Stella Maris Church
The Bible tells us that the Prophet Elijah fought on Mount Carmel against prophets of the Baal (Canaanite deity). From then to this day, Carmel Mountain retains its religious significance. According to tradition, Elijah hid in the cave at the slopes of the sea star ridge. Nonetheless, the Carmelite Christians sanctified an additional cave at the top of the ridge and erected a large monastery above, which today constitutes their world centre.
During the late 12th to 13th centuries, the Carmelite Order was established on Mount Carmel but had to leave the Holy Land toward the end of the 13th century due to severe pressure by the Muslims.
During the Ottoman reign, the return of the Carmelites to the Holy Land was sanctioned. An agreement between the Vatican representative and Emir Turbai (local ruler of the Carmel region) concluded that the Carmelites would be given the cave of the Prophet Elijah and the holy summit.
The agreement brought about intense objection from Orthodox and Greek monks -- who were in charge of the holy summit -- and the Darwish Muslims living in the cave. Despite the challenges, the Carmelites managed to hold on to the holy summit above the Prophet Elijah's cave for a period of 140 years.
The monastery's construction began in the days of Bedouin ruler Dahar El-Omar.
The Carmelites were assisted by the French Consul who obtained approval of the Ottoman Sultan through French patronage over the members of the Order and their church.
The ridge was consequently called "French Carmel," a moniker that continues to this day. Construction of the monastery was lengthy and even came to a complete halt at a certain stage. It was only in the beginning of the 19th century that Father Cassini renewed its construction, but the local Ottoman ruler of the time (Abdullah Pasha) intended to blow up the structure. Subsequently, Father Cassini obtained a new permit and through financial contributions, and the monastery's building process was resumed.
Finally in 1836, the monastery was inaugurated and became Haifa's most important and splendorous establishment. It included a medical center and pharmacy which was of great help to the local population.The most beautiful pilgrimage inn in the country also operated as part of the monastery project.The large monastery known as the Stella Maris monastery was destroyed and rebuilt several times until its final establishment in 1836. It serves as the world center for Carmelites. The symbol of the Order is mounted above the entrance to the monastery: a symbol of a cross on top of Mount Carmel and above it, the sword of Elijah followed by this inscription: "I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts" (1 Kings 19:14). An embossment consisting of the image of Elijah lifting up his sword with the torch of faith at its tip is incorporated into the entrance door.
During the erection of the church, monks were assaulted by their neighbors and had to defend their property and church guests.As a result, the monastery's ground floor is constructed of thick walls with a few small openings covered by bars.
The monastery's main hall is luxurious and resembles the shape of a cross. The ceiling of the hall is roofed and decorated with colorful paintings based on motifs from Old and New Testaments: Elijah rising to the heavens, David strings his harp, the prophet Isaiah, the Holy Family and the Four Evangelists. Latin inscriptions of biblical verses are written around the roofed dome.
Above the altar stands the statue of the Virgin Mary carrying Jesus on her knees. The statue is called "our mistress the Carmel." The platform stairs lead to a quarried cave in which a stone altar was built on top of the statue of Elijah. New embossments dedicated to Carmelite figures are hoisted on all four corners of the central hall. At the western wall of the church is a large organ that is played during religious ceremonies and special concerts dedicated to liturgical music.
The church is open all week and entrance is free of charge.
Hours: 08:30-12:00, 15:00-18:00
Address: Stella Maris road, Haifa.