Carmel, Monastery of

Carmel, Monastery Of.

We give a fuller description of this, one of the chief conventual establishments of Palestine, from Conder, Tent Work, 2, 173 sq.

"Carmel has been a sacred mountain from the time of its earliest appearance in history. Elijah himself repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down (1Ki 18:30), from which we infer that a sacred place, or Makom, had existed on the summit of the mountain at an earlier period, though, according to the Talmud, such high places became forever unlawful after the building of the Temple at Jerusalem. From, Tacitns we learn that Vespasian visited a place on Carmel, Sacred to the deity of the mountain, but without either statue or altar, and even now the Druses hold the site at El-Mahrakah in reverence as a sacred place.

"In the early Christian period the memory of Elijah consecrated Carmel, and it became a favorite resort of hermits, to whom, in A.D. 412, John, the forty-second bishop of Jerusalem, gave a rule of life. In 1185, after Jerusalem had been taken by the Crusaders, a church rose over the sacred grotto of Elijah, and in 1209 a monastery of St. Margaret or St. Brsocardus was built in a steep gorge south of the promontory. We visited from Haifa its ruins, with a cave containing sedilia for the monks and an upper open story, a spring with sedilia beside it, and below, at the opening of the valley, a second spring, and a garden of fruit trees, pomegranates, apricots and figs. The lower spring was called after Elijah, and the title still remains in the corrupted form El-Ilaiyeh ('the snake'), applied to the stream from it. A tradition exists that Elijah turned the fruits of the garden to stone, and the huge geodes in the white, chalk of the valley are shown as the petrified fruit. This monastery was sacked by the Saracens in 1235, the monks were massacred and thrown into a rock-cut tank by the flower springs, and hence the place is still called 'the Valley of Martyrs.' In 1245 St. Simon Stock, a Kentish man, became general of the Carsmelites. He is said to have received from the Virgin the scapular or distinctive tabard worn by the monks of this order; for sixteen years he lived in a caves on Carmel, and was visited by St. Louis during his Stay in Palestine. The monastery of St. Bertoldo was built around this cave, and its ruins are still shown on the slope northwest of the present building, under the lighthouse, near the chapel containing the cave of Simon Stock. In 1291, however, the Saracens fell upon the monks while chanting the 'Salve Regina,' and massacred them all.

The history of the two subsequent monasteries gives a good example of that energy and persistence which once formed the main characteristics of the Church of Rome. In 1620 the order of Carmelites was extinct in Palestine, when a certain father Prospero, of the monastery of Biskcaglia, near Genoa, was ordered by his general to proceed with his monks to Persia — probably he was found to be a dangerous man at home, for his history bears witness to his ambitious and energetic character. He got no farther than Carmel, where he left his companions and returned to Rome to obtain leave from the Propaganda to establish an missionary hospice on the mountain. In a second journey he obtained from the pope the title of prior for himself and his successors, and, in 1631, he bought the land round the Grotto of Elijah, where the present monastery stands, and round the cave called 'School of the Prophets' (now EI-Khudr) at the foot of the promontory. He erected chapels in both places, but a Moslem dervish succeeded in establishing himself at the latter place, and in 1635 the Moslems took it by force and made it a mosque. Quarrels and persecutions followed; in 1653 robbers stripped father Pirospero and tied him to a tree. Soon after he lied, and was buried in the upper chapel. In 1761 the famous Dhahr el'Amr had already made himself lord of Acre and king of Galilee; he despoiled the monastery, and in 1767 ordered its destruction, on the plea that it was in a dangerous position, on the slope, of the hill. In 1775 he was beheaded at Acre, and his son Aly in revenge massacred all the monks.

"In 1799 the sick of Napoleon's army were sheltered in the monastery, but, on his retreat, they were all killed by the Moslems. A pyramid in the front garden of the monastery marks the grave where their bones were afterwards laid by the monks. In 1821, by order of the pacha of Acre, the monastery was destroyed, and the new monks arriving from Europe saw it in flames on the hill-top. Warned by the natives not to land, they returned to Europe, but three of them came back in 1825 Fra. Gianbattista of Frascati. Fra Matteo of Philippopolis, and Fra. Giusto of Naples. They built the present monastery from a design by the first named, land so strong has it been made, with high walls and an apse which affords flank protection on the east (where as, as being more exposed, there is a ditch), that the monks need scarcely fear further massacre; 130 other massacres. In 1830 other monks arrived. In 1872 Fra Matteo died, in extreme old age, the last survivor of the three founders.

"Situate at the end of the ridge, five hundred feet above the sea, reached by a steep ascent of steps, and guarded by a carefully constructed entrance to the courtyard and by savage dogs, the old monastery stands facing the fresh breeze, and surrounded by vineyards and gardens, among which small chapels are dedicated to the Virgin, to St. John Baptist, and to St. Theresa, patroness of the barefooted, or Reformed, Carmelites. The huge pile square and lofty, with a dome to its chapel, and a broad, flat roof, looks more like a castle than a house of devotion. Seventeen monks inhabit it, but there is room for thirty, and beds are provided for twenty-eight guests besides. The monastery owns three hundred goats and twenty oxen, the monks dry tobacco for snuff, and make a scent called 'Elu de Carme,' from the flowers of the mountain. They are supposed only to eat meat when ill, but it is said that if a deer is shot, some of the brethren are at once placed on the sick-list; fish they may eat, and they include under this category anything staying longer in the water than on land in — as, for instance, wild-duck and other sea-fowl. Living in the monastery for six weeks, I found the monks to be good-natured and fond of gossip, but fully convinced that in England the sun was never seen, and that the people all lived on potatoes and cold meat.

"The chapel of the monastery is octagonal, and under the high-altar is a cave five yards long sand three yards broad, with an altar of rock dedicated to Elijah. Lighting two tapers, the lay brother drew back a curtain and showed us the statue of the Madonna del Carmine over the high-altar, well modeled in wood, life-size, and robed in white satins, with the infant on her right arm, ands in her left hand some of the little square black charms so often worn round the neck ins Italy, The statue was made in Genoa early in this century. The niche is surrounded with silver lamps offered by pilgrims. Tradition says that in the little cloud over the sea Elijah beheld the future Virgin Mother typified. It is remarkable however, that the native Christians prefer to offer vows to the old wooden statue of Elijah on a side altar. It is covered with chains, bracelets, and anklets presented by peasants. A gold Austrian coin, worth five Napoleons, is hung round its neck, with a filigree silver cross presented by an English convert. There is nothing remarkable in the chapel, which is gaudily painted in modern Italian style. Over a side altar, to the south, the heart of the count of Craon lies entombed, having been brought to the monastery in 1864.

"Carmel is remarkable for the profusion of its flowers. In November we found on its sides the cytisus, crocuis, narcissus, the pink cistus, and large camomile daisies, the colocasia, and the hawthorn in bud. The Judas tree I have also twice found in remote parts, and in spring, wild tulips, the dark red anemone, like a poppy, the beautiful pink phlox, the cyclamen, little purple stocks, large marigolds, wild geranium, and saxifrage, with rock roses of three kinds, pink, yellow, and white. Butterflies also flourish; orange-tips, sulphurs, the great swallow-tail (Machaonm), and a transparent species something like the Apollo, apparently peculiar to the Mountain, are the commonest."

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