Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand
The Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand is an Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint George. The monastery is part of the Church of Antioch and is located about eight kilometers (five miles) south of the city of Tripoli in Lebanon.
The site of the monastery was formerly a monastery founded by Cistercian monks in 1157 and was known variously as Belmont, Bellimonte ultra Mare, and Bellus-Mons. This was the Cistercian monks' first overseas abbey, founded during the western European Crusades into the Holy Land. In the early part of the seventeenth century the monastery came under the authority of the local Orthodox Church. In recent times a theological faculty functioned within the monastery to educate new clergy until the formation, in 1971, of St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology which later became part of the University of Balamand in Tripoli.
Because of its past, the structure of the monastery follows the plan of Cistercian monasteries, with buildings located around the courtyard. Of the existing structures, the Church of Our Lady of Balamand, with its unique bell tower, and the present entrance to the monastery were built in the twelfth century. The Great Hall of the Monks, built in the thirteenth century, has been remodeled and now serves public events. The thirteenth century Chapter House was rebuilt after the monastery came under control of Orthodox monks in 1604. The monks found that many of its vaults had collapsed as a result of damage incurred during the battles in 1289 that ended with the fall of the Crusader County of Tripoli. During the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries the structure was converted into the Church of St. George.
The first clerical school was established at the monastery in 1832 by the Archimandrite Athanasius Kaseer of Damascus. This school, unfortunately, closed in 1840 after seven years of operation. The school re-opened in 1899 after Meletius II Dumani was elected Patriarch, with the Bishop of Tripoli, Gregorios (Haddad), charged with its supervision. The school was closed again with the beginning of World War I. After the war it opened on a lesser scale of operation. In 1962, Patriarch Theodosius VI (Abu Rjaily) initiated a move to improve the instruction at the school with the appointment of Bishop Ignatus (Hazim) as administrator of the school.
In 1965, Metr. Anthony (Bashir) of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America assumed the responsibility of upgrading the educational standard for the Church of Antioch when, at a general convention of the American Archdiocese, a decision was made to establish a theological institute on the hill of Balamand near Tripoli. The institute, St. John of Damascus Institute of Theology (Tripoli, Lebanon), was officially opened on October 7 , 1971, ending the education programs that were held at the monastery.