St Charbel appears in a photo after his death in Annaya, Mount Lebanon.
St Charbel worked the land and performed manual labour at the St Maroun’s Monastery in Annaya, Mount Lebanon and he lived a life of purity, obedience and humility that has yet to been surpassed.
In 1875, St Charbel showed “supernatural power” and was granted permission to live as a Hermit at the Hermitage of St Peter and St Paul in Annaya, Mount Lebanon which is a few hundred metres away from the Monastery of St Maroun in Annaya, Mount Lebanon.
The Hermitage of St Peter and St Paul was built as a Monastery in 1798 and became a hermitage in 1829 when the Lebanese Maronite Order decided to build the Monastery of St Maroun on a nearby property in Annaya. The first monk to live as a hermit in this newly established hermitage was Father Alisha Al-Hardini, the brother of St Namatallah Al-Hardini who was St Charbel’s teacher and mentor at St Cyprian and St Justina monastery in Kfifan, North Lebanon. He was followed by Father Yohanna Al-Akoury, Father Yowakim Al-Zouki, Father Libaous Al-Ramati and then St Charbel.
As a Hermit, St Charbel learned and followed the rules of the Lebanese Maronite Order to the letter, which include:
- a) The hermit must say Mass and visit the chapel frequently night and day.
- b) The hermit must pray, meditate and read the Holy Scriptures and Bible.
- c) The hermit must do manual labour as a powerful remedy for many temptations, as a proof that he is not deserting his human obligations and in accordance with the stern injunction of St Paul: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat”.
- d) The hermit must live a life of strict poverty.
St Charbel did penance alone and in silence, for the rule states:
- a) The hermit can eat only one meal a day, which is sent by the monastery.
- b) The hermit must never eat meat or drink wine. During Lent he can only have vegetables with a little oil.
- c) The hermit must not sleep more than five hours.
- d) The hermit must observe strict silence. In case of necessity, he must speak briefly and in subdued tones.
- e) The hermit must not leave the hermitage without the express consent of his superior.
At the hermitage, St Charbel companions were the Son of God, as encountered in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. The Eucharist became the centre of his life. Though this St Charbel did not have a place in the world but the world had a great place in his heart. Through prayer and penance St Charbel offered himself as a sacrifice so that the world would return to God.
It was in this secluded hermitage that St Charbel spent the remaining 23 years of his life practicing severe mortification. It is recorded by his companions that he wore a hair shirt, practiced corporal punishment, chained himself, slept on the hard ground and ate only one meal a day – the leftovers from his fellow monk’s meals.
St Charbel pillow was a piece of wood covered with an old cloth, a remnant from an old habit. His bed was made of goat hair and laid directly on the floor. Although a hermit, he was not exempt from the supervision and orders of his superiors. He was to follow strict religious practices and carry out a severe ascetic way of life.
St Charbel day would start with adoration of the Eucharist, prayers and celebration of the Holy Mystery, followed by manual labour, fasting, penance, continuous prayer, little sleep and mortification of the body, all of which St Charbel practiced with utmost humility and love. Nobody besides his fellow monks and hermits saw his face and no one ever took a photo of St Charbel.
On May 8, 1950, four Maronite Catholic Priests from Scranton, America came on a pilgrimage to St Maroun’s Monastery in Annaya, Mount Lebanon to visit St Charbel’s tomb. Father George Webby, a Maronite Catholic Priest from Scranton, America took a photo of the four Maronite Catholic Priests and the guard on duty outside the monastery. When Father George Webby developed the photo, he noticed an additional person with a white beard standing in the middle of the photo with the other Priests.
Fr George Webby immediately went to the monastery and showed all the old monks the photo to see if they recognised the person standing in the middle. All the old monks convincingly said that it was St Charbel who used to live as a hermit in the St Peter and St Paul Hermitage in Annaya, Mount Lebanon which is just a few hundred metres away from the monastery. The old monks said St Charbel died on Christmas Eve on December 24, 1898 in the hermitage and has healed many people who are sick, disabled or dying ever since his death. Father George Webby was so full of excitement and joy that St Charbel had appeared in his photo.
Coincidentally the photo that Father George Webby took on May 8, 1950 was on St Charbel’s birthday who was born on May 8, 1828. All subsequent photos and portraits of St Charbel were based on the photo taken by Father George Webby which included the photos and portraits displayed at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome during his beatification and canonisation.