As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (aka Mormons) we are Christians and believe in the Bible. Along with the amazing outdoor activities to do in Israel, there are so many historical and Biblical sites to visit that it can be truly overwhelming! After studying our options, I made our list of things to see conservatively, since we are only here for a month. I try to give more priority to things that are closer to us, as one of my goals with our travels is to see everything there is to see in our immediate area so that if we happen to come back to a country in the future, we can focus on the things that were further away. Plus, with two little guys, it’s just easier to not go as far. With that being said, we decided to visit a Carmelite monastery built on the traditional site where Elijah had a showdown with the priests of Baal.
As far as Bible stories go, this is an epic one, so I will summarize. Elijah was a prophet of God who was sent to tell the Israelites, along with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, to repent. Jezebel has introduced Baal, a false idol, to their worship and so the people worshiped idols at that time, instead of God. Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a duel of sorts. He went up to the top of Mt. Carmel, and told them to build an altar and pick a ram. He told them to kill the ram and prepare it like they were sacrificing it to Baal, then pray for Baal to provide fire for the burnt offering. They killed and prepared the ram, but when they prayed for fire, no fire came down from heaven. Elijah told them to pray harder- maybe Baal was too busy or they weren’t faithful enough. So, they prayed harder, they cut themselves, they did everything in their repertoire of idol worship to bring down fire for the sacrifice. Nothing happened. Next, Elijah built an altar and killed and prepared his ram. He then asked people to bring jugs of water and completely soaked the ram, the stones surrounding the ram, and a trench around that with water. Then, he prayed and fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, even though it was soaked in water. Many people believed in Elijah’s God after that. He killed the priests of Baal so that they could not lead anyone astray. After the people were convinced to believe in God, the heavens were opened and it rained, ending a terrible drought(1 Kings 18).
We drove to the monastery from Haifa, passing through Mt. Carmel National Park and two small Druze villages. Insider tip: to find the monastery on Google, you must type “Muhraqa Carmelite Monastery,” the full name on Google is “Deir Al-Mukhraqa Carmelite monastery”. Muhraqa means “the sacrifice”. There was ample parking and not many tourists when we visited in the few hours before the start of Jewish Sabbath on Friday afternoon. Upon going in the gate, we were immediately drawn to the large and impressive monument featuring Elijah wielding a sword and stomping on a guy’s head. I was expecting the monument to be of Elijah calling down the fires from heaven, instead of him killing the priests of Baal, but oh well. Across from the monument, a small, simple chapel with a few unique art pieces featuring Elijah, and an altar made of rough hewn stones (not purported to be the same altar Elijah used, but fashioned to look somewhat like what he built with 12 stones for the 12 tribes of Israel).
From the chapel, we stepped back out into the courtyard and saw a sign directing us to the roof of a nearby building. In order to reach the roof, we had to walk through a small gift shop, which I usually avoid especially with our boys that like to touch everything! Just inside the doors of the gift shop were stairs going up to a large rooftop space overlooking the Jezreel valley. It was insanely gorgeous. From up there, I could see Elijah inviting people to walk up the mountain and see the power of God!
From the roof, we could see the valley, many cities off in the distance, and even the Mediterranean! We stayed up on the roof enjoying the view as long as we could, before the boys wanted to move on and explore something else.
Like many other religious sites, it is more about the atmosphere of the place, remembering what took place there and gaining geographical context than it is about having a lot of “attractions” or things for kids to do. At most, we spent half an hour on the grounds, checking out the church and the view, and then the boys played in the garden next to the church for a few minutes. There were beautiful wildflowers, and boys collecting sticks and pine cones before we headed back to our hotel. With the stairs to the roof, this place was not stroller accessible but the parking lot is so close to the church that we did not feel the need for the stroller. We let our little guy, Owen roam free, or held him when inside the church. Although not necessarily a kid-friendly destination, Landon was enthralled with the story and enjoyed the visit just as much as we did!