Marina the Monk

By Guita G. Hourani

This is Part I of a three-part article on Saint Marina the Monk. Part I narrates her hagiography in the Maronite tradition, gives an overview of the most important references pertaining to her story, relates legends about her relics and describes her Office and Ode. Part II deals with her churches, sanctuaries, cults, and iconography in Lebanon and Cyprus. Part III uncovers the author’s newly discovered Ode in honor of the Saint written in Arabic with Syriac scripts (Garshuni).

There are six well known saints with the name of Marina or Marinos – Marina the Monk (or Marina the Syrian), Marina the Martyr of Antioch, Marina of Spain, Marina of Alexandria, Marina of Sicily and Marina the Cistercian (Clugnet 1904: 564- 568). However, there are most likely two who have truly existed -- Marina of Antioch who accepted martyrdom for her faith and Marina the Monk who suffered the consequences of her imposture as a male monk in the Monastery of Qannoubine, Lebanon (Clugnet 1904: 568).
Léon Clugnet states that the confusion pertaining to all of the other saints named Marina is due to the translators and the copyists’ attribution of the saint’s origins to their own countries or other countries that they felt better fit the Saint’s life. This is why we find that the Greek version of Saint Marina’s life places her birth in Bethany; the Coptic version in Egypt and some of the Latin places it in Italy (Clugnet 1904: 265 footnote # 2).
According to the most ancient accounts on Saint Marina the Monk, only one place of origin could be hers -- Lebanon. Clugnet resolves that until new discoveries are made, the only origin of Saint Marina must be the one known to us according to tradition and since the only tradition about this Saint is found among the Maronites of Lebanon, then Lebanon is to be considered the land of her birth (Clugnet 1904: 565). The Maronites resolutely believe that Marina originated in Lebanon and that as a monk she has lived and died in the Monastery of Qannoubine in the Holy Valley of Qadisha. J. Fiey in turn concludes that Marina in question is truly a local saint of Lebanon, victim of imposture (Fiey 1978: 33).
Marina was disguised as a man in order to join her father in the monastery. She was later accused of fathering a child. She did not defend herself from the crime she was accused of, but with humility accepted the severe punishment that was pronounced against her by the Abbot: to leave the monastery and to raise the child. She spent the rest of her life living ascetically and looking after the child. Her identity as a woman was only revealed after her death.

Monastic life in the fifth century was much more a cenobitic life, which is a communal ascetic life, than anchoretic, which is a solitary ascetic one. The Cenobetic monasteries had small but separate cells where the monks lived, this made it possible for Marina to conceal her identity. With her male name, short hair and clothes, but mostly with her ascetic living, which changed her body’s biology, hence made her lose much of her womanhood appearance and physical nature, Marina was able to go on living at the monastery with a disguising identity until her death.
As to the century in which this Saint has lived, Clugnet agrees with F. Nau that it must be the fifth century since there were great details in her legend presented in the Syriac Manuscript Nº 30 dated 778 AD, folios 70r-76v of the Monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai (Clugnet 1904: 565, 593).
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