Devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Feast Day: today 16th. July


From Spiritual Reflections

Statue of Saint Elias the Prophet at Stella Maris on Mount Carmel

“One day with the Rosary and the Scapular, I will save the world.” –Our Lady to St. Dominic/Bl. Alan On the summit of Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land (home of the Prophets Elias and Eliseus) stands the imposing Carmelite Monastery founded in 1156. According to Carmelite tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St, Simon Stock, 6th General of Carmelite Order in 1251, holding a SCAPULAR IN HER HAND. As she gave it to him, she said: “This shall be the privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall be saved.”

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Monastery, Haifa, Israel

She also directed him to found a Confraternity, the members of which should consecrate themselves to her service and wear this scapular.(When the brown scapular cannot be worn, a scapular medal may be subsituted). The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel commemorates the favors granted by Our Lady ofn Mt.Carmel. In 1726, the Feast was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Benedict XIII.

PRAYER: Virgin, Mary of Mount Carmel.
Whom in ancient prophecy God revealed to Saint Elijah By an Oriental sea, Rise again on God’s creation. Bring to bloom this arid place With the white cloud of your beauty And the rainfall of your grace. May the prayers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel, protect us and bring us to your holy Mountain, Christ Our Lord, Amen.

In 1816 Brother John Baptist Casini was sent to Mount Carmel to organise the restoration of the monastery, which had been damaged during the Napoleonic campaign in the Middle East. Once back in Rome to present his plans to the General Superiors he was ordered to muster the necessary funds. On his journey, lasting several years and taking in the major capital cities of Europe, he also gathered every type of furnishing necessary for the decoration of the church and priory. He arrived at Genoa in the spring of 1820 and during his stay he commissioned the sculptor Giovanni Battista Garaventa to carve a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be placed above the high altar. The statue was soon ready, carved from wood with finely rounded head and hands, and a roughly shaped body dress- ed in finery. When the work was finished the statue was displayed for a few days in the Discalced friars’ church of St Anne, Genoa and then on the 20th of December, 1820 Br. John Baptist left for Malta, where he arrived on the following 4th of January. The statue was received in Malta with solemnity and brought to Cospicua. Later, when Br. John Baptist left for Istanbul, the Ottoman capital, the image was displayed for the veneration of the faithful in the Capuchin church. Brother John Baptist had gone to Istanbul to ask for permission to begin work on the restoration of the priory on Mount Carmel, but was unsuccessful because of the war going on between the Greeks and the Turks at the time, so he left for Cyprus, bringing the statue with him and displaying it in the Franciscan church there. From Cyprus he made for Haifa, only to witness from the ship the destruction of the priory. He set off for Europe once more and left the ship at Toulon, bringing the statue with him, which received a solemn welcome wherever it went. The journey proceeded via Marseilles, Naples, Gaeta, Civitavecchia and finally Rome, where the statue was solemnly crowned at the Vatican on the 4th of March, 1823 in the presence of Pope Pius VII.

The Statue Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Monastery of Stella Maris, Haifa

While work on the church on Mount Carmel was awaiting completion the im- age remained in Rome at the General house until 1835, when it was brought to Mount Carmel and placed on a side-altar until the throne that had been planned for it could be found. The statue was finally solemnly enthroned on the 10th of June, 1836, the day when the shrine was solemnly blessed and regular life in the community was officially re-established. During the First World War the statue was removed to the Latin parish in Haifa, run by the Discalced Carmelites, to avoid any possible damage. It was solemly re-installed in 1919 when the war was over. In 1932 the statue returned to Italy. The previous year, to commemorate the tercentenary of the Discalced Carmelites’ return to Mount Carmel, the monastery had hosted the General Chapter. Because it was felt that the statue’s clothes were not in accord with its ornate surroundings, it was decided to have the clothes carved in wood. Br Luigi Poggi, conventual on Mount Carmel carved a copy to be enthroned temporarily, while the head and hands of the original were sent off to Rome. The body was carved in Lebanese cedar, with instructions to keep to the same proportions and pose as the original. The work was entrusted to Emanuele Rieda, who finished it in less than a year.

The statue’s return to Mount Carmel was accompanied by great celebrations. In July and August the image was displayed in the Discalced Carmelites’ Roman churches and was blessed by Pius XI on the 25th of July, 1933. At the end of August it was brought to Naples where three days’ solemn feast was kept. Finally on the 1st of September it was loaded onto the steamer Helouan bound for Haifa. On the journey the statue was accompanied by Discalced Carmelite students from the International College, bound for Mount Carmel where they were to study philosophy. The steamer made port at Alexandria in Egypt and Port Said and reached Haifa on the 8th of September. The statue was escorted by a long procession made up of civil and religious leaders, all the Catholic groups in Haifa and a group of pilgrims who had come specially from Europe. In the evening it was solelmly enthroned above the high altar in the basilica.

