monastery to be admired on both sides by the faithful.

Located opposite to the monastery and just a few feet away from the banks of the el Jaouz River is the basilica of Saint Sergius and Bacchus (Mar-Sarkis) which dates from the century of their life or a century thereafter (VI century). It stood unused in recent centuries, in utter neglect and unprotected from the occasional flooding of the Jaouz River.

Recent excavations have shown that this basilica is particularly rich at the archaeological level. Although these recent excavations did not concentrate on the side walls, they gave some telling signs that one of the side walls could carry a fresco of Saint Sergius on horseback while the other could similarly carry a fresco of Saint Bacchus on horseback. These two saints who were loved by their cult followers in the east for over 1000 years were usually depicted on horseback because they were officers of the roman army, as well as friends, when they became Christians. The basilica of Saint Sergius and Bacchus (Mar-Sarkis) originally had three naves; unfortunately now the one to left appears to be entirely destroyed.

In August of 2004, with funding from the church and under the direction of the Lebanese Department of Antiquities, a group of Polish restorers established residence on the site and started work in earnest. After a period of one month, they come to discover several frescos on the roof and walls of the basilica, including a monumental fresco known as the Annunciation, dating from XIII century.

www.Kaftoun.com

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