A linguist by profession, a Lebanese by birth and an expat by choice/destiny. These are the factors that explain, I suppose, why I am an assiduous seeker of Lebanon’s subtle cultural fingerprints around the world… inside words.
Words say it all you know! Etymology is the key to hidden valuable secrets enclosed within words.
Historical truths and glorious pasts lie under a thin layer of the dust of time, waiting to be revealed by a sharp eye and a keen sense of curiosity.
Questioning the names of places, of persons, of things, always reveals their origin and links them to dimensions unknown to us.
As far as Lebanon is concerned, everywhere I looked, when abroad, I almost always found some connection, some link, that referred to our Lebanese heritage.
In this very instance, I happened to be strolling in the narrow streets of Rome by night to burn some of the calories gulped in sometime before at a restaurant serving exquisite Roman cuisine in the Testaccio area. As I crossed Via Portico d’Ottavia, I looked up inadvertently and something caught my eye. A word engraved on a small dome in the middle of the street. A word that said: “Libani”!
Libani in Latin could only mean one thing, one name, one place: LEBANON. My homeland.
I went closer and there it was: a small cupola-roofed sanctuary with one sentence engraved on it: “GLORIA LIBANI DATA EST EL, DECORUM CARMELI ET SARON”.
Even though I have never studied Latin, my brain cells scurried to work out connections between scattered pieces of knowledge stored in there for years… A mental-mnemonic process at the end of which I was finally able to utter the translation: The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. Isaiah 35:2.
I knew it was a bible verse praising the beauty of Lebanon.
I knew that “Gloria Libani” is the title preceding the names of the Patriarchs of the Maronite Church (check the link).
But I did not know the reason it was there.
I took the pictures (figuring here above) and hurried back to my hotel room, turned on my laptop, activated the Wi-Fi connection and typed in some keywords on my Google browser. And there I found it. An article in Italian explaining it all.
That sanctuary was a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary. According to the exact wording of the article it was “dedicated to the Lady of the Carmel, otherwise known as the Lady of Mount Lebanon”!
For the readers that are not well-versed in geopolitics, in modern times the Mount Carmel (Garden of God) and the Mount Lebanon are each located now on two hostile territories.
Strange how history changes transforming in the process the division of lands and ultimately ideas and perceptions.
The article also mentioned that this sanctuary known in Italian as Il Tempietto del Carmelo (The little temple of the Carmel) was built by a family of grocers in 1759 to shelter a picture of the Virgin Mary placed upon an altar.
Due to negligence and subsequent degradation, both the picture and the supporting altar were lost, but the structure remained.
Fortunately, in 2004 restoration works were initiated at the cost of 97.000 Euros, and finally the cupola and the engraved inscription crowning it were restored.
Being located at the entrance of Rome’s Ghetto, locals also regard it as a symbol of peace vis-à-vis the inhabitants. But that’s another issue.
In the period when I made this discovery, Lebanon’s name in the media was particularly associated with all negative things imaginable.
Finding its name unexpectedly, glowing by night in all its glory in the heart of Rome and on top of a Marian sanctuary, within a sentence paying homage to its biblical splendour, was not only refreshing but also a witness to its beautiful and spiritually rich past, that for sure will make its way back again to the collective consciousness of humanity, against all odds.