The Maronite Church is an Eastern Rite Catholic church centered in Lebanon. The church was founded in the late 4th century by a monk named John Maron, who broke away from the church of Syria to form his own ascetic order. Disputes with the Syrian church caused the Maronites to flee to Lebanon, and an attack by rival Christians in 517, in which 350 Maronite monks were killed, forced them to retreat even deeper into the Lebanese mountains.
During the Crusades, the Maronites allied with the Catholic Crusaders against other Christians and Muslims, and eventually accepted the authority of the Pope in Rome and the doctrines of the Catholic church. The Maronites, however, were permitted to keep their own liturgy (in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic), rather than adopting the Latin liturgy of the Roman Catholic church. The Maronites also kept their own hierarchy, headed by a Patriarch who is nominated by the Maronite church and confirmed by the Pope.
Since their union with Rome, and especially since the 19th century, the Maronites have maintained a special relationship with France, often going so far as to give their children French names and send them to French-speaking schools. When present-day Lebanon was formed by the French after World War I, the Maronites became its dominant religious group, a position they held until that country's civil war. They are still influential in Lebanese politics today.