The Kahlil Gibran Collective

The Artist The Poet The Man

The Untold History of the Gibran Museum’s Origins:

WHEN THE ITALIAN MONKS SOLD THE MONASTERY OF MAR SARKIS

by Francesco Medici and Charles Malouf Samaha

In his later years, Kahlil Gibran repeatedly expressed his will to return to Lebanon and settle in his desired final resting-place, Mar Sarkis (Saint Sergius). This ancient monastery-hermitage overlooks the Kadisha Valley where he had spent his childhood, and is now known as the Gibran Museum. He once confessed to his intimate friend Mikhail ‘Mischa’ Naimy:

Gibran with Naimy at Cahoonzie, NY, 1921
Gibran with Naimy at Cahoonzie, NY, 1921
“If you only knew the ‘hermitage’ I have selected for you and myself in Lebanon, you would this minute take me by the hand and say, ‘Let us go!’ It is a real cloister, Mischa, and not an imitation one as this studio.1

It is a small, deserted monastery right near my home town of Bisharri. The name of it is Mar Sarkis. It stands at the upper end of the gorge of Kadisha on the slopes of Cedar Mountain. Its chapel and few cells are hewn into the limestone side of the mountain. The terraced land before it slopes precipitously down to the gorge and is still green with ever-green oaks and grape vines. A more peaceful and beautiful spot for solitude can hardly be found even in heaven. I have empowered an attorney in Tripoli to buy it for me. There is danger, however, that the monks, once they discover who the prospective buyer is, would refuse to sell. For I, as you know, am an atheist in their eyes. But the attorney is a friend of mine and a capable one. He will somehow fool the monks and arrange the matter. Mar Sarkis, 1931Mar Sarkis, 1931

There we shall live away from the world, Mischa. There we shall dream our dreams and write to our hearts’ content. We shall also buy a printing press and publish our dreams to those who care for our dreams, and we shall make of printing a fine art. We shall also cultivate the land and make the barren of it fertile; even the rocks we shall dress in green. And the winds shall bless us, and the sun shall smile to us, and the gorge shall waft on us its inspiring breath. Have patience, Mischa. I shall – rather we shall – dwell in that cloister in body and soul. If you be weary of this world of machines and shadows, I am as weary of it as you, if not more. You and I shall not find a better, a holier and a more peaceful refuge than Mar Sarkis. And you shall love that refuge as I love it.”2

Unfortunately, Gibran did not realize his plan while alive, but the people of Bisharri wanted to fulfill their beloved fellow citizen’s last will at all costs. His relatives were determined to use part of Gibran’s inheritance to buy the monastery. It is said that the entire community of Bisharri had to make an impassioned plea to the owner, the Discalced Carmelites order so that the inalienable ecclesiastical property – Mar Sarkis – could be sold to a private person.3

In 2007, the Carlos Slim Foundation acquired many of Gibran’s artworks, possessions, and private papers from his Bostonian relatives, the sculptor Kahlil George Gibran and his wife Jean. In the Gibran Kahlil Gibran Collection, now displayed in the Soumaya Museum, Mexico City, there are documents which reveal the hitherto untold background regarding the sale of Mar Sarkis.

In 1931, the monastery was a derelict and in ruin when Gibran’s sister Mary and her cousin Assaf George Rahme sailed from Providence, USA, and headed to Lebanon to negotiate its purchase. They reached Bisharri in August 1931, more than four months after the author’s death at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York. His coffin, which traveled along with Mary and Assaf from America, was deposited in the nearby church of Mar Yuhanna (Saint John) until a sale was finalized. Gibran’s remains were eventually placed in a crypt excavated from the hard rock of the monastery where they lie today.

