St Anthony’s monastery of Qozhaya in Lebanon

Staying at St Anthony’s Monastery on the beautiful Qadisha valley in Lebanon was one of the highlights of my trip. At 6.30 in the morning, the bells of St Anthony’s monastery woke me and I jumped out of bed, dressed and climbed the steps to the church which is built into the side of the rock face. Three nuns and a few monks were already there, praying and chanting.

St Anthony’s Monastery of Qozhaya in Lebanon

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Gradually a few more monks in their black habits filtered in – I need not have hurried – I wasn’t the last. Perhaps the most incongruous thing was to hear the Catholic Mass chanted in Arabic and the monks took it in turn to say the prayers and readings.

As everyone emerged as the mass ended, a few workmen were gathering outside, politely waiting before they climbed the scaffolding to start their repairs to the church. Then the silence was broken as the drilling began and the tractor motor broke the peace as it drove down the path to the valley filled with fruit tree terraces and the river rushing at the valley bottom.

Click here to see the embedded video above on YouTube
Download the St Anthony’s Monastery Lebanon Video here [MP4]

We had arrived the evening before as dusk was falling, and although there was a cafe below the guest house accommodation, it was mainly serving sandwiches and snacks, so we drove into Ehden for dinner in an Italian cafe. There seemed to be every variation on world food around the square there, with free Wifi everywhere and I concluded that it must be a popular place for backpackers.

Guest accommodation at St Anthony's Monastery
Guest accommodation at St Anthony

Back to the Monastery and I slept soundly in my room in the guest accommodation, which was separate from the Monastery and had only been completed in the last year or two. The rooms were all en suite and simply furnished, with a view across to the other side of the valley.

We remarked how beautifully everything about the guest house had been finished, from the stonework, to the carved wooden doors, to the traditional coloured glass lanterns, and later found out that it had been designed by an ecclesiastical architect who had applied the same high standards that would be applied to any work on a church.

The guest house was run on professional lines, with lay staff at the reception area, and I believe that it was open to all, as long as you booked in advance and respected the religious ethos of the monastery. Most of the visitors, I imagine would be pilgrims and church groups, or perhaps groups hiking in the Kadisha Valley.

Monastery of St Anthonys of Qozhaya in Lebanon
Monastery of St Anthony’s of Qozhaya in Lebanon

The monastery’s history goes back to the 12th Century, when hermits came to the valley seeking a reclusive life in the caves or small cells chiselled out of the rocks. in the 17th century the Lebanese Maronite Order was founded and the monastery of St Anthony constructed on the rocky side of the valley.

The monastery was renowned for its prosperity and endowments, and also as a shelter for pilgrims and travellers – well wishers would say “May God make Qozhaya prosperous” Today, most visitors come as part of a visit to the beautiful Kadisha Valley, a Unesco World Heritage site, where you can hike and visit other monasteries along the valley.

St Anthony’s is the largest of these and you can visit the church and the Grotto of St Anthony in a natural cave beside the church. The Grotto has a reputation for miracles, drawing many pilgrims who bring their intention, especially for those who are mentally ill. You can see the chains and manacles in the grotto by the altar, where the mentally ill were secured overnight in the hope of a cure.

Take that how you will – I think being chained up in a dark, damp cave might send me over the edge rather than cure me.! I noticed there were a lot of pots and pans in the grotto and asked the monk we met in my best French why they were there.

He explained to me that couples who were unable to have children would come here to pray for a child, and if their prayers were answered, they would leave a metal pan behind that signified the pregnant belly of the mother. At least that’s what I think I understood!

The Grotto of St Anthony of Qozhaya in Lebanon
The Grotto of St Anthony of Qozhaya in Lebanon

There is also a small museum and shop where you can buy books and religious artefacts. In the museum you can see the oldest printing press in the Middle East that was used to print religious texts in the 16th century. The printing press was still printing up to the beginning of the second world war.

After our night at the monastery, we were driving on, over the Mount Lebanon pass into the Bekaa Valley, but if I went back, I would definitely spend a day hiking in the Qadisha Valley to explore the rocky mountain scenery and the other monasteries along the valley.

