Kaftun, Dayr

Greek Orthodox monastery in Lebanon, known as Dayr Saydat Kaftun (Monastery of Our Lady of Kaftun) and located in the valley of the Nahr al-Jaouz near Kaftun, to the south of Amyūn. The modern building is erected on ancient substructures to the north of the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus. Reconstruction in 2003 resulted in the discovery of wall paintings. These have been restored by the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology in Cairo in collaboration with the Lebanese Direction Générale des Antiquités.

The basilical church consists of a nave with an apse and two aisles. The sidewalls of the nave are broken up by two huge arches resting on piers. Later additions include a vestibule, a porch, and a barrel vault. The preserved paintings have been attributed to two artists working side by side, very likely in the 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th cent. The first master decorated the north and south walls with the Communion of the Apostles, divided into two separate scenes. On the north wall survive the bust of an archangel in a medallion, a Greek inscription near a now vanished saint (Domatius?), and St. Lawrence with an angel. Above this zone, fragments indicate that the walls were originally considerably higher. The second artist painted the Deisis Vision in the conch of the apse, the Annunciation on the triumphal arch, Sts. Bacchus, Sergius, George, and Theodore on the soffits of the westernmost arches, and four monastic saints on the soffits of the easternmost arches, among whom are Sts. Arsenius and Saba. Stylistically, the first master worked in the Byzantine tradition; the style of the second betrays a combination of Syrian, Byzantine, and Cypriot influences. The names of the saints are written in either Greek or Syriac. A red-bordered white frieze runs over the present upper zone, bearing a now fragmented Arabic inscription running over all walls. Part of it can be translated as: ‘[Anta]kya and the entire East’, suggesting that the text perhaps included the name of the Patr. of Antioch of that time, though this title was shared by the leaders of the Byz. Orth., the Syr. Orth., and the Maronite churches.

The stylistic characteristics of the paintings are echoed in a contemporary double-sided icon kept in the chapel of the monastery, showing the Virgin holding the Child (obverse) and the Baptism of Christ (reverse). Iconographic and stylistic analogies with several icons in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai show that these pieces, too, can be attributed to the same workshop or, more precisely, to the second master. The most important piece is a bilateral icon representing the Virgin with the Child (obverse) and St. Sergius as a banner-carrier with St. Bacchus (reverse), which until recently was considered a Crusader work of art.

Dayr Kaftun is mentioned in a note in a Maronite ms. dated 1140/41 (A.G. 1452). In a much discussed note added on f. 6v of the Rabbula Gospels, the Maronite Patr. Jeremiah of Dmalsa mentions that in Febr. 1279 (A.G. 1590) he was consecrated as bp. of the ‘Holy Monastery of Kaftun constructed on the bank of the river’, where he subsequently stayed for four years, before he became patr. (Borbone, 39–40 for the text; and 56–8 for a discussion of the chronological problems involved). Confusingly, the monastery is also referred to in two Melkite Syriac texts. A ms. from 1248 (A.G. 1559) mentions the ‘Monastery of the Mother of God near the River of Kaftun’. The monk Gerasimus b. Simaʿan, originating from al-Rummana near Damascus, repeats this formulation in his writing from 1283/84 (A.G. 1595), which also furnishes the name of Aba Simaʿan b. Jaqir (bp. Simeon son of Jaqir), ‘the first superior of this holy monastery’. In later sources, the monastery features only as a Melkite retreat.

See Fig. 61, 62, and 68.


  • P. G.  Borbone, ‘Codicologia, paleografia, aspetti storici’, in Il Tetravangelo di Rabbula. Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 1.56, ed. M. Bernabò (2008), 23–58.
  • K.  Chmielewski and T.  Waliszewski, ‘Kaftoun. Conservation and restoration of the Mar Sarkis Church murals. Interim report’, Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 16 (2005), 447–52.
  • K.  Chmielewski et al., ‘The Church of Mar Sarkis and Bakhos in Kaftûn and its Wall Paintings. Preliminary Report 2003–2007’, Bulletin d’archéologie et d’architecture libanaises 11 (2007), 279–325.
  • N.  Hélou, ‘A propos d’une école syro-libanaise d’icônes au XIIIe siècle’, ECA 3 (2006), 53–72.
  • eadem, ‘Les fresques de Kaftoun au Liban: La cohabitation des deux traditions byzantine et orientale’, Chronos 20 (2009), 7–32.
  • N. Hélou and M. Immerzeel, ‘Kaftun 2004. The Wall Paintings’, Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 16 (2005), 453–58.
  • M. Immerzeel, ‘Icon Painting in the County of Tripoli of the Thirteenth Century’, in Interactions. Artistic interchange between the Eastern and Western worlds in the Medieval period, ed. C. Hourihane (The Index of Christian Art Occasional Papers 9; 2007), 67–83.
  • M. Immerzeel, Identity Puzzles. Medieval Christian art in Syria and Lebanon (OLA 184; 2009), 94–9 and 125–42.
  • R. J. Mouawad, ‘Les mystérieux monastères de Keftūn au Liban à l’époque médiévale (XIIe–XIIIe siècles): maronite et/puis melkite?’, Tempora 12–13 (2001–2), 95–113.

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