Italian Father Giuseppe Maria Fraschetti, a native of Ceprano (Frosinone), was the superior of the Carmelite Mission in Syria and therefore responsible for Mar Sarkis.4 Since 1911 the mission of the Discalced Carmelites in Syria had been under the protection of the Kingdom of Italy pursuant to the Franco-Italian agreement of 1905.5

Fraschetti immediately smelt a bargain; therefore, the entreaties of the Bisharri community were unnecessary and the controversial issue of the alleged excommunication the Maronite Church imposed on Gibran was completely irrelevant to the monk. In fact, Fraschetti almost certainly had no idea who Gibran was, which constituted, given the situation, a stroke of luck. So without hesitation he telegraphed the General House of the Discalced Carmelite located at 38 Corso d’Italia, Rome (exactly where it is today), and requested formal authorization for the transaction:

Procura Missioni Carmelitane – Corsitalia 38 Roma

Ottima occasione vendere Biscerri conventino disabitato con terreno arido che procuraci continue noie inutile per noi destinato sepoltura celebre personaggio desiderato tutto paese consenziente comunità Biscerri consiglio Missione in cambio acquisteremo terreno Tripoli otteneteci permesso telegrafandocelo perché parenti defunto debbono tornare urgentemente America.

Fraschetti

(English)

 

Carmelite Missions Power of Attorney – 38 Corsitalia, Rome

Excellent opportunity to sell in Bisharri a small uninhabited monastery with barren land which causes us continuous trouble and is useless to us, destined for a famous personality’s entombment desired by the entire community of Bisharri.  I advise the Mission to sell. In exchange, we will buy land in Tripoli. Grant us permission by telegraph because the deceased’s relatives must return urgently to America.

Fraschetti

(French)

Procure des Missions Carmélitaines – Corsitalia 38, Rome

Une excellente opportunité se présente pour vendre à Bcharré un petit monastère inhabité, avec des terres arides, qui nous cause des problèmes continus et qui nous est inutile, destiné à la sépulture d’un personnage célèbre. A noter que la communauté entière de Bcharré est d’accord. Mon conseil à la mission est, qu’en échange, nous achèterons un terrain à Tripoli. Envoyez-nous un permis par télégraphe parce que la famille du défunt doit retourner en Amérique de toute urgence.

Fraschetti

(Arabic)

توكيل البعثة الكرملية – كورسيطاليا، 38 روما

فرصة ممتازة  لبيع دير صغير مهجور مع أراض مهملة يتسبب لنا بمشاكل دائمة ولا يفيدنا، بهدف استعماله كمدفن لشخصية مشهورة وذلك وفقاً لرغبة جميع سكان القرية وبموافقتهم. وبالتالي، أنصح البعثة بشراء أرض في طرابلس. أرسلوا لنا الموافقة عبر التلغراف لأنّ أقارب المتوفى مضطرون للعودة إلى أمريكا سريعاً

فراسكيتي

With the blessing of Rome, the deal was concluded in less than a month, as demonstrated by the following two documents, which Fraschetti handwrote and signed:

Missione Apostolica dei Carmelitani Scalzi in Siria

Io sottoscritto Superiore della Missione Carmelitana in Siria dichiaro di aver ricevuto dal Sig. Assef Giorgio Rahmé la somma di lire turche oro 100 (cento) in acconto della somma di lire turche oro 1200 (milleduecento) convenuta per la vendita della proprietà della Missione detta Mar Sarkis in Biscerri registrata nel tribunale di Biscerri in data 6 aprile 1915 n. 99 ad eccezione dei due pezzi di terreno situati sotto la strada carrozzabile.

Il resto della somma dev’essermi pagato con relativi interessi legali entro il termine di quattro mesi dalla data di oggi.

Trascorso tale termine senza che mi siano pagate le altre 1100 (millecento) lire turche oro e relativi interessi legali, la proprietà di Mar Sarkis, di cui sopra, resterà definitivamente alla Missione Carmelitana, a cui resteranno inoltre acquisite definitivamente senz’alcun obbligo di restituzione le 100 (cento) lire turche oro ricevute oggi.

Biscerri , 27 Ottobre 1931

G.M. Fraschetti

Sup. Miss.

