The three pictures at right are typical of Elijah's iconography. All represent him as a bearded old man with a cloak.
In 1 Kings (Vulgate 3 Kings) 18:20-40 Elijah demonstrates the power of God by pouring twelve jars of water over a pyre prepared with a sacrificial victim. He then called on God to set the sodden wood afire. When God did so, the people repented their worship of Baal. This is why in the first picture at right he holds a flaming sword in his right hand.
The miracle happened on Mount Carmel, and because of it a monastery was established there in the 12th century. The monastery eventually developed into the "Carmelite" order with daughter institutions throughout Europe.
The second picture at right represents Elijah's cleaving of the waters of the Jordan by casting his cloak upon it (2 Kings [Vulgate 4 Kings] 2:8). In the third, an angel feeds him during his exile in the desert (1 Kings 19:5-7). Other works picture the ravens that brought him bread and meat during the great drought (1 Kings 17:1-6) or his ascension to Heaven (2 Kings 2:11-14).
In the ascension account a fiery chariot arrives and the prophet is carried to Heaven "in a whirlwind." Some images have Elijah in the chariot as it ascends (example), but in a mosaic at St. Mark's, Venice, he is carried up by angels. The mosaic is at the east end of the south aisle and faces another at the west end in which it is the body of Jesus that the angels carry aloft. The pairing of these two images reflects the interpretation of the commentators that Elijah's ascent prefigured the Resurrection.1
Elijah's ascent is witnessed by his successor Elisha, who cries pater mi pater mi currus israel, et auriga eius, "My father, my father, Israel's chariot and charioteer." A portrait of Elisha now in the Norton Simon Museum has him holding a scroll with those words..
Prepared in 2018 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University.