The Discalced Carmelite Friars dedicated their church and monastery in the Holy Land in homage to the “great miracle worker”, the Blessed Virgin of Carmel on the promontory of Mount Carmel in 1836.
Before the blessing of the church, the statue of the Blessed Virgin made a grand tour of Europe. Pope Pius VII received her in his private chapel for his personal veneration on 4th March 1823. His Holiness, seeing the image for the first time, exclaimed:
Bella, bella, bella! Such a devout image! Her virtues are carved in her face! That sculptor could not do what he has done except by revelation from heaven.
In 1932 the statue returned to Italy. The previous year, to commemorate the tercentenary of the Discalced Carmelites’ return to Mount Carmel, the monastery had hosted the General Chapter. Because it was felt that the statue’s garments were not in accord with its ornate surroundings, it was decided to have them carved in wood. Brother Luigi Poggi, conventual on Mount Carmel, carved a copy to be enthroned temporarily, while the head and hands were sent off to Rome.
The body was carved in Lebanese cedar, with instructions to keep the same proportions and pose as the original. In Europe, the work of restoration was entrusted to Emanuele Rieda, who finished it in less than a year.
The statue’s return to Mount Carmel was accompanied by great celebrations. In July and August the image was displayed in the Discalced Carmelites’ Roman churches and was blessed by Pius XI on the 25th of July, 1933.
At the end of August it was brought to Naples where three days’ solemn feast was kept. Finally on the 1st of September it was loaded onto the steamer Helouan bound for Haifa. On the journey the statue was accompanied by Discalced Carmelite students from the International College, bound for Mount Carmel where they were to study philosophy.
The steamer made port at Alexandria in Egypt and Port Said and reached Haifa on 8th of September. The statue was escorted by a long procession made up of civic and religious leaders, all Catholic groups in Haifa and a group of pilgrims who had come specially from Europe. In the evening it was solemnly enthroned above the high altar in the basilica.
CARMEL IN THE HOLY LAND: From its beginnings to the present day [edited for clarity] (pp. 119-120) Edited by Silvano Giordano, OCD; photography by Girolamo Salvatico, OCD Copyright © 1995 by Il Messaggero di Gesu Bambino – Arenzano