(English)

Apostolic Mission of the Discalced Carmelites in Syria

I, the undersigned Superior of the Carmelite Mission in Syria, declare that I received from Mr. Assaf George Rahme the sum of 100 (one hundred) Turkish gold liras in advance of the sum of 1200 (one thousand two hundred) Turkish gold liras agreed for the sale of the property of the Mission called Mar Sarkis in Bisharri, registered in the court of Bisharri on 6 April 1915, No 99, except for the two pieces of land located under the carriage road.

The rest of the amount must be paid to me with related legal interests within the four-month period from today’s date.

After this deadline without having paid the other 1100 (one thousand one hundred) Turkish gold liras and related legal interests, the property of the above Mar Sarkis will remain permanently with the Carmelite Mission, and will also be definitively acquired without any obligation to repay the 100 (one hundred) Turkish gold liras received today.

Bisharri, October 27, 1931

G.M. Fraschetti

Sup. Miss.

(French)

Mission Apostolique des Carmes Déchaux en Syrie

Je soussigné, Supérieur de la Mission Carmélitaine en Syrie, déclare avoir reçu de la part de Mr. Assaf George Rahme la somme de 100 (cent) lires d’or turques en acompte sur le montant de 1200 (mille deux cent) lires d’or turques convenu pour la vente de la propriété de la Mission, nommée Mar Sarkis à Bcharré  et enregistrée auprès de la cour de Bcharré le 6 Avril 1916, n. 99, à l’exception de deux pièces du terrain situées sous la route carrossable.

Le reste du montant doit être payé au soussigné, avec les intérêts légaux relatifs durant une période de quatre mois à partir de la date d’aujourd’hui.

Passé ce délai, si les 1100 (mille cent) lires d’or turques ne sont pas payées avec leurs intérêts légaux, la propriété de Mar Sarkis restera en permanence avec la mission carmélitaine, et elle lui appartiendra définitivement sans aucune obligation de repayer les 100 (cent) lires d’or turques reçues aujourd’hui.

Bcharré, le 27 Octobre 1931

G.M. Fraschetti

Sup. Miss.

(Arabic)

البعثة الرسولية للكرمل الحفاة في سوريا

أنا الموقع أدناه،  الرئيس العام لبعثة الكرمل الحفاة في سوريا، أصرّح بأنني قد استلمت من السيد عساف جورج رحمه مبلغًا وقدره 100 (مئة) ليرة ذهب تركية كدفعة مسبقة للمبلغ الكامل المتفق عليه 1200 (ألف ومئتين) ليرة ذهب تركية، لقاء بيع ملك البعثة المسمّى مار سركيس في بشري والمسجّل في محكمة بشرّي بتاريخ 6 نيسان/أبريل 1916 ، رقم 99، باستثناء قطعتي أرض تقعان تحت الطريق المعبر. وينبغي دفع المبلغ المتبقي للموقع أدناه وفوائده المترتبة خلال فترة أربعة أشهر، بدءًا من تاريخه

 وبعد انقضاء هذه المهلة، وإن لم يُدفع المبلغ المتبقي، أي 1100(ألف ومئة) ليرة ذهب تركية وفوائده، يبقى مار سركيس ملكًا للبعثة الكرملية التي ستمتلكه من دون أي إلزام بردّ مبلغ الـ 100 (مئة) ليرة ذهب تركية التي استلمته اليوم 

  1931 بشرّي، في 27 تشرين الأول/أكتوبر

ج.م. فراسكيتي

الرئيس العام

Missione Carmelitana in Siria & Libano

Io sottoscritto P. Giuseppe M. Fraschetti, Superiore della Missione dei PP. Carmelitani Scc. in Siria e Libano, dichiaro di aver ricevuto dal Sig. Assef Giorgio Simone Rahmé la somma di lire siriane -6090- (seimilanovanta) residuo del prezzo convenuto (che era di 6600, oltre gli interessi) per la vendita della proprietà della Missione detta Mar Sarkis in Biscerri (Libano).

