The Stella Maris Basilica and Monastery is located on at the top of Mount Carmel, overlooking the Mediterranean outside Haifa in Israel.
It is owned by the Carmelites, a religious order of the Catholic Church who derive their name from the mount where the Order was founded.
Seeking to emulate the prophet Elijah, and live as hermits on the mountain, several crusaders settled on the Western slopes of Mount Carmel, at the end of the twelfth century. A little later, (somewhere between 1206 and 1214) their leader and Prior, St Brocard, asked the patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert, to provide the group with a written rule of life. This was the originating act of the order, which was named the Carmelites, and it incorporated them into the diocese of Jerusalem.
The group built themselves a chapel in Wadi es-Siah (Mahane David), seven kilometres south of Haifa, a site later excavated by the Carmelite Father Bugatti.
At the end of St. Louis' first crusade to the Holy Land In 1254, he took six Carmelites back to France with him and the Order had begun to found houses throughout Europe from 1238 onwards. However, when St John of Acre fell in 1291, they were forced to withdraw from the Holy Land altogether for several centuries.
It wasn't until 1631 that the Order returned to Israel, led by the Venerable Father Prosper. He had a small monastery constructed on the promontory at Mount Carmel, close to the lighthouse, and the Order lived there, now called the Discalced Carmelites, until 1761, when Daher el-Omar ordered them to vacate the site and demolish the monastery.
The Order then moved to the present location, which is directly above the grotto where the prophet Elijah is said to have lived. Here they built a large church and monastery, first clearing the site of the ruins of a medieval Greek church, known as "the Abbey of St. Margaret" and a chapel, thought to date back to the time of the Byzantine Empire.
This new church was seriously damaged in Napoleon's 1799 campaign. Sick and wounded French soldiers were accommodated in the monastery, and when Napoleon withdrew, the Turks massacred these men, and drove out the monks.
In 1821, Abdallah Pasha of Acre ordered the ruined church to be totally destroyed, so that it could not serve as a fort for his enemies, while he attacked Jerusalem.
When the Order was able to return, they constructed a tomb in the gardens where the massacred were buried, and built a pyramid shaped monument, topped with an iron cross, made by the sailors of the ship The Chateau-Renaud
The current church and monastery, built under the orders of Brother Cassini of the Order, was opened in 1836. Three years later Pope Gregory XVI bestowed the title of Minor Basilica on the sanctuary, and it is now known "Stella Maris", meaning Star of the Sea. For much of the 20th Century it was occupied by the Military, first the British, and later the Israeli, but at the end of their lease it was handed back to the Order, who are working on its refurbishment. There is a pilgrimage centre located there, and there are plans to build a museum and performance amphitheatre.