CHRISTIAN LEGENDS ON MOUNT CARMEL

The Christians of the fourth century were eager to give some sort of geo- graphical foundation to the places and events recounted in the Bible, whose place-naming is deliberately vague, or at least problematic according to modern standards. Only recently had they been permitted to express their faith openly and they wanted to rediscover their geographical roots. This desire gave rise to what we now know as the “holy places” in the Holy Land, many of whose historical found- ations are open to dispute. One case in particular concerns those locations linked with the life and times of the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel. A long-established tradition of legends retailed for pious and curious pilgrims and visitors has grown up around two ancient holy sites on the Mount: the cave at the foot of the promontory, and the plateau of the promontory itself. The Discalced Carmelites were con- vinced of the truth of these legends when they came to live on the mountain in the early 1600’s, re-establishing there a long-standing tradition of religious life.

Entrance to Elias’ Cave

The cave at the foot of the hill, called the “School of the Prophets” by the Discalced Carmelites, has a long tradition behind it as a cultic site. From time immemorial it had been dedicated to fertility rites, and in the Christian era a monastery was built nearby, dedicated to St. Elijah, which was destroyed when the Persians arrived in 614. Around the year 1150 a monk from Calabria refounded the mon- astery which was probably destroyed in 1291. From then on the cave was known as a place of pilgrimage for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

The object of the first known legend concerning the cave is not Elijah but Jesus and is preserved in a document entitled Toledoth Yeshu. According to one version Jesus, who was being followed by Rabbi Yehuda the Gardener, fled to the cave and shut the door behind him with a magic spell. Rabbi Yehuda opened it again with a prayer. Jesus, having transformed himself into a cockerel, flew out of the cave to settle on the plateau above. The text is the first documentary source to mention the cave. Medieval Christian travellers visiting Palestine were unanimous, on grounds unknown, in holding that the cave was the home of the prophet Elijah. John Phocas wrote in c.1170: “At the seaward end of the mountain range opens the cave of the prophet Elijah, whence, after an angelic life, he was caught up into heaven”. In 1212 Willibrand of Oldenburg records: “Mount Carmel is found by ascending from Haifa in a straight line. There one can still see and venerate Elijah’s home, where he lived and was fed by a crow and where latterly the Shunamite woman went to look for Elisha”.

These statements, taken up by later writers, formed part of the collective picture. Thus, when Prosper of the Holy Spirit obtained permission from Emir Ahmed Turabay in 1631 to live on the Mount, it was natural that he build a hermitage by the Cave of Elijah. The Discalced Carmelites’ perception of the cave receives its fullest expression in the work of a contemporary historian, the French Discalced Carmelite Louis of St.Teresa (+1666): “The very high headland or promontory of Carmel overlooks the sea and is the holiest part of the moun- tain. Our holy father Elijah dwelt there and from there he saw Our Lady in the form of a little cloud; it was there that he prayed for fire to come down from heaven and consume the two captains and their soldiers, and was the place of many other miracles besides. A small cave carved out of the rock of the mountain is found there, which the locals call in their native Arabic el-Khader, meaning Green, since it was the dwelling of our holy father Elijah, whom the orientals call the Green One, because he is still alive and youthful. Within this cave is another, dedicated to Our Lady. They say this was the holy prophet’s cell, and that he was accustomed to gather his disciples in the large cave as if it were an oratory”. This latter statement, that the cave was where Elijah used to gather his disciples for prayers and instruction is at the root of the name “School of the Prophets”, by which the Carmelites knew it.

According to the same document,”926 years before Christ our father St. Elijah received orders from God to found a Congregation of men who would profess vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Elijah chose Carmel as the site of his first monastery, in the cave in question, where he related to his disciples the secrets revealed to him by God after the Baalite priests had been killed”. Commenting on the little cloud which rose from the sea bringing abundant rain to a parched land, the author comments: “In this vision (of the cloud) God revealed the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady to the prophet, as well as her virginity, motherhood and the graces she would communicate to men by means of her prayers”. For this reason Elijah decided to consecrate the Order to her as the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. John Baptist of St Alexis, who built the first monastery on the plateau of the headland, was familiar with the above legends and adds still others. He reports that the Carmelite hermits, whom he calls Essenes, living in the Cave of Elijah, had the good fortune of speaking to Our Lady as a child when she was brought on a visit to Carmel by her parents Anne and Joachim. She in her turn often went there with Joseph and the boy Jesus. Later, Jesus preached on Carmel. On their way back from Egypt, the Holy Family would have spent the night in the little cave carved in the walls of the larger cave, then known as the Cell of Elijah. For this reason Christians called it the cave of Our Lady. After Pentecost Our Lady returned to Nazareth whence she often went to visit the hermits of the cave in the company of a troupe of virgins, for whom she founded a convent nearby.

Mount Carmel and the Mediterranean sea

The north-eastern tip of Mount Carmel touches the sea, making a promontory marking the southern edge of the Bay of Haifa. Above, on the promontory itself, there is a huge plateau known as the “esplanade” on which the lighthouse and priory of Stella Maris are situated. This also was a cultic site, as demonstrated by a votive pedestal dating from the late Empire, dedicated to Jupiter Carmelus Heliopolitanus. The first building on the site, towards the 5th or 6th century, was a Byzantine monastery, probably destroyed by the Persians in 614. The Greek monks claimed it had been built by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine.

