The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George holds a special place in the hearts of many Lebanese because of its unique location overlooking Parliament Square right in the heart of Beirut’s city center.
The Cathedral of Saint George is the Mother Cathedral of Beirut’s Greek Orthodox community.
It’s the “Thronos”, the throne of the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut and its dependencies.
The Cathedral is the oldest church in the city of Beirut and one of the oldest in the region. The first Christian temple ever built in the very location goes back to the mid-sixth century AD and it’s closely associated with Beirut’s famous Law School.
Close links have developed between the Law School of Beirut and the Church. The bishop of Beirut Eustathius (Eustache), by decree of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in the year 449 or 450, managed to give the city of Beirut, the title of “Metropolis”, a privilege that until then belonged to the city of Tyre which was the capital of Phoenicia.
The Cathedral of Saint George in Beirut was built on the ruins of Anastasis Cathedral
Efstathius also built in Beirut a large cathedral, the church of the Resurrection (Anastasis Church), which bordered on the “auditoria”, the classrooms of the Law School of Beirut where Christian students worshiped in the afternoon after their lessons.
The Anastasis church was destroyed in 551 AD by a massive earthquake that devastated Beirut.
After the earthquake of 551, the Anastasis Cathedral was built again around the twelfth century. In 1759 the cathedral was again shaken by another earthquake. It was then destroyed again to be rebuilt with a single altar, this time dedicated to Saint George.
Ultimately the design turned out to be untenable; the cathedral collapsed again three years later after it was rebuilt. Finally, in 1772 it was erected once more with three new altars as it still stands today.
In 1994, archaeological excavations undertaken within and in the vicinity of the Saint George Cathedral unveiled a number of artifacts and vestiges spanning the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Medieval and Ottoman eras.
The artifacts are housed in a museum consisting of a crypt running under a part of the cathedral where visitors walk through 12 stops showcasing the different archaeological and historical layers.
The display includes a number of finds such as oil lamps, smoking pipes, pottery, statuettes and Christian vessels and ornaments. Other vestiges kept in-situ include parts of the older churches’ altars and apse, mosaics, stone engravings, tombstones and columns.
The excavated area also includes a necropolis where 25 burials were opened. Among the uncovered tombs was a one containing the skeleton of a man wearing a bronze tiara, with an iron arrowhead and three bronze amulets placed over his chest.
Cathedral suffers new damage
During the Lebanese civil war, the Cathedral suffered many attacks of theft and vandalism, as well as the effects of nature’s impact in a region considered a war zone and confrontation line. In 1998, the restoration multi-phase project started on the 15th of December, 2003, when the Cathedral once again opened its doors to the faithful.
More recently, the deadly explosion in Beirut in August 2020 damaged the Cathedral, when a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut exploded, causing at least 218 deaths.
The blast was so powerful that it physically shook the whole country of Lebanon. It was felt in Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, and Israel, as well as parts of Europe, and was heard in Cyprus, more than 240 km (150 mi) away.
The Cathedral suffered extensive damage and it took months before it was restored to its former glory.