Mount Carmel in the Holy Land & Carmelites

The Carmelites and Mount Carmel


The Carmelites are a group of religious of the Catholic Church. Their name derives from Mount Carmel, where their Order took its origin. Toward the end of the 12th century, many Crusaders settled on the western slopes of Mount Carmel, desirous of imitating Elijah the Prophet by living a hermit-like life in the caves of the mountain. Sometimes between 1206.1214, their Prior, St. Brocard, solicited a written rule of life from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert. This act incorporated them into the diocese of Jerusalem and initiated the history of what was to become Carmelite Order. The hermits, who later took the name of Carmelites, then constructed a chapel for themselves in Wadi es-Siah (Mahane David), seven kilometers south of Haifa. Fr. Bagatti O.F.M. excavated the site, and the original chapel brought to light. In 1254, St. Louis conducted six Carmelites back with him from Mount Carmel to France, at the end of his first Crusade. From 1238. Onwards, the Carmelites began to found monasteries in Europe. Still, when St. John of Acre fell in 1291, they had to abandon the Holy Land. In 1631 the Venerable Fr. Prosper returned to Mount Carmel to restore the cradle of the Order in the name of the Discalced Carmelites. He built a small monastery on the point near the Lighthouse, where the Carmelites lived until 1767. They were then ordered by Daher El-Omar to quit the site and demolish their monastery.                                                                                 

The Carmelites moved to the present site, where they constructed a large church and monastery over a cave in which Elijah was said to have lived. To do so, they cleared the location of the ruins of a medieval church known as "the Abbey of St. Margaret,"  and an ancient chapel, most likely from Byzantine times.                                                        

The campaign of Napoleon (1799) led to the new church of the Carmelites being severely damaged. Sick and wounded French soldiers had been placed in the monastery. When Napoleon retreated, they were massacred by the Turks and driven out. When they could return, they gave the dead and honorable burial in the garden and elevated over the tomb a monument to their memory in the form of a pyramid. The sailors of the "Chateau-Renaud" forged an iron cross that was placed on top of the pyramid. In 1821, Abdallah Pasha of Acre ordered the ruined church to be destroyed.                                                                                                

Brother Casini undertook to build a new church and monastery, which was opened in 1836. Three years later, Pope Gregory XVI bestowed on the new sanctuary the title of Minor Basilica. It now goes by the name of "Stella Maris."                                                                     

The head of the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel above the High Altar is the work of Caraventa of Genoa (1820). It was crowned in the Vatican, in the presence of Pope Pius VII, in 1823. About a hundred years later, a body was sculptured out of Cedar of Lebanon Wood and the statue blessed by Pope Pius XI before being sent back to the Holy Land.                             

The paintings in the dome made by Brother Luigi Poggi (1924-1928), the lay-brother of the monastery. They show Elijah elevated in his Chariot of Fire, King David playing his harp, the Saints of the Order, the Prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Holy Family. Below them are depicted the four Evangelists. The base of the dome bears two texts from the Old Testament used in the Mass of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The stained-glass windows portray Elijah in the desert and his Elevation in a fiery chariot.                                                                                      

After the First World War, the monastery was enlarged to the International College of Philosophy of the Order. It had to be closed down on account of the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. Today it houses an extension of the International College of Theology of The Carmelites in Rome. The old college has been transformed into a Pilgrim Hospice.

“The Sacrifice”

          The Carmelites have a small monastery at the place of Elijah’s Sacrifice, “El-Muhraqah,” about thirty kilometers from Haifa. There in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah erected an altar that invoked fire from heaven on the victims ( I Kings 17-19). The Kishon River, where the massacre of the prophets of Baal took place, flows near the mountain.                   

The Bible describes how, after the sacrifice. Elijah's servant saw a cloud from the top of the mountain, which brought rain and broke the prolonged drought. The Carmelites see in the cloud a symbol of the Blessed. Virgin Mary, whence arises their simultaneous devotion to Elijah and the Virgin.