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El Muhraqua, the place of Elijah’s sacrifice

El Muhraqa

Perhaps you imagine Mount Carmel as a simple high mountain? In fact it is rather a range of mountains which extends for more twenty kilometers. Its most prominent peak is El Muhraqa - ‘The sacrifice’, which according to Jewish tradition is the place where Elijah’s sacrifice was consumed by fire falling from heaven (1 Kings, 18).

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Muhraqa, panorama - 2006 - ©Photo : Patricia Cardet

It is a site in which Carmelite friars and nuns, especially those who live in Israel, are found. The awe-inspiring 360˚scenery gives an excellent view of the Jezreel Valley, (the valley of Armaggeddon), the valley of the Kishon River, Mount Hermon and the Mediterranean Sea.

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Muhraqa, Statue of Elijah - 2006 - ©Photo: Patricia Cardet
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Muhraqa, Statue of Elijah, detail - 2006 - ©Photo: Patricia Cardet

This view from the top is really splendid. It is easy to imagine the proud prophet of the ONE God, the Living God, confronting the prophets of Baal and defying the whole people: “How long will you straddle the issue? If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.” Actually, in that gorgeous scenery it is even quite easy to imagine our terrible prophet of God killing the followers of Baal who were corrupting the people. (He wasn’t too ecumenical, our dear Elijah, was he?)

But nowadays this text could be for us full of teaching; we can ask God to be able to discern what “Baals” we worship today, leaving the love of the Holy One, and ask for grace to stay always before him, the Living God, as Elijah did: “How awesome are you, ELIJAH! Whose glory is equal to yours?” (Sirach 48, 4).

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Muhraqa, fire, detail - 2006 - ©Photo: Patricia Cardet

Actually there is a very large difference between that scene full of violence and its message which is the incredible mercy of God. His answer to our prayers outstrips greatly what we ask; so the heavenly fire which consumes the sacrifice of Elijah consumes also the wood, the altar, and finally absorbs all three lots of the water that Elijah had had poured, and God’s mercy restores the covenant with his unfaithful people, for a time. Yes, this sweet mercy of God is hidden in the fire and finally in all that Elijah does!

And soon we are reminded of another scene: the prophet lying face down on the ground, most humble and imploring mercy for the thirsty earth; and his servant returning seven times in vain; till finally the very small cloud “as small as a man’s hand” rises from the sea…

“Look at Elijah, you can see Mary”. This is a word of a Carmelite friar of the 14th century.

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Muhraqa, Chapel, Virgin with Child - 2006 - ©Photo: Patricia Cardet

It might seem strange, but you don’t need to understand, you “feel” it’s true, an intuition impossible to explain. You “know” the Virgin Mary is there without knowing either how or why. May be the only reason is that in all places dear to Carmelites Mary will be present.

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El Muhraqa, Monastery, emblem - 2006 - ©Photo: Patricia Cardet

There is a small community of Carmelite friars there. Elijah’s presence is very important. He is venerated by all the peoples who live in Israel - Jews, Christian and Muslim Arabs, Druses - and the Muhraqa is one of few places where they can all meet in peace. They come for different reasons: for a pilgrimage, to ask some grace or blessing from Elijah; to admire the beautiful landscape; or more simply to spend a joyful holiday with their family. Elijah, the terrible prophet, gathers them. May be he is a bit more ecumenical he seems?

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El Muhraqa, Monastery, pediment - 2006 - ©Photo: Patricia Cardet


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