Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mount Carmel

The reading from Hebrew scripture for Proper 4C (I Kings 18:20-21, 30-39) takes us to the slopes of Mount Carmel for a "Battle of the Prophets" between Elijah all alone and the prophets of Baal numbering 450+. God shows up, answering the prayers of Elijah and putting the prophets of Baal to shame. God lights a fire for a sacrifice even though both the offering and the altar have been thoroughly soaked with water.

Mount Carmel has a fairly extensive association with Elijah; so much that a group of hermits took to living in the caves of Mount Carmel, in imitation of Elijah. Even before Elijah, though, the heights of Mount Carmet were the site of worship. We know this because Elijah repaired the altar to Yahweh that had fallen into disrepair (I Kings 18:30).
Pietro Lorenzetti. Hermits at the Fountain of Elijah. 1328-29. Siena, Italy: Pinacotheca Nazionale.
In the picture above by Pietro Lorenzetti, hermits are near the Fountain of Elijah, dressed in their Carmelite habit - including a striped cloak designed to symbolize Elijah's cloak which was scorched as he went up to heaven in the chariot of fire. The order later received papal dispensation to change these cloaks because they were a source of ridicule outside the monastery. 
Pietro Lorenzetti. St. Albert Presents the Rule to the Carmelites. 1327-1329. Siena: Pinacotheca Nazionale. For this painting, see: http://pinacotecanazionale.siena.it/?page_id=29#!prettyPhoto[opere]/0/
By the 13th century, the Carmelites had received a rule and their members had founded other Carmelite communities, changing the order from one of hermits to an order of mendicant friars. Currently the Stella Maris Monastery, built in the 19th century, sits on the slope of Mount Carmel directly above a cave or grotto traditionally identified as one of the caves of Elijah.

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