The Biblical Roots of Our Lady and Mount Carmel
Where does Mount Carmel appear in Scripture?
Mount Carmel was first mentioned as a “Holy Mountain” by the Egyptians in the 16th century BC. By the 9th century BC, wayward Israelites under King Ahab worshiped the false god, Baal. The prophet Elijah challenged the king to bring 450 false prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel for a showdown.
The false prophets built an altar and implored Baal for hours to answer their prayers and accept the sacrifice, but nothing happened. By noon, Elijah suggested that their god was asleep or on a journey and told them to cry louder, still to no avail.
Elijah then prepared the altar of the Lord with stones and wood and dug a large trench around it. He instructed the people to douse the wood and the offering with so much water that it ran off the altar and filled the trench.
He called the Lord God to accept his sacrifice and prove to the people that the Lord is indeed God. Immediately, fire from heaven came down and “consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:37-38)
Following this episode, Elijah climbed to the very top of Mount Carmel and bent his head toward the ground, praying for an end to the three-year drought. Never doubting that God would provide for his people, he sent his servant seven times to look to the sea for a sign of rain.
Finally, a little cloud appeared rising on the horizon. Elijah sent King Ahab away before the heavens grew black and heavy rain fell. (1 Kings 18:41-45)
According to tradition, the cloud was in the shape of a foot. Elijah understood this to represent the foot of the one who would crush the head of the serpent: the Mother of the Messiah. (Genesis 3:15)
The Origin of the Carmelite Order
Over 1,000 years later, St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, funded the building of a monastery in honor of Elijah. It was later destroyed by the Persians, rebuilt, and again destroyed by the Muslims. In 1155, with the Holy Land freed by the Crusaders, St. Berthold and 10 companion hermits settled on Mount Carmel. They built a small chapel dedicated to Mary under the title of “Our Lady, Star of the Sea”.
By the mid-1200’s, Muslim harassment forced the monks of the Carmelite Order to abandon the place and take refuge in England on land given them by Sir Richard the Grey.
It was here that Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock and gave him the brown scapular with the promise of heavenly protection in life and in death. It was then that she became known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
More Fire from Heaven
An event occurred in modern Portugal involving fire from heaven that was strikingly similar to Elijah’s experience on Mount Carmel. On October 13th, 1917, in Fatima, the sun began to fall from the sky and proceeded to consume all the rainwater that had drenched everyone the night before. This is now known as the “Miracle of the Sun”.
Just as a great sign appeared in the sky for Elijah in the form of a cloud—prefiguring how the Virgin Mary would crush the head of the serpent with her Fiat—so too did Our Lady give us a sign in the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima.
During this great miracle, Mary appeared to the shepherd children as Our Lady of Mount Carmel and offered them both a brown scapular and a rosary. She urged them to hold fast to the spiritual weapons she had given them in the face of what was to come (World War II) and to persevere in prayer and fasting for souls.
Some have questioned the origins of the brown scapular (and even the rosary) but Our Lady herself encouraged recourse to these sacramentals in Fatima. The extra grace we gain from faithful participation in these devotions empowers us to crush the head of the serpent in our own lives.
“I open my mouth and speak of her: gain wisdom for yourselves at no cost. Take her yoke upon your neck that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her.” (Sirach 51: 25-26)
Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Today
Following in her footsteps, we say “Yes” to God’s plan in each moment of the day and participate in her sacred ministry of bringing souls to Jesus. Let us all take on the yoke of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, seek her wisdom, and honor her all the days of our lives.
Founder of Scapulars.com
Read More: Everything You Need to Know about the Promises of the Brown Scapular, A Closer Look at the Deliverance Cross and Miraculous Medal, St. Pope John Paul II: A Model of Lifelong Devotion to Mary
Sources: NCR, “St. Elijah, Spiritual Father of the Carmelite Order”, New Advent, “CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Elijah”, Britannica, “Mount Carmel”