Haifa - From Elijah the Prophet to the Church of St. John
Which city in the Holy Land is a place where the country's three religions meet? Quite a few cities qualify for this definition, actually, though the immediate answer that comes to mind is probably Jerusalem. True enough, the country's holiest city is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims. But another city in the Holy Land, which has long been hailed as an example of co-existence between members of the three religions, is also well-worth visiting. It is the city of Haifa.
Haifa is a large port city in the northern region of modern Israel. It is the country's third-largest city, in terms of population. Though it is widely agreed that the city has served as an important port location since ancient times, its origins are shrouded in mystery, as ancient sources do not mention it (nor is there a definitive interpretation for the city's name). However, the city is built on Mount Carmel which is widely recognized as the location where the biblical Prophet Elijah has challenged the prophets of Baal. As the years passed, the city has seen many conquerors and residents, but maintained its importance through the centuries. In the early 20th century, the great Zionist visionary Theodore Herzl predicted that it will become the "City of the Future" for Jewish state. By the time of Israel's declaration of independence, the city was known for its varied population and to this day it is a place where Jews, Christians and Muslim live in friendship and mutual respect.
There are many places worth visiting on a trip to Haifa, but in this article we will focus on the notable Christian sites. The main site to visit in Haifa is undoubtedly the Stella Maris Monastery. The Monastery's current structure was completed in 1853, but members of The Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, also known as Carmelites, have been practicing their faith in the area since the Third Crusade in the 12th Century. The Monastery is a beautiful and inspiring place to visit: the chapel's ceiling is masterfully painted, presenting scenes from both the Old and New Testament accompanied by biblical verses, and prominent members of The Order are commemorated in each of the chapel's four corners.
The Carmelites also operate the St. Joseph Church in Haifa, the city's first Latin Church. It opened in 1867 and the current structure dates to 1961. The place has gained renown for its beautiful architecture that allows natural lighting to fill the place, and the variety of painting, sculptures and mosaics devoted to the life of St. Joseph.
The Saint Elijah Cathedral, also known as The Mar Elias Cathedral, serves Haifa's Greek Melkite Catholic community, which is the city's biggest Christian community. It is a relatively new structure (built in 1938-39) with impressive front that features a mosaic showing Elijah's departure, and beautiful prayer hall that features many stained glass windows showing the beauty of nature and icons of both Old and New Testament figures and scenes.
The Anglican Church of St. John is another impressive structure that is relatively new (1935), featuring Gothic architecture and serving as a school for Christian, Muslim and Druze children of the city. It is used for prayers and celebrations by the city's Episcopalian community, and during the city's "Holiday of Holidays" festival in December – when the city celebrates holidays of all its three faiths – it hosts concerts for all the city's residents to attend.