A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

the Virgin Mary, gatekeeper

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 22, 2008

I can read relatively quickly in Arabic and French, but when it comes to translating, my progress slows to a crawl. Translation is an art form, and a very laborious one at that. So I sympathize with translators when their efforts produce curious fruits – but I also enjoy them.

The old city of Jbeil has a small plaza whose four sides hold a church, a mosque, a shopping arcade and the Crusader castle. Its a beautiful space, but every time I see the church, I want to giggle.

The church connects to a vaulted stone gate through which you pass to reach the plaza. Logically, the church’s name reflects its location: in French, its name is “Our Lady of the Gate”. “Our Lady” – Notre Dame – is a fairly standard term for the Virgin Mary, so the church’s name offers information both about its location and its dedication to Mary.

For the English translation, some well-meaning soul has translated the Arabic sign literally. In English, the church’s name is: The Gate’s Lady.


For me, “The Gate’s Lady” loses the resonance of the French – as well as the location (gate) and dedication (Mary, as opposed to any other lady) pointers.

And it reminds me of another “Lady”: “The Weed Lady”, an eccentrically run flower shop in my grandmother’s suburb.


(Photo courtesy of this site.)

I make laugh-out-loud translation errors all the time, so I’m certainly not calling the kettle black here. But I do miss the resonance of “Our Lady of …”.


One Response to “the Virgin Mary, gatekeeper”

  1. Michel said

    Speaking of Ladies; visited Notre-Dame du Liban in Jounyeh a few weeks ago. A sign at the entrance reads, and I paraphrase here, “No mini-skirts or other sexy clothes AND no lewd conduct”. There is a male guard at the foot of the very tall Notre-Dame statue and he keeps an eye out for Sexy Ladies. A middle aged gentleman was walking slowly around the statue with his arm around the neck of his lady (girl friend, wife, concubine…who knows). In any case, the “guard” walked up to them and knocked the man’s arm off the woman’s shoulders. I could not beleive it. He then received a tongue lashing from “le guardien” for his “lewd” conduct. Wow even the “virgin” Mary would have wowed that one!

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