The memorial to Napoleon Bonaparte’s soldiers, opposite the Stella Maris monastery. Photo: Yaakov Skolnik.
We drive back along Route 672 and head northwards, past Daliyat al-Carmel, Isfiya (Ussefiya) and the University of Haifa, and continue on into the Haifa suburbs at the top of Mount Carmel. From Moria Avenue (Sderot Moria) we continue northwards along Sderot HaNasi, and at the northern end of the street we turn left into Tchernichovsky Street, which will bring us to the Stella Maris Monastery (also known as the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel).
The monastery is situated at the tip of Mount Carmel, at the top of the steep slope where the hill descends into the sea, providing a splendid view of Acco Bay and Western Galilee. Perhaps because of its beauty, the tip of the Carmel Ridge was considered sacred in ancient times too, and pagan temples were constructed there. Rituals were performed in honor of the god Adonis, who, like Elijah, was believed to have the ability to bring rain.
The Carmelites have been in possession of this area of the Carmel since the 17th century, but it was not until 1767, after the Bedouin ruler Dahr al-Omar came to power, that the monks were able to begin construction of the Stella Maris monastery. The French consul of the time helped them to acquire the longed-for permit, and ever since then, that area of Mount Carmel has been known as “French Carmel.” Building, however, was interrupted by a number of events, and the monastery was not inaugurated until 1836. Thereafter it became an important feature of the area, and served as a medical center for the local people. Today it is a spiritual center for Carmelites worldwide.
Elijah's statue. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
The symbol of the Carmelite Order - which depicts Mount Carmel with a cross on its summit and Elijah’s sword above it, surrounded by the inscription “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts” – is engraved over the main doorway. On the door itself is a sculpted relief of Elijah brandishing his sword.
The main hall of the church is very impressive. The ceiling is decorated with colored paintings that depict scenes from the Bible and the New Testament: Elijah’s ascent to heaven in a whirlwind, King David playing upon the harp, the Holy Family and the four evangelists. Verses from the Bible are inscribed in Latin around the ceiling dome.
Over the altar is a statue of the Virgin Mary (Our Lady of Mount Carmel). Beside it steps descend to a crypt in the form of a cave hewn into the rock. Inside is a stone altar bearing a sculpture of Elijah, who, according to Christian tradition, once lived in the cave. The museum attached to the monastery displays artifacts from the ancient Byzantine church.
The monastery is linked to Napoleon Bonaparte’s unsuccessful campaign to conquer Palestine in 1799: when he retreated from Acco he left behind at the monastery those of his soldiers who had fallen ill with the plague. Those who survived were murdered by the Ottomans, and a stone in the form of a pyramid – intended to remind visitors that the French had attacked Israel from Egypt – was erected in their memory in front of the monastery.The Carmelite Order
The Carmelite Order was founded on Mount Carmel in the 12th century by a monk named Berthold. During this period the region was ruled by the Crusaders, and the first monks to follow Berthold’s example built themselves a center in Nahal Siah (today part of Haifa, this gully is located below the Kababir neighborhood). When the Crusader kingdom fell, the Carmelites made their way to Europe, and did not return to Mount Carmel until the 17th century, when they were granted rights to Elijah’s Cave and the summit of Stella Maris. At first they lived in holes in the rock around the cave, until in 1767 they built the Stella Maris monastery at the top of Mount Carmel, the chapel inside the cave and Deir al-Muhraka.Elijah’s Cave
Elijah's cave. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive
The best way to reach the monastery is to descend on foot from Stella Maris to Elijah’s Cave, continue on to the main road and then return to Stella Maris by way of the cable car. It is, course, possible to climb back up from the cave on foot, but the ascent is steep. The cave can also be reached by car: drive along the coast road (Sderot HaHagana), and beside the Naval Museum turn on to Allenby Road (Derekh Allenby)). Elijah’s Cave is situated adjacent to the turn from Sderot HaHagana into Allenby Road.
The path that leads down from Stella Maris departs from the parking lot opposite the monastery and descends conveniently through abandoned terraces. After some 300 meters, it arrives at the Sacred Heart Chapel, a small white-domed church that dates back to the 19th century. It is closed to visitors and reserved exclusively for the inhabitants of the monastery, who use it for prayer and contemplation. The chapel site offers a magnificent view of the coastline.
Some 400 meters further on the path leads us to Elijah’s Cave, which also appears to have been considered a holy site for a very long time indeed. Dozens of Greek inscriptions dating back to the Byzantine period were found on the walls of the cave, together with two drawings of a seven-branched menorah. According to ancient tradition, Elijah took refuge here from his persecutors and pursuers. The cave is an official holy site under the jurisdiction of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs.