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Qalb Louzah Church

The road confronts the mountain head-on, rising steeply. The climb takes only a few minutes. Four or five trees, a host of small boys, and a few humble houses - stones among stones. Another five meters… And there, braving the winds and the centuries, splendid and incongruous, stands a cathedral!

Of course the basilica at Qalb Loza isn't and never was, a cathedral. Its powerful, somewhat squat, shape gives it more the appearance of a large country church. But in this wild solitary setting it seems like a challenge. With its three big rounded arches at the front, its apse behind, it has survived twelve or thirteen centuries of oblivion. And now it is being restored, there are scaffoldings on the facade, the towers and the lintels are being rebuilt, by men of another faith.

The church is laid out as a three-aisle basilica with a narthex in front. The external wall of the left-hand aisle is in ruins, so that, even before entering the building, one has a glimpse of the harmonious rhythm of the central nave. The sunshine streams in, touching the coppery stone with fire. The vaulting falls in perfect curves to join the short columns with their generous capitals. The central columns have square-cut niches with wide moldings. The great blocks of masonry are so beautifully cut and set that this alone suffices to decorate the walls and the inside of the apse. Ornament is happily limited to finely-chiseled moldings which emphasize the curves of the bays and the door frames.

The great apsidal arch, one of the doorways on the south side and the porch linking the narthex and the body of the church, are certainly amongst the finest examples of Syrian art of the Byzantine period.

The architectural quality and beautiful decoration of Qalb Loza are present even in the smaller details. Thus the small windows of the upper story of the nave have square openings but, on the outside ,a finely-cut double fluting prolongs these square frames in graceful half-circles. Such simple and delicate touches relieve any coarseness that a building of such big blocks of stone )the roof blocks are five meters long) might otherwise have.

Less than fifteen hundred meters from Qalb Loza and on the other side of the road that leads back into the valley, the village of Kirk Biza, built of gray stone quarried from the mountain, seems to await the return of its menfolk gone off to work in the fields. Tobacco plantations and, down below in the plain, the checkerboard of crops and orchards, add to the impression.

But alas! Kirk Biza is another of the many "ghost towns" of Northern Syria.

A closer look helps us to understand; the tobaccos plantations are in fact pitifully small. They are tributes to the infinite patience of a few peasants who cling to these desolate heights. The least little remnants of soil trapped between two outcrops of rock is used and the small patches of red soil here and there have actually been gathered from these pockets… A thousand years and more of wind and rain have left the uplands quite bare. So life has left Kirk Biza.

The town contracted in on itself and you have to climb over heaps of rubble to get into it. There are quite a few single and two-story houses still standing. The door lintels are often decorated with geometrical designs or with bunches of grapes.

The tiny church is said to date from the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 4th century and thus is one of the first to be built in Syria. There are many carved stones. A stone seat, its back decorated with rosettes, standing on a raised platform, no doubt was used by the superior of the community or by a bishop. Blocks of stone, decorated and with holes in them, may have contained relics of early martyrs now forgotten.

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