By Father Richard Hire
Where is Mount Carmel, as in the Virgin Mary title Our Lady of Mount Carmel? Anonymous
Mount Carmel is a famous mountain in Israel in the seacoast city of Haifa. Haifa is situated on a hill overlooking a broad bay on the Mediterranean Sea. Haifa is Israel’s third-largest metropolitan area with a population of 300,000.
F. Ullian says Haifa is like a triple-decker sandwich: 1) the industrial area that comprises Israel’s most important port is the lowest tier, 2) the business district, higher up, is the second, and 3) the Carmel district with its panoramic vistas, nestled even higher on the upper pine slopes, is the third.
One of the southeast peaks of Mount Carmel is the traditional site of the contest between the pagan priests of the god Baal and the Old Testament prophet Elijah. The pagan prophets were unable to call down fire from heaven to consume their sacrifice. Elijah then rebuilt the altar and offered a sacrifice upon which fire fell immediately.
G. Freeman says, at one time, there were some small monasteries on top of the mountain. Frommer says that, in the 12th century, during the Crusader occupation of Mount Carmel, groups of religious hermits began to inhabit the caves of the Carmel district, in imitation of the prophet Elijah, whose life was strongly identified with this mountain. Within a century, these monastic hermits were organized into the Carmelite order. Although the Carmelites spread throughout Europe, the founders on the Carmel range were exiled by the Mamluks in 1291 and did not return until the 18th century.
Construction of the present monastery and basilica began in 1836. The beautiful church exhibits bright and vivid Italian marble. Colorful paintings on the dome from the 1920s depict episodes from the Old Testament, such as the scene of Elijah swept up to heaven in a fiery chariot. There is also a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary carved from the famous cedar of Lebanon with a porcelain head dating from 1820. This statue is called Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The cave situated below the altar, which you can walk down into, is believed to have been inhabited by Elijah. By the church is also the Stella Maris Lighthouse. Baedeker mentions that, by the church, a track leads up to the School of the Prophets.
The cave at the foot of the ridge is held to be the one in which Elijah hid from the kings of Israel. Elijah’s cave is rectangular with a modern closure wall.
K. Prag says there is a niche on the east side of the cave where the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) is said to have rested on their return from Egypt, as they were heading toward Nazareth.
K. Prag also mentions that, by the Carmelite monastery, there had been a Byzantine church dedicated to St. Margaret, who was martyred at Antioch in Pisidia (modern Turkey) in the third century A.D. There was also a Greek Orthodox Abbey Church of St. Margaret built around 1192. But these churches no longer exist.
S. de Fiores says the word Carmel comes from two Hebrew words: Karem and el, meaning “garden and vine of God.”
On Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah prayed for life-giving rain after a long drought and then saw a little cloud rising from the sea. This little cloud became a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Already in the fifth century Chrysippus of Jerusalem greets the Blessed Mother as “Hail, Cloud of Rain that offers drink to the souls of the saints.”
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