As long as the early Byzantine era, there was in the center of Beirut a cathedral, the Cathedral of the resurrection Anastasis, situated near the celebrated Law School of Justinian. Texts from the time reveal that students of Beirut’s famous law school used to pray in the “nearby Anastasis Church,” which is likely to be in the same location where the St Georges Cathedral stands today.
“The bishop of Beirut Eustathius (Eustache), by decree of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in the year 449 or 450, gave the city the title of “Metropolis”, a privilege which until then belonged to the city of Tyre, the capital of Phoenicia.
Eustathius also built in Beirut a large cathedral, the church of the Resurrection (Anastasis church), which bordered the “auditoria”, the classrooms of the Law School of Beirut where Christian students worshiped in the afternoon after their lessons.
The Cathedral is situated at the Place de L’Etoile or Parliament square. The Cathedral, with its splendid iconostasis and other treasures is the greatest and most glorious Church in the whole Middle East.
The Anastasis church was destroyed in 551 AD by a massive earthquake that devastated Beirut. The cathedral was rebuilt in the twelfth century, but was destroyed by an earthquake a second time in 1759. It was then rebuilt with a single altar and dedicated to Saint George.
The design was untenable however, and the cathedral collapsed again 3 years later. The cathedral was rebuilt in its current form with 3 new altars in 1772.”
By the time the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) had ended in 1990, the cathedral was a mere shell of what it is today: structurally unsound and perforated with the scars of war from the bullets and shells of sectarian conflict.
At the time, reconstruction plans for the city-center were in the works; Dr Leila Badre took up the opportunity to unearth the hidden secrets of the holy monument.
“It was a unique opportunity to perform an excavation because they were about to restore the St. George Cathedral,” explains Dr Leila Badr, head of AUB archeological team. “We knew that if we dug, we would find several churches because religious sites are usually built on top of each other. If we found the Byzantine Anastasis Church, the school could not have been far off”
Three successive altars corresponding to three churches from the Ottoman period were removed during the excavation in order to look for continuation of the mosaic floor and the apses of the famed Anastasis Church but were deemed to have been destroyed by later construction during the Byzantine age.
In spite of all these layers of history discovered, it was not deemed possible to state that this was the site of of the antique Byzantine Anastasis Cathedral, but of other churches of later dates.
THE CRYPT MUSEUM, ST GEORGES ORTHODOXE CATHEDRAL:
In 2008 Badre and the cathedral’s management decided that they would build an underground museum to preserve the archaeological remains “in situ” (in place) and to display selected artifacts from the excavation.
Visitors entering the museum first see a cross-section of the ground where the excavation took place with each of the six eras of the cathedral history . Eight layers of occupation from the Hellenistic period to the present, including the remains of five, possibly six successive churches were found during the excavation process, and the ruins are being preserved in the crypt museum. St Georges Cathedral have a large collection of rare and old icons .Bullets are still seen on the Icons.
SOME TESTIMONIALS FROM HISTORY:
“Les Grecs ont une belle Eglise dédiée à Saint-Georges. C’est le siège de leur Archevêchéte”Chevalier d’Arvieux, (1660)
“Another Church there is in the town, which seems to be ancient; but being a very mean fabric is suffered to remain still in the hands of the Greeks. We found it adorned with abundance of old pictures … But that which appeared most observable was a very odd figure of a Saint, drawn at full length, with a large beard reaching down to his feet. The curate gave us to understand that this was Saint Nicephorus …”,Maundrell, A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem, 1697
“The first of these, in which we saw the morning mass performed and the sacraments administered by the Bishop, on the occasion of their Easter-Eve, is a fine lofty building, recently repaired and set in order, and is fitted up with a splendor almost equal to the Greek church in the holy sepulcher at Jerusalem”Buckingham, 1825
“L’Eglise grecque (orthodoxe) de Beyrouth est le plus beau temple Chrétien qui existe dans l’empire ottoman, la plus vaste et la mieux ornée. Elle fut bâtie pendant la domination des Princes de la montagne”,Monsieur Henri Guys, French Consul, Beirut, (1850)
“The Cathedral, with its splendid iconostasis and other treasures is the greatest and most glorious Church in the whole Middle East”Archbishop Makarios III, President of the Republic of Cyprus, Beirut, 1974