There are stories and spaces where organized religion and mysticism intertwine. Where the barriers between the mundane and the spirit worlds blur. Atop the cloud-shrouded mountaintops of Lebanon, I discovered one of these spaces – the humble hermitage of Saint Charbel. When read between the lines, his infamous story inspires each of us to connect with our own inner healer.
A Humble Hermitage Becomes A Destination for Healing
High above the hum of life and chaotic traffic of modern Beirut, lies a humble hermitage. Pilgrims of all faiths, Muslims and Christians alike, venture here daily to request miracles of one of the world’s greatest saints. And while long deceased, he continues to deliver.
For 23 years (1875-1898), Maronite Monk Saint Charbel Makhlour Annaya lived as a hermit withdrawn from the world. During his solitude, he allegedly developed mysterious metaphysical gifts, including the ability to heal.
Saint Charbel cultivated his rare gifts in meager conditions. Devoted to his faith, he occupied a small room, sleeping on a simple goat hair mattress with a wooden log for a pillow. As tour guides will tell you, he spent most of his time praying, meditating, and preparing for Mass.
Even in his appearance, Saint Charbel embodied the classic mystic. With a likeness similar to the Hermit depicted in the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot, he epitomizes the archetypal journey within.
The Power of a Spiritual Path
According to many, Saint Charbel’s spiritual path bore miraculous results. His deep connection to the spiritual realm through prayer and meditation allowed him to heal those with moderate to life-threatening conditions.
Whether you believe in his healing powers or not, there is no denying the impact Saint Charbel has had on many lives. Powerful reminders are displayed at his once hermitage and now tomb. Hundreds of framed hand-written letters express gratitude for miracles he performed. And the most eye-catching? Crutches and casts that lie in piles, left behind by those who came to him unable to walk, but left with full mobility.
While healing stories persist to this day, Nouhad al-Chami has perhaps the most famous throughout Lebanon. Nouhad was diagnosed with hemiplegia in 1993. Though doctors claimed her condition was untreatable, she recounts an evening when Saint Charbel came to her in a dream and performed a surgery. Upon waking, she was cured.
To share her story and pay homage to her healer, Nouhad visits the hermitage on the 22nd of each month. Witnesses say that at Mass during each of her visits, Nouhad experiences renewed bleeding from her surgical wound.
Many others have documented mysterious occurrences. One of these includes a photo of Saint Charbel’s apparition after death. In the black and white photo his floating form appears alongside a group of American clergymen who visited his tomb in 1950.
More strange events followed his death, ironically on Christmas Eve of 1898. Some reportedly saw an inexplicable bright light surrounding his grave for 45 days. When his corpse was exhumed multiple times in the 50 years after his death, his body showed minimal signs of deterioration. In fact, blood from his corpse was collected and further used for healing purposes.
A Household Symbol of Protection
Whether you believe these incredible accounts or not, Saint Charbel is a household name and symbol of protection throughout Lebanon. Families continue to name their children in his honor. You’ll come across at least one person named Charbel and countless figurines, statues and shrines perched outside of homes in his dedication. Many others can share a personal story in which he came to their rescue.
While certainly the most celebrated, Saint Charbel is not the only one with verified miracles in Lebanon. There are four other recognized saints including Rafaa, Hardini, and Maron. Rafaa for her faithful devotion despite incredible physical suffering, Hardini for his prophetic visions, and Maron, the mystic Father of the Maronite Church who offered healing and solace to lost souls.
Giant billboards depicting each Saint line Beirut’s highways, as proud symbols of Lebanon’s heritage.
Despite its political conflict and war-torn history, one cannot help but feel the spirituality ingrained in Lebanon’s beautiful mountainous terrain and mystic monasteries. It is there for the taking. The history and landscape provide accessibility between matters of mundane, often difficult daily life, and peace, or greater purpose.
As we saw with Saint Charbel, whose followers include Christians and Muslims, religion need not play a part. No matter what you believe, much inspiration can come from these spiritual leaders who devoted their lives to a higher purpose, in service to others.
Their extreme lifestyles, however, may not be for everyone. For example, we may not be called to renounce society and modern luxuries for a life of seclusion or in dedication to a religious system or spiritual connection.
Nor must we rely on these gifted healers or a religious order to connect to a higher power. In fact, Saint Charbel’s story does not prescribe, but rather inspires our own inner healer.
As one of my favorite spiritual gurus, Gangaji suggests, there is no formula for recognizing who we truly are and finding peace through that discovery.
While there may be no formula, plenty are willing to impose the one that worked for them. This has been one of my biggest struggles with organized religion. Despite good intention, it occurs in any community that deals with meaning making. Another’s path might inspire, but it does not transform. In other words, what meaning we make of this life and our connection to it is up to us.
Gangaji sums it up perfectly, describing subscription to any formula – be it veganism or religion, as “superstition.” She reminds us to stay vigilant while following our own individual paths. To trust what feels right for us. To receive whatever inspires our own inner healer.
An Invitation to Connect
But what are these saints’ stories if not mere religion or superstition? That Saint Charbel’s healing miracles are recognized both within and outside of the Christian church, reveals an interesting intersection between tradition and mysticism. One that points to possibility.
Such as the possible healing benefits that come with a strong personal connection to spirit. The possible link between the physical body and the spirit world. The possibility of nature to inspire connection to higher realms. The possibility for us as humans to make and grow these connections. Above all, the possibility of acknowledging these possibilities within ourselves, which inspires our own inner healer.
Let these saints offer an invitation to explore your purpose, and inspire you to connect with your own healing capabilities. Facilitate this by spending time in the liminal spaces where land meets spirit.
xx Mary Page Terlizzi