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Stella Maris Monastery

Israel

 

Perched at the western edge of Mount Carmel, high above the Mediteranean and the coastal city of Haifa, is Stella Maris Monastery and church.

Stella Maris Monastery

Stella Maris Church on Mount Carmel (Ilan)

The name of the 19th-century monastery — Latin for “Star of the Sea” — refers not to the magnificent view, but rather to an early title accorded Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The monastery is the world headquarters of a Catholic religious order of friars and nuns, the Carmelites.

The order had its origins at the end of the 12th century when St Berthold, a Frenchman who had gone to the Holy Land as a Crusader, had a vision of Christ denouncing the evil done by soldiers.

 

Hermits lived in caves

Berthold gathered a small community of hermits around him, living in caves on Mount Carmel, in imitation of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Later the community became known as the Hermit Brothers of St Mary of Mount Carmel.

Stella Maris Monastery

Eastern facade of Stella Maris Monastery (© Deror Avi / Wikimedia)

In 1206 the community received a written rule from St Albert of Jerusalem. In the same century, some members moved to Europe and established similar groups from Sicily to Oxford. Those who remained in the Holy Land were massacred by the Saracens in 1291.

Carmelites returned to Mount Carmel in 1631 and finally completed the Stella Maris Monastery in the 18th century. Its stout walls and small openings reflect the need for defence against hostilities during its establishment.

Later a lighthouse was built, giving a further meaning to the title Stella Maris. Because of its commanding position, the lighthouse has been commandeered as a military establishment.

 

Elijah connected to two grottoes

Inside the church, the décor features vividly coloured Italian marble and dramatic paintings in the dome, one depicting Elijah being swept up to heaven in a fiery chariot. A cedar and porcelain statue of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is above the altar.

Stella Maris Monastery

Statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Stella Maris Church (© George David Byers)

Steps lead down to a grotto, with a small altar, where the Old Testament prophet Elijah is believed to have occasionally lived. People have lived in caves on Mount Carmel since prehistoric times.

Opposite the monastery, a steep footpath down toward the Mediterranean leads to a larger grotto, Elijah’s Cave, where the prophet is said to have meditated before his victory over the prophets of Baal, described in 1 Kings 18: 1-40.

The cave — which is venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims — is also thought to be where Elijah established a “school of prophets”, where his successor Elisha, among others, studied.

In the garden of Stella Maris Church, a monument is dedicated to wounded French soldiers who were killed by the Mamluk governor Ahmed Pasha el-Jazzar after Napoleon withdrew in 1799.

 

Other sites in the area:

Mount Carmel

Elijah’s Cave

Baha’i Shrine

 

In Scripture:

Elijah triumphs over the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18:1-40

Elijah prays on Mount Carmel: 1 Kings 18:41-46

Administered by: Order of Carmelites

Tel.: 972-4-8337758

Open: 6am-12.30pm, 3-6pm

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)

 

External links

Carmelite Monastery, Stella Maris (BibleWalks)
The Carmelites of the Holy Land
The Carmelite Order (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Order of Carmelites (Carmelite Order)

 

 

Mount Carmel

Israel

Mount Carmel

View from top of Mt Carmel (Patrick Brennan)

The prophet Elijah’s fire-lighting challenge — one of the Old Testament’s most spectacular contests between Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, and a pagan deity — took place on the south-eastern summit of Mount Carmel.

Stretching south-east from the Mediterranean Sea, with the city of Haifa sloped against it, Mount Carmel is actually a coastal range rather than a mountain.

From ancient times it was considered a sacred place. It is often cited in the Old Testament for its beauty and fertility.

The 6th-century Greek mathematician Pythagoras is recorded to have visited the mountain because of its reputation for sacredness, stating that it was “the most holy of all mountains, and access was forbidden to many”.

Elijah called fire from heaven

Elijah’s challenge came during a period after successive kings “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 16:30).

King Ahab had married the Phoenician princess Jezebel. She turned his allegiance from Yahweh to her god Baal and had Yahweh’s prophets slaughtered.

So Elijah called on Ahab to assemble the 450 priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. There he challenged the priests to call on fire from Baal to light a sacrifice.

As the book of 1 Kings relates, Baal failed to respond to the priests’ cries. Then Elijah rebuilt the ruined altar of the Lord and offered a sacrifice. Immediately fire from heaven consumed the offering, even though it had been soaked in water.

Biblical scholar E. M. Blaiklock captures the vividness of the scene: “Picture it — the rabble of priests, their monotonous chant hypnotising the devotees to the point when they slashed body and limb in wild passion, the shaggy prophet sitting near and mocking their vain supplications, Ahab’s tent and rich entourage, the great curve of the watching, waiting host. Then the stab of fire and the burning sacrifice . . . .”

 

Statue marks site

Mount Carmel

Statue of Elijah slaying a Baal priest at Muhraka (© Biblicalisraeltours)

On the south-eastern peak of Mount Carmel, the site is now known as Muhraka (“the Scorching”).

It is marked by a dramatic stone statue of Elijah, sword raised to heaven as he slaughters a Baal priest, and a small Carmelite monastery, surrounded by a nature reserve.

A superb view takes in the plain of Esdraelon and southern Galilee.

On the plain below is the Kishon brook, where Elijah took the priests of Baal and had them put to death.

 

Caves associated with Elijah

Mount Carmel

Stella Maris Monastery on Mount Carmel (Ilan)

At the western edge of Mount Carmel is Stella Maris Monastery, the world headquarters of the Carmelites, a Catholic religious order.

A small cave under the monastery is held by a Christian tradition to be a place where Elijah occasionally lived — as people on Mount Carmel have lived in caves since prehistoric times.

Opposite the monastery, a footpath down towards the Mediterranean leads to another grotto called Elijah’s Cave. Here the prophet is said to have meditated before his encounter with the priests of Baal. The cave is also thought to be where Elijah established a “school of prophets”.

Mount Carmel’s most spectacular religious memorial, however, is the Baha’i Shrine of the Báb, which runs in manicured terraces up the northern slope. The site is a sacred place for Baha’is around the world.

Sites in the area:

Stella Maris Monastery

Elijah’s Cave

Baha’i Shrine

 

In Scripture:

Elijah triumphs over the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18:1-40

 

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)

 

External links

Mount Carmel (Wikipedia)
Mount Carmel (BiblePlaces)
Mount Carmel (Catholic Encyclopedia)
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