In the 12th century, during the Crusader occupation of the region, groups of religious hermits began to inhabit the caves of the Carmel District in emulation of Elijah the Prophet, whose life was strongly identified with this mountain. Within a century, these monastic hermits were organized into the Carmelite order; although the Carmelite order spread throughout Europe, its founders on the Carmel range were exiled at the time of the Mamluke conquest in 1291 and did not return until the 18th century. Construction of the present monastery and basilica was begun in 1836. Situated across the street from the Old Lighthouse, with a magnificent view of the sea, the entire ensemble of buildings, including the lighthouse, is known as "Stella Maris." An earlier monastery complex on this site served as a hospital for Napoleon's soldiers during his unsuccessful siege of Acre in 1799. The pyramid in front of the church entryway stands as a memorial to the many abandoned French soldiers who were slaughtered by the Turks after Napoleon retreated from his toehold on the coast near Akko. It bears the inscription "How are the mighty fallen in battle," from King David's lamentation over Saul and Jonathan.
The church is a beautiful structure, with Italian marble so brightly and vividly patterned that visitors sometimes mistakenly think the walls have been painted. Colorful paintings on the dome, done by Brother Luigi Poggi (1924-28), depict episodes from the Old Testament, the most dramatic being the scene of Elijah swept up in a chariot of fire; but the statue of the Virgin Mary, carved from cedar of Lebanon, is also notable. The cave situated below the altar, which you can walk down into, is believed to have been inhabited by Elijah.
Be sure to visit the rooms to the right of the entryway, where you'll find a charming nativity scene, a museum with artifacts from the Byzantine church occupying this same spot before the Carmelites built here, and a small souvenir shop. One of the monks will gladly give you a free pamphlet with information about the history of this site, and the Carmelite order, dating back to the arrival of the Crusaders on this mountain in the late 12th century. They will answer any questions you may have and guide you to the various interesting details of the church, such as the many little votive candles burning on the altar above the cave, each representing a Carmelite community in another country (the United States has its candle up on the left). The views are wonderful. From Stella Maris, Haifa's little aerial cable car can take you down to the Bat Galim Beach Promenade, where you can walk in the Mediterranean or dine at eateries along the waterfront.
- © Frommer's 2013
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Ask Haifa Locals about Stella Maris Lighthouse, Church and Carmelite Monastery
- Recommended 2010
- tel: 04/833-7758
- Stella Maris Rd
- Daily 6:30am-1:30pm and 3-6pm. English Mass Mon-Sat 6:30am; Sun 7 and 9am
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