Stella Maris is a monastery belonging to the Carmelites, an early Catholic order which was established on Mount Carmel during the Crusader Period (1099-1260 CE) in the twelfth century. The name “Carmelite” comes from Mount Carmel, where, according to tradition, the Prophet Elijah was active. He was their spiritual father and their patron. At the beginning, the monks of the order, inspired by the story of Elijah, remained secluded in caves scattered on Mount Carmel, and around 1200 CE they built a small modest church on the western Carmel. With the fall of the Crusader Kingdom, the church was destroyed by the Mamluks and the remaining monks returned to Europe and dispersed.
As the years passed, the Carmelite order grew and its influence was felt in the Christian world. In the seventeenth century, during the Ottoman period (1516- 1917) a group of monks returned to the Carmel and in 1631, they built a small monastery on its peak as well as a modest church. In 1799, the monastery served as a hospital for Napoleon’s army during his siege of Akko. When the French withdrew from the country, the Turks destroyed the monastery. It was rebuilt in 1836 and was called Stella Maris (Star of the Sea in Latin). It is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Israel, serving today as the holiest and most important of the Carmelite monasteries in the world, and in effect, it is the world center of the Carmelite order.
The monastery area includes the splendid church with a painted ceiling depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. At the entryway of the church, there is a small cave which is holy to Christians. It contains an alter upon which is a picture of the Prophet Elijah killing the prophets of Ba’al. According to late Christian tradition from the seventeenth century, Elijah lived in this cave when he fled from the anger of Ahab, king of Israel. Jewish tradition identifies the cave with the burial site of the Prophet Elisha. On the other side of the road, a hiking path begins to descend westward, passing the fortifications which were built to defend a British radar installation located in the lighthouse enclosure. The path, comfortable for walking, then reaches a round structure which is a Carmelite chapel and continues to wind, turning eastward along the slope and finally reaching the Cave of the Prophet Elijah. The path is mostly exposed to sunlight with low bushes and a few trees.
Opposite the monastery, northward, we may visit a lovely mountain lookout point with a spectacular view of Haifa, the Haifa bay, and the Galilee, stretching up to Rosh Hanikra. On clear days in winter, the visitor may also see the snow-covered Hermon peak. From this point, a cable car with transparent walls descends, reaching the Bat Galim promenade, close to the end of the path leading from Stella Maris to Elijah’s cave. The ride takes five minutes.