DISCUSSION

Phoenicia and Galilee

2. Al-Mountara ?


A legend has that when Jesus went up to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mt 15:21-28), his mother accompanied him, at least part of the time. Part of the time, however, she waited and the place where she waited is now remembered in the town of Maghdouche at a shrine called "Saïdet el-Mantara" (from the Semitic root ntr, to wait), "Our Lady Who Waits."
The site is 5 km SSE of Sidon and 3 km inland from the Mediterranean at an altitude of 150 m. Its location gives it a commanding view of the coast. The shrine itself is a natural grotto measuring 12 m by 5 m, and has certainly been a place of pilgrimage since the early 18th century. Was it a place of pilgrimage in the Byzantine era?
In the article cited below, Patricia M. Bikai not only puts into question the conclusion made by Donner, but proposes an interesting emendation of the remnant inscription MO / PER: MO(NTARA opou) PER(iemeine) or MO(NTARA opou) PER(iemeine Maria(m). "Mantara, where she (or Mary) waited". Convinced that the lost fragment C belonged to the Madaba map, Bikai deduces from the geographical context a further localization of this unidenfied site east of Sidon. But it is the legend of Saidet el-Mantara, an ancient legend of the region of Tyre and Sidon, to inspire a possible emendation of the inscription also epigraphically fitting. Certainly, only proper archaeological surveys of both the sites acutally associated with the ancient legend of Saidet el-Mantara will give evidence that one of them was a site of pilgrimage in the Byzantine period and thus - as Bikai wishes - offer a solution to one of the last remaining puzzles of the Madaba Map.

Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 97-98)
"The fragment, about 1,25 m long and 0.50 m wide, was first published in 1895 by Germer-Durand. At that time, it contained a piece of the Mediterranean Sea with the representation of a ship. This part, however, is lost. In 1965 only mountain chains were visible, with valleys or plains in between. The situation of the fragment in the present church and its relation to the other preserved parts of the map make it improbable that it is the northernmost part of Upper Galilee. We are already north of River Leontes (Nahr Litani) in southern Lebanon. The remains of two inscriptions are visible: M O P E. Unrestored and unidentifiable."

Patricia M. Bikai ( "The Region of Tyre and Sidon", in: The Madaba Map Centenary 1897-1997, Jerusalem 1999, 240)
I wish to call attention to a legend little known outside of Lebanon. The legend has it that when Jesus went up to the region of Tyre and Sidon, his mother accompanied him, at least part of the time. Part of the time, however, she waited and the place where she waited is now remembered in the town of Maghdouche at a shrine called "Saïdet el-Mantara" (from the Semitic root ntr, to wait), "Our Lady Who Waits."
The site is 5 km SSE of Sidon and 3 km inland from the Mediterranean at an altitude of 150 m. Its location gives it a commanding view of the coast. The shrine itself is a natural grotto measuring 12 m by 5 m, and has certainly been a place of pilgrimage since the early 18th century. Was it a place of pilgrimage in the Byzantine era? It is difficult to say. It is reported, by non-experts, that in the vicinity of the shrine of Notre Dame de Mantara are the remains of a cultic area dedicated to Astarte, and of what are described as a Crusader-era house, monastic installations, and ancient stairways and cisterns, and even a temple. It is well known that in Lebanon shrines to Astarte reappeared in the Christian era as shrines to the Virgin, and thus it is not impossible that this shrine was in use in the Byzantine era. What is known is that the grotto was rediscovered in 1721 and was immediately taken to be an ancient chapel, as there were reported to be an altar and some type of representation of the Virgin in the grotto. A connection was then apparently made between the cave and the story of Jesus's trip into the region.
It must be noted that east of Sarepta is an area called Tell el-Mantara that has never been explored archaeologically. It is possible that the legend of the waiting Virgin Mother survived the Middle Ages, but that the location migrated and settled at Maghdouche in 1721 with the discovery of the grotto. Either way, the legend belongs to the "region of Tyre and Sidon."
Does the remnant inscription MO/PER refer to the legend of Saïdet el-Mantara? If the northeasternmost inscription, the Zebulon inscription, is identified with Sidon, then it is difficult to name a site inland from Sidon with any known Biblical connection. The makers of the Madaba Map, it must be said, would have had the very same difficulty-they would have had to fill the area east of Sidon with sites of tenuous and even, perhaps, dubious Biblical connection, as they did with Sidon itself. Thus the emendation: MO(NTARA opou) PER(iemeine) or MO(NTARA opou) PER(iemeine Maria(m), "Mantara where she (or Mary) waited" is more than tempting. (See also the complete article)

Map Section 1 Place Sources

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Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 23:30:41
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copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000