Mount Carmel

During those timeless moments when darkness blends with light, the lavender and grey ranges of Mount Carmel stand silhouetted against the eastern horizon, illumined by the splendor of the rising sun, sparkling gold across the ripples of a gentle sea.

Mount Carmel on the north Palestinian sea coast is a wooded, cave-honeycombed promontory jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea.  Its highest peak is 1,810 feet, and the general shape of the range is that of a triangle.  Its north-eastern slopes are steep and precipitous, while those on the south-west give way more gradually to the coast.

Nine miles away to the north of the promontory is the city of Acre, formerly one of the strongly fortified cities of the Crusaders.  The city of Haifa is almost at the foot of the Cape Island, and to the eastern side of the range, is the rich Plain of Esdraelon.  On its western flank, verging to the sea is the Plain of Sharon.  The river Kison flows along at the foot of the mountain and enters the Mediterranean towards the north of the promontory. Mount Carmel is not mentioned in the New Testament, but is frequently referred to in the Old Testament.  It is singularly beautiful, which accounts for the origin of its name – ‘Hakkaimel’ in the Hebrew Bible signifies ‘garden’ or ‘orchard’ – as also for the poetical comparison:  “Your head crowns you like Carmel”  (Canticle of Canticles 7:5) and the reference to “ the majesty of Carmel” in Isaiah 35:2.  The greater part of the mount is covered with thickets of evergreen, its commonest trees being the pine, prickly oak, myrtle and olive.  It is remarkable for its profusion of aromatic plants.  Its fertility greatly impressed biblical writers who frequently mention it in parallelism with the Plain of Sharon, Lebanon, Bashan and Gilead (Jer 50:19, Mic 7:14).  That special religious significance was attached to Mount Carmel during biblical times is indicated by I Kings 18:19-40 where it was the scene of the contest between the prophets of Ball and Elijah:  and by II Kings 2: 25, 4:25, where it seems to have served as Elisha’s spiritual retreat, for which reason it was in early times referred to as “the mountain of Elisha” or “the holy promontory.” Traditionally, its woody summits and its labyrinthine caves became the habitation of the prophets and ‘the sons of prophets’ who spent whole periods of their lives there in solitude and in deep contemplation in the presence of Yahweh.  These elements of the spirituality of the prophets the Carmelite Order later adopted as its own.