Maronites, a body of Syrian Christians who acknowledge the spiritual supremacy of the Eoman pontiff. The name appears to have been derived from St. Maron or Maroun, a hermit who lived in the mountains near Tyre, and whose feast is celebrated on Feb. 9. His followers built a monastic stronghold on the banks of the Orontes, near Apamea, which bore his name and became during the early Mohammedan wars the refuge of the Syrian Christians. Another Maron, a Monothelite bishop of the 7th century, induced the greater number of the Syrian Christians to embrace his opinions; and from him also they were called Maronites. Finally John Maron, a monk of the monastery of Apamea, was appointed in 676 bishop of Botrys and patriarch of the orthodox Maronites. This similarity of name has occasioned no little confusion among the church historians of Syria. - The Maronites chiefly inhabit the mountain chain of Lebanon between Tripoli, Tyre, and the lake of Gennesaret. Their chief seat is in the district of Kesrawan. Their early history is enveloped in much obscurity.
It is certain, however, that when the last Byzantine troops were withdrawn in 685 from the Syrian fortresses, the Christians held the entire range of mountains from Antioch to Jerusalem; and there they continued to dwell under chiefs of their own, repelling every attack of the Saracens, and affording an asylum to the persecuted Christians of the surrounding provinces. With the original Druse population and the Mohammedan recusants who joined them from time to time, the Maronites appear to have lived in peace. (See Druses.) A force of Maronites in 877 helped to defend Syracuse against the Saracens. At the epoch of the crusades they rendered valuable service to the Christian armies. In 1182 a part of the Mono-thelites abjured their errors before Amaury, Latin patriarch of Antioch; but their union with the Roman church was not formally effected till 1445. They were allowed to retain their own liturgical forms and peculiar customs. This want of uniformity afterward occasioned much trouble in Italy, where large numbers of Maronites had settled.
Some of them took refuge in Corsica, to be beyond the reach of the inquisition, and others found an asylum among the Waldenses in Piedmont. The French kings always maintained a connection with the Maronites, who sometimes called themselves the Franks of the East; and after Richelieu had contracted a close alliance with the Turks, a kind of French protectorate was kept up over the Syrian Christians through the consuls resident at Beyrout. In 1713 the united Druses and Maronites were governed by the Mohammedan family of Shehab, under whose leadership the mountaineers successfully resisted the attempts then made by the Porte to reduce them to submission. But in 1756 the conversion to Christianity of several Shehab emirs caused much feeling among the Druses. This spirit of religious antagonism was fostered by the Turkish authorities, who were thus enabled, by playing off one sect against the other, to reduce the mountaineers to partial subjection. When the Druses took up arms to resist Ibrahim Pasha's attempts to reduce them and the Maronites to the administrative conditions imposed on the rest of the population, the Maronites held hack till it was too late; their tardy revolt alienated their Egyptian governors without appeasing the resentment of the Druses. The same vacillating policy was manifested when Svria was restored to the Turkish government'in 1841. The appointment of Kassim, the son of the deposed Emir Beshir, a Christian, as governor of the Lebanon created dissatisfaction among the Druses and the Turkish inhabitants of Syria. In September and October of that year the Druses rose in arms against the Maronites, and much bloodshed occurred; but the Christian villages were saved from destruction by the timely interference of the English and Turkish authorities.
The latter, nevertheless, were notoriously favorable to the Druses. A personal quarrel in August, 1859. between a Druse and a Maronite became the occasion of a war of extermination. (See Druses.) In October, 1860, an international commission met in Beyrout, which on June 9. 1861, agreed to a formal treaty concerning the administration of the Lebanon. Since then a special governor, appointed by the Porte, resides at Deir el-Kamr. - The Maronites now (1874) number about 140,000. They suhsist by agriculture, are generally poor, live frugally, and their sheiks are but little richer than the mass of the people. They hold property to he sacred, and are strictly honest and hospitable. In religious matters they are governed by a patriarch residing at Kanobin, assisted by bishops. They elect the patriarch, subject to confirmation by the pope. The Maronite priests are married, and number 1.200, with 400 churches. Of the 200 convents scattered through the Lebanon district, one half belong to the Maronites. Their monks, variously estimated between 20,000 and 25,000, follow the rule of St. Anthony. Their dresa is a black cassock, with a hood and leathern girdle. They are forbidden the use of tobacco and flesh meat.
The nunneries are built at a distance from the convents, no intercourse being allowed between them save for the administration of the sacraments. The liturgy, which is called St. Ephraem's, is the Syriac liturgy of St. James, modified by Epbraem Syras. Communion is administered in both kinds, the consecrated bread being cut into small pic thrown into the wine, and placed withaspoon in the mouth of the communicant. The Gospels and other portions of the Scriptures are read and expounded to the people in Arabic, which is their vernacular. - See Churchill, "Druse and Maronite" (London. 1864).