Dichiaro quindi che la Missione è stata oggi completamente soddisfatta di ogni suo avere.

Tripoli, 20 Novembre 1931

G.M. Fraschetti

(English)

Carmelite Mission in Syria & Lebanon

I, the undersigned Father Giuseppe M. Fraschetti, Superior of the Mission of the Discalced Carmelites Fathers in Syria and Lebanon, declare that I received from Mr. Assaf George Simon Rahme the sum of 6090 (six thousand and ninety) Syrian liras as the balance of the agreed price (which was 6600, plus interest) for the sale of the property of the Mission called Mar Sarkis in Bisharri (Lebanon).

I, therefore, declare that today the Mission has been completely satisfied with  its dues.

Tripoli, November 20, 1931

G.M. Fraschetti

(French)

La Mission Carmélitaine en Syrie et au Liban

Je, soussigné, Père Giuseppe M. Fraschetti, supérieur de la mission des Pères Carmes Déchaux en Syrie et au Liban, déclare avoir reçu de la part du Mr. Assaf George Rahme, la somme de 6090 (six mille quatre-vingt-dix) lires syriennes comme paiement du prix convenu (qui était de l’ordre de 6600 plus intérêts) pour la vente de la propriété de la Mission, nommée Mar Sarkis à Bcharré (Liban). Je déclare, ainsi, que la Mission a bien reçu toutes ses redevances.

Tripoli, le 20 novembre 1931

G.M. Fraschetti

(Arabic)

البعثة الكرملية في سوريا ولبنان

أنا الموقع أدناه، الأب جوزيبي م. فراسكيتي الرئيس العام للآباء الكرمليين الحفاة في سوريا ولبنان، أصرح بأنني قد استلمت من السيد عساف جورج رحمه مبلغًا وقدره 6090 (ستة آلاف وتسعين) ليرة سوريّة كدفعة عن المبلغ المتّفق عليه (وهو 6600 مع فوائده) لقاء بيع مُلك البعثة المسمّى مار سركيس في بشرّي (لبنان)

.وأصرّح بالتالي بأن البعثة تلقّت جميع مستحقّاتها

طرابلس، في 20 تشرين الثاني/نوفمبر 1931

ج.م. فراسكيتي

 

The three original documents reproduced in this article were written in Italian and perhaps precisely for this reason they were neglected by scholars until now.

In Mischa’s biography of Gibran, he bitterly wrote: “We talked long of Mar Sarkis. The Fates listening to us must have laughed well at us; for they knew that Gibran would not enter that cloister except as a corpse laid in a casket.”This is sadly true, but it is nice to think that those same Fates, perhaps not so malicious after all, under the unusual guise of enterprising monks from a foreign country, wanted to work a double miracle: to accord Gibran his eternal rest in the only place in the world where he would have wished to retire, and to allow the majestic cedars of the Kadisha Valley to re-embrace their best-loved son.

 

The authors would like to thank Dr. Maya El Hage (Notre Dame University-Louaize [NDU], Lebanon) for translating Fraschetti’s papers into French and Arabic.

 

1 Gibran called his studio-apartment in New York City “The Hermitage” (al-Sawma‘ah, in Arabic) because it was for him a sort of shelter from the American sprawling metropolis.

2 M. Naimy, Kahlil Gibran: A Biography, New York: Philosophical Library, 1985, pp. 183-184.

Cf. W. Kayrouz, Gibran in His Museum, Jounieh: Bacharia, 1995, p. 15: “The Father Superior accepted to sell, in consideration of Gibran’s spirituality, his worldwide reputation, and the unanimous wish of Bisharri’s people to see him return to what he called his ‘heart’s homeland’.”

4 Cf. B. Portieri, Sur les routes de l’Exil, traduit de l’Italien par C. Mourany, Kobayat: Editions du Carmel, 2011, p. 20.

Cf. Gazzetta Ufficiale del Regno d’Italia [Official Gazette of the Kingdom of Italy], No 176, 28 July 1911, p. 4835.

Naimy, p. 184.