Towards the year 1170 the Templars built a watchtower over the ruins, which Pasha Abdallah destroyed in 1821 to build his villa. The Greek Orthodox, convinced that the tower had been a part of their monastery, called it the Tower of St Helena, a name the Latins also accepted. The Greek monastery was rebuilt dur- ing the Crusades not far from its original site and dedicated to St. Marina, which the Latins named “the monastery of St Margaret”. In 1799, before the Carmelites built their monastery where Stella Maris now stands, John Baptist of St Alexis traced out a ground plan of the ruins on the terrace in which he drew attention to a tomb similar to a cistern; a square oratory, probably funerary, backing into the wall of the tomb; a monastery; and a wall, which John Baptist thought came from a church built around the tomb but which probably came from the encircling wall.

The tomb-cistern contained a stone shelf on which a corpse lay. The Carmelites, following a local tradition, called it “Elijah’s bed”, the place where the prophet slept. Formerly entry to the tomb was by a hole in the ceiling, shut with a stone. Probably this was the reason why the legend sprang up that this was the cave in which Elijah hid from Queen Jezebel’s wrath. All sources from the Crusader period associate Elijah with the cave at the foot of the mountain, and only afterwards did the prophet come to be associated with the plateau. This is perhaps explained by taking into account the expulsions of Christians from the “Cave of Elijah” and the disappearance of St Margaret’s mon- astery after the occupation by the Mamelukes who from 1291 tried to erase all traces of Christianity. The first writer to make an explicit link between the prophet Elijah and the oratory on the plateau seems to have been Francesco Suriano who in 1485 wrote: “0n the upper part of the mountain [Carmel]there is a church built in honour of the prophet Elijah in the place where he did penance. The church is richly painted and decorated. It was there that the Carmelite Order originated”. William of Harlem, who visited in 1489, added that there was an altar there dedicated to Mary the Mother of God consecrated by the Apostle James after the Assumption of Our Lady. Therefore both Elijah and Mary are associated simultaneously with the place, each with a specific spot.

According to Giovanni Zailuardo (1584) “Atop the headland of Carmel there is an old fort and a church dedicated to Our Lady under which there is another, dedicated to the prophet Elijah, where he hid himself when in flight from Jezebel”. The Franciscan Antonio del Castillo’s testimony is particularly valuable, dating from his visit to Carmel in 1628, three years before Fr Prosper of the Holy Spirit’s arrival. After visiting the “Cave of Eliah” [el-Khader], where he came across a Muslim dervish keeping watch, he ascended to the plateau where he was able to see “some sumptuous buildings, obvious proof that there had been a very large church there. This is where Elijah was when he made fire come down from heaven and consume King Ahab’s soldiers. Inside there is a large monastery which belonged to the Carmelite Fathers. It was built in the place where the 450 prophets of Baal had their throats slit”.

When the Carmelites arrived back on Mount Carmel they made a collection of these traditions. Ambrose of St. Arsenius who arrived in 1634, wrote thus to the General of the Order: “At the foot of the Holy Mount one can see the place where the Sons of the Prophets venerated Our Lady even before she was born. The Sunday after the Assumption we visited the first church in the world built in honour of the Mother of God. We saw the remains of a most elegant building, built in four arcades. Behind the altar there is the cave where our holy father St Elijah hid: it is carved out of solid rock. Inside the cave we set up an altar on which we celebrate Mass every now and then. It is right on the top of the promontory. On the Octave of the Assumption we went to see the monastery of St Brocard and ate our frugal meal by the spring of Elijah, about four miles from the primitive church of Our Lady and the cave of St Elijah”. Louis of St Teresa completes the history of the buildings on the plateau: Elijah founded his Order and built the chapel on Mount Carmel which he dedicated to the mother of the future Messiah. It fell in ruins and was rebuilt by his successors in AD 38. Since it was so small another was built in AD 83, which was still standing in 1209 when Albert of Jerusalem gave the Rule to the Latin hermits of Wadi’ain es-Siah. Albert finished building the monastery on the esplanade, started by Aimeric, Patriarch of Antioch, and continued by his brother Berthold.

When John Baptist of St Alexis reached Mount Carmel the topography was already established and it was he who organised all its disparate elements into a single harmonious account: Elijah, after seeing the little cloud from the entrance to his cave on the esplanade, gathered all his disciples and built a chapel there. At the time of Christ, when the Carmelite hermits, baptised in Jerusalem, returned to Mount Carmel, they carved an altar in the rock inside the chapel to celebrate Mass. In the year 83, after the Assump- tion of Our Lady, they altered the chapel, but left the Elijan foundations intact. During the fourth century St Helena enlarged it and later, in 885, the Emperor Basilius had it decorated. At the time of the Crusades the Carmelite Berthold enriched its interior and went to live near it, moving from the wadi to the esplanade. In 1290/91 the Muslims destroyed the chapel which, by a divine inspiration, John Baptist of St Alexis wanted to re- build in 1766.

By Fr. Elias Friedman, OCD CARMEL IN THE HOLY LAND, Il Messaggero di Gesu Bammbino-Arenzano.

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