It was also a wonderful experience to stay in St Anthony’s Monastery itself, and see the sun come up and creep in to warm the valley. If you also would like to stay in the guest accommodation, you should contact the monastery by e-mail or telephone in advance, to make your reservation. Otherwise, Ehden seems to be the main base for staying while you explore the Qadisha Valley.


St Anthony’s Monastery Website

See all my Lebanon photos on Flickr

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com

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  • Reply
    Barbara at Hole in the Donut Travels
    November 10, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Heather: This really interests me. How much did you pay to stay at the monastery? Looks like a fabulous place, and I am all about hiking.

  • Reply
    Fly Girl
    November 11, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    The building looks beautiful but I’m not a fan of staying in old monastaries or convents. I find the experience spooky and unsettling. I stayed in one in Brazil and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that sleepless, scary, night.

  • Reply
    Donna Hull
    November 12, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Unique places, such as this one, really call to me. What a unique experience. Thanks, Heather, for the introduction. Your video added the perfect touch.

  • Reply
    Top three travel secrets | Heather on her travels
    December 6, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    […] was the Monastery of St Anthony of Qozhaya where I stayed for a night in June, while touring Lebanon with a friend. The Monastery is one of […]

  • Reply
    My travelling year in 2009 | Heather on her travels
    January 8, 2010 at 8:24 am

    […] historic sites and taste our way through some world class wines. For stories from Lebanon read; St Anthony’s Monastery of Qozhaya in Lebanon – video The Cedars of Lebanon – Tannourine Cedars Reserve – Video Mezze Memories in […]

  • Reply
    November 9, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    […] St Anthony’s monastery of Qozhaya in Lebanon from Heather on her Travels […]

  • Reply
    February 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    Hello. Nice to read your blog post. I just stumbled on it looking for more information on the printing press at the monastery. I visited the monastery in July of 2010 and heard a different account of the tradition of the pans that I heard when I was there. I was told that it originated when the maronite christians fled to the valley some found refuge in the grotto(it was simply a found cave at the time). They went days with out water and after many prayers water began to drip from an unknown source from the ceiling of the cave. This was reported to me as the first miracle of the grotto. The pans represent the vessels that they needed to hold and store the dripping water. After looking a bit more I haven’t found any confirmation of this, but I did read some things about children, care giving, and also the mental illnesses that you mentioned. I was told this by a tour guide, so it may not have been the most reliable source. haha. Anyway, cheers!

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    February 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    @ Ben So glad you also enjoyed visiting the monastery as we did and facinating to hear a different version of the story of the pans in the grotto – my version was told to me by one of the monks there but it was in French, so I may not have got the account exactly right!

  • Reply
    Visiting the Monastery of St Anthony at Qozhaya in Lebanon | The Indie Travel Podcast | Travel magazine, travel info and free travel guides
    June 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    […] a river rushing below the monastery and fruit trees on the valley sides. You can read more about St Anthony’s monastery at Qozhaya here. Get the world travelling. Share now:FacebookTwitterStumbleUponRedditTravel around the world […]

  • Reply
    A Sunday stroll in the Pyrenees - Vall de Núria | Heather on her travels
    December 5, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    […] pot and have the bell rung above their head, to pray for children. I remember when I was in the Quadisha Valley in Lebanon, there was a similar chapel at St Anthony’s monastery full of cooking pots brought as an […]

  • Reply
    karim Yaghleji
    July 15, 2018 at 5:10 am

    I Enjoyed reading your blog. I am planning to visit Lebanon next month and I am looking to stay in a monastery. Do you know someone I can contact there to book a room? Thanks

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      July 17, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      @Karim It’s a while since I was there so I would take a look at any details I included in the article and check those out for contact info

  • Reply
    November 10, 2018 at 5:59 pm


    I would love to stay in this monastary but the email on their website does not work. Do you have another email address perhaps?


    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      November 11, 2018 at 7:00 pm

      @Louie it was some years since I stayed there so unfortunately I don’t have any other contact email

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