The Journal of Maronite Studies
is the official journal of the
Maronite Research Institute
ISSN# 1526-5145 since 1997

The Maronite Research Institute
Guita G. Hourani
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Edward J. Brice
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The Maronite Research Institute
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Volume 2 No.3 July 1998

A Disappearing Legacy That Needs Your Help

Dear Reader,

When I read in the An-Nahar newspaper supplement of Saturday, July 4, 1998, that two religious murals painted by the renowned Lebanese artist Saliba Duwaihi in Our Lady's Church in the Diman were scraped off and painted over, I was shocked.

Left: The mural of Saint Marina damaged by leakage.
Right: The mural painted over.
Photo courtesy of MARI (Diman, 1998)

At first, I thought that it was an act of vandalism and could not believe that someone in authority had taken such a decision. As I read the historical sketch of the church and the description of the painter's genius, I remembered the magnificent ceiling and how much it resembles the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. And as the enormity of the desecration of such beauty sunk in, my outrage increased.

Duwaihi, who died in 1994, left behind a legacy of oriental innovation in the painting of sacred art. The new style he created, characterized by his remarkable mastery of color, light and transparency, is strongly evident in the Diman Church murals, which he painted in 1937.

The church itself, which is the summer residence of our Maronite Patriarch, is of a unique architectural design. It is adorned with 27 masterpieces surrounded by the Holy Qadisha Valley, which depict the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ, the Baptism of Christ, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Assumption, among others. The Church has five altars, three in the middle and one on each side of the nave.

Left: The mural of Saint Stephen the Martyr damaged by leakage.
Right: The mural painted over.
Photo courtesy of MARI (Diman, 1998)

Above the two side altars, which were dedicated to Saint Stephen the Martyr and to Saint Marina, Duwaihi had painted the two saints as he envisioned them. These are the masterpieces that were destroyed.

Why? Because longstanding water leakage in the church had finally reached the murals and damaged them. And because attempts to preserve them had failed, it was decided to scrape away and paint over the blessed images of Saint Stephen and Saint Marina.

It is inconceivable in this age of advanced technology that damage caused by a leakage of seeping snow water should end with the obliteration of the murals instead of correcting the cause of the damage. If this is the rationale behind the decision taken, then we can expect that eventually all the Diman murals will be painted over, because the leakage continues to threaten the church and its paintings.

Something must be done. We cannot not sit still and see our heritage destroyed before our eyes. Given the technical expertise available in the world today, the Diman murals could have been saved. We need to extend a call to all our people, to our friends, and to all concerned individuals, to help preserve and protect our heritage. We need to act now before another valuable portion of our legacy disappears.

As the living heirs to our heritage, we are responsible for its protection and preservation. Our children and our children's children far into the future depend on us, both here in the spiritual and beloved homeland of the Maronites and abroad in the land of our migration.

We pray that people of good will will hear this appeal and act generously and effectively to preserve our patrimony.

Guita G. Hourani

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