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The Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or Carmelites (sometimes simply Carmel by synecdoche; ) is a Catholic religious order perhaps founded in the 12th century on Mount Carmelmarker, hence its name. However, historical records about its origin remain uncertain. Saint Bertold has traditionally been associated with the founding of the order, but few clear records of early Carmelite history have survived and this is likely to be a later extrapolation by hagiographers.

Charism and origin

The charism, or spiritual focus, of the Carmelite Order is contemplative prayer. The Order is considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and thus has a strong Marian devotion. As in most of the orders dating to medieval times, the First Order is the friars (who are active/contemplative), the Second Order is the nuns (who are cloistered) and the Third Order consists of laypeople who continue to live in the world, and can be married, but participate in the charism of the order by liturgical prayers, apostolates (ministries), and contemplative prayer. There are also offshoots such as active Carmelite sisters.

Carmelite tradition traces the origin of the order to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel that succeeded the schools of the prophets in ancient Israel, although there are no certain records of hermits on this mountain before the 1190s. By this date a group of men had gathered at the well of Elijah on Mount Carmel. These men, who had gone to Palestine from Europe either as pilgrims or as crusaders, chose Mount Carmel in part because it was the traditional home of Elijah. It was natural that this community of Eastern hermits in the Holy Land should gain constant accessions from pilgrims, and between 1206 and 1214 they received a rule from the patriarch and Papal legate Albert of Jerusalem. The foundation was named the Stella Maris Monasterymarker, in honour of the Virgin Mary in her aspect of Our Lady, Star of the Sea (Latin: Stella Maris). The abbey was destroyed several times, but a refounded monastery still exists at the site.

The original Carmelite Rule of St. Albert addresses a Prior whose name is only listed as "B." When later required to name their founders, the Brothers referred to both Elijah and the Blessed Virgin as early models of the community. Later, under pressure from other European Mendicant orders to be more specific, the name "Saint Bertold" was given, possibly drawn from the oral tradition of the Order.

The rule consisted of sixteen articles, which enjoined strict obedience to their prior, residence in individual cells, constancy in prayer, the hearing of Mass every morning in the oratory of the community, vows of poverty and toil, daily silence from vespers until terce the next morning, abstinence from all forms of meat except in cases of severe illness, and fasting from Holy Cross Day (September 14) until the Easter of the following year.


Early history

The Rule of St. Albert received the approval of Pope Honorius III in 1226. With the increasing cleavage between the West and the East, however, the Carmelites found it advisable to leave their original home, and in 1238 they settled in Cyprusmarker and Sicily.

In 1240 they were in Aylesfordmarker, Kentmarker, Englandmarker, and four years later in southern Francemarker, while by 1245 they were so numerous that they were able to hold their first general chapter at Aylesford, where Simon Stock, then eighty years of age, was chosen general. During his rule of twenty years the order prospered, especially by the establishment of a monastery at Parismarker by Saint Louis in 1259.

Reforms within the Order

In the 14th and 15th centuries the Carmelites, like other monastic orders, declined and reform became imperative. Shortly before 1433 three monasteries in Valaismarker, Tuscany, and Mantuamarker were reformed by the preaching of Thomas Conecte of Rennesmarker and formed the congregation of Mantua, which was declared independent of the order by Pope Eugene IV. In 1431 or 1432 the same pope sanctioned certain modifications of the Carmelite rule and, in 1459, Pope Pius II left the regulation of fasts to the discretion of the general. John Soreth, who was then general and had already established the order of Carmelite nuns in 1452, accordingly sought until his death in 1471 to restore the primitive asceticism.

In 1476, a bill of Pope Sixtus IV founded the Carmelites of the Third Order, who received a special rule in 1635, which was amended in 1678. The 16th century saw a number of short-lived reforms, but it was not until the second half of the same century that a thorough reformation of the Carmelites was carried out by Saint Teresa of Ávila, who, together with Saint John of the Cross, established the Discalced Carmelites.

Out of concern over the advent of Protestantism, the order was now inspired with a new asceticism and fervour. In 1593, the Discalced Carmelites had their own general, and by 1600 they were so numerous that it became necessary to divide them into the two congregations of Spainmarker and of Italymarker, or St. Elise, the latter including all provinces except Spain. Henceforth there were four Carmelite generals: the general of the Observantines, of the independent congregation of Mantua, and of the two congregations of the Discalced Carmelites. Other reforms within the Order include those of Tourainne and Mantua.

It was the Discalced Carmelites who undertook the difficult task of reclaiming the original place where the Carmelite Order began and establish the Stella Maris Monasterymarker on Mount Carmelmarker, under Muslim rule and subject to the vissicitudes of Ottoman power struggles and wars.

Controversies with other orders

By the middle of the 17th century the Carmelites had reached their zenith. At this period, however, they became involved in controversies with other orders, particularly with the Jesuits. The special objects of attack were the traditional origin of the Carmelites and the source of their scapular. The Sorbonnemarker, represented by Jean Launoy, joined the Jesuits in their polemics against the Carmelites.

Papebroch, the Bollandist editor of the Acta Sanctorum, was answered by the Carmelite Sebastian of St. Paul, who made such serious charges against the orthodoxy of his opponent's writings that the very existence of the Bollandists was threatened. The peril was averted, however, and in 1696 a decree of Juan Tomás de Rocaberti, archbishop of Valencia and inquisitor-general of the Holy Office, forbade all further controversies between the Carmelites and Jesuits. Two years later, on November 20, 1698, Pope Innocent XII issued a brief which definitely ended the controversy on pain of excommunication, and placed all writings in violation of the brief upon the Index.

Modern history

The French Revolution, the secularization in Germany, and the repercussions on religious Orders following the unification of Italy were heavy blows to the Carmelites. By the last decades of the 19th century, there were approximately 200 Carmelite men throughout the world. At the beginning of the 20th century, however, new leadership and less political interference allowed a rebirth of the Order. Existing provinces began refounding provinces that had gone out of existence. The theological preparation of the Carmelites was strengthened, particularly with the foundation of St. Albert's College in Rome.

By 2001, the membership had increased to approximately 2,100 men in 25 provinces, 700 enclosed nuns in 70 monasteries, and 13 affiliated Congregations and Institutes. In addition, the Third Order of lay Carmelites count 25-30,000 members throughout the world. Provinces exist in Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, Malta, Poland, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia. Delegations directly under the Prior General exist in Portugal, the Czech Republic, the Philippines, and France. Carmelite Missions exist in Lithuania, Romania, Burkino Faso, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Cameroon, Mozambique, Kenya, India, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Trinidad, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Argentina. Monasteries of enclosed Carmelite nuns exist in Italy, Ireland, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, Peru, the United States of America, Finland, Kenya, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic. Hermit communities of either men or women exist in the United States of America, France, Italy, Indonesia and Brazil.

The Discalced Carmelite Order is still represented on the summit of the Carmel range at the Muhraka Monastery. The monastery is situated about 25 kilometers south of Haifa on the eastern side of the Carmel, and stands on the foundations of a series of earlier monasteries. The site is believed by Christians, Jews and Muslims to be where the encounter between the prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal took place (1 Kings, 18:20-40). The name of the monastery, Muhraka, meaning "place of burning", is a direct reference to the biblical account.

There are several Carmelite figures who have received significant attention in the 20th century, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one of only three woman Doctors of the Church[7220], so named because of her famous teaching on the "way of confidence and love" set forth in her best-selling memoir, "Story of a Soul"[7221]; Titus Brandsma, a Dutch scholar and writer who was killed in Dachau Concentration Camp because of his stance against Nazism; and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (née Edith Stein), a Jewish convert to Catholicism who was also imprisoned and died at Auschwitz. Saint Raphael Kalinowski (1835-1907) was the first friar to be sainted in the Order since co-founder Saint John of the Cross. The writings and teachings of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite friar of the 17th century, continue as a spiritual classic under the title The Practice of the Presence of God. Other non-religious (i.e., non-vowed monastic) great figures include Saint George Preca, a Maltese priest and Carmelite Tertiary.

Habit and scapular

The original way of life of the order was changed to conform to that of the mendicant orders on the initiative of St. Simon Stock and at the command of Pope Innocent IV. Their former habit of a mantle with black and white or brown and white stripes--the black or brown stripes representing the scorches the mantle of Elijah received from the fiery chariot as it fell from his shoulders--was discarded and they wore the same habit as the Dominicans, except that the cloak was white. They also borrowed much from the Dominican and Franciscan rules. Their distinctive garment was a scapular of two strips of gray cloth, worn on the breast and back, and fastened at the shoulders. Tradition holds that this was given to St. Simon Stock by the Virgin herself, who appeared to him and promised that all who died clothed in it would be saved (this tradition was not fully articulated until it appeared in documents dating to 1642, however, some 400 years after St Simon's death, making it of doubtful authenticity). There arose a sodality of the scapular, which affiliated a large number of laymen with the Carmelites. The order made some grandiose claims, however, contesting the "invention" of the rosary with the Dominicans, terming themselves the brothers of the Virgin, and asserting, on the basis of their traditional association with Elijah, that all the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as the Virgin and the Apostles, had been Carmelites. Their second general, Nicholas of Narbonne (1265–1270), protested in vain, only to be deposed from his office.A miniature version of the Carmelite scapular is very popular among Catholics. It is one of the most popular devotions of the Catholic Church. Wearers usually believe that if they faithfully wear the Carmelite scapular (also called "the brown scapular" or simply "the scapular") and die in a state of grace, they will be saved from eternal damnation. Catholics who decide to wear the scapular are usually enrolled by a priest, and some choose to enter the Scapular Confraternity. The Lay Carmelites of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel wear a scapular which is smaller than the shortened scapular worn by some Carmelite religious for sleeping, but still larger than the devotional scapulars.

Visions and devotions

Among the various Catholic orders, Carmelite nuns have had a proportionally high ratio of visions of Jesus and Mary and have been responsible for key Catholic devotions.

Sister Marie of St Peter a Carmelite nun in Toursmarker France started the devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus. She said that in an 1844 vision Jesus told her: "Oh if you only knew what great merit you acquire by saying even once, Admirable is the Name of God, in a spirit of reparation for blasphemy."Another Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of Lisieux, was instrumental in spreading this devotion throughout France in the 1890s with her many poems and prayers. Eventually Pope Pius XII approved the devotion in 1958 and declared the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus as Shrove Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) for all Roman Catholics.

The Chaplet of Saint Michael is due to a reported vision of the Archangel Michael to the Portuguese Carmelite nun Antónia d'Astónaco. According to Sister Antónia, Saint Michael the Archangel asked her to honor him by nine salutations to the nine Choirs of Angels and promised that whoever would practice this devotion in his honor would have, when approaching Holy Communion, an escort of nine angels chosen from each of the nine Choirs.


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia on the Carmelites [1]
  2. Catholic Encyclopedia [2]
  3. "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway"
  4. "Therese and the Holy Face of Jesus" from Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway
  5. Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN 087973910X page 123
  6. EWTN The Chaplet of Saint Michael the Archangel


  • Scaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion
  • Copsey, Richard and Fitzgerald-Lombard, Patrick (eds.), Carmel in Britain: studies on the early history of the Carmelite Order (1992-2004).
  • "The Carmelite Order" by Benedict Zimmerman. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1908.


  • J. Boyce, O. Carm., Carmelite Liturgy and Spiritual Identity. The Choir Books of Kraków, Turnhout, 2009, Brepols Publishers, ISBN 978-2-503-51714-8

Communities of Carmelite tradition

Exemplars of Carmelite Spirituality

Carmelite tradition

See also

External links

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