The Carmelite Order
The Carmelite Order has
its origins on Mount Carmel in Israel. Today the Order is found
on all five continents and its apostolate is as diverse as that
of the Church itself. An outstanding characteristic of the Order
down through the centuries has been its readiness to accommodate
itself to the needs of the People of God.
Today the Order numbers
two and a half thousand (this does not include enclosed sisters
and members of the extended Carmelite family) and many of them are
found in the front-line of the Churchs work all over the world.
Unlike other Religious
Orders, for example the Dominicans and the Franciscans who had individual
founders in St. Dominic and St. Francis, the Carmelite Order had
its origin in a group of hermits on Mount Carmel in Palestine or
modern Israel. They followed a common Rule which was written for
hermits living the kind of eremitical life common in Palestine in
the thirteenth century. These hermits on Mount Carmel can be seen
as a group of pilgrims who came to the Holy Land and stayed on to
live a life of prayer and silence in the tradition of the Old Testament
prophets. A sketch of their way of life is given by Jacques de Vitry,
Bishop of Acre at the time; Others imitating the saintly and
solitary man, the Prophet Elijah, lived apart on Mount Carmel .
. . near the fountain of Elijah . . . dwelling in little cells in
The hermits choice of
Mount Carmel was logical, it had caves, water and a variety of fruit
trees. The name Carmel means orchard or vineyard. The
mountain is closely associated with the life of the Prophet Elijah
and the hermits took him as their model and inspiration. They tried
to live as Elijah in the presence of God.
The hermits built a small
chapel dedicated to Our Lady. Archaeologists in 1968 uncovered some
remains. The hermits themselves seem to have lived in caves in the
hills. About the year 1210, they approached Albert, Patriarch of
Jerusalem, to ask him for a formula of life to guide
them. Albert gave them a Rule of Life which received the approval
of Pope Honorius in 1226. The hermits were known as the Brothers
of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, or Carmelites.
The Carmelite Rule, though written between 1206