Volume 1 No.2 April 1997
When Father Abdo Badwi, Director of the Sacred Art Institute at the Holy Spirit University in Kaslik, Lebanon, and member of MARI's Board of Directors invited me to visit Saint Theodore's Church in Bahdidat, Byblos this past March, I did not know that I would be adding another issue to my crusade and to MARI's.
Bahdidat village has an eleventh century church dedicated to Saint Theodore. The church has unique architecture and marvelous oriental murals. It is one of the very few churches of its kind to stand the test of time.
The feature article in this issue of the Journal of Maronite Studies offers you a firsthand report on the murals and their current condition.
While I was admiring the composition and examining the damaged paintings, I wondered if Saint Theodore's would suffer the same fate as Saint Shmouneh of Hadchit. There the murals suffered blows by sledge hammers and the walls were painted over, destroying an invaluable historic landmark. Desecrated by Muslims in the middle ages, and damaged by improper repair, the ancient frescoes of Saint Theodore have notably dilapidated.
Unfortunately, this and other invaluable monuments are being neglected. The Church authorities are taking care of their people during this difficult economic and political time, and the Lebanese Government is occupied in investing forty-nine percent of the national budget in non-productive sectors. Therefore, it is not surprising that these monuments have become the responsibility of far-sighted caring individuals and international philanthropy.
In today's world, monuments such as the Church of Bahdidat, are objects of scholarly and touristic interest. Their preservation and maintenance are important if one hopes to show the culture of the past, educate the present populace, and enlighten future generations.
MARI is calling for efforts be made to: a) place Saint Theodore's Church on the United Nations "World Heritage List," to bring it to world attention; and b) to restore, preserve, study and "market" this treasure. An escrow account must be opened to raise funds for the frescoes restoration. Organizations such as the Smithsonian Institution, Louvre, UNESCO, United Nations, and National Geographic, would be ideal organizations to match the dollar amount collected and participate in this endeavor. Royalties from selling pictures of the old and new frescoes, videos, TV programs, and commemorative books could become the revolving capital for restoring other splendid masterpieces at M'aad, Kfar Shleiman, Saydet Naya, and Qannoubine.
The Church of Bahdidat, a jewel of Eastern Christian sacred art, proclaims the heritage of Mount Lebanon and its people and exemplifies their profound spirituality. Its disappearance would be a loss to humanity, to Christianity, and to the Maronite people. The loss is not yet inevitable. Let us unite our collective energy to rescue this one memorial of our endangered, ever vital, heritage.
Guita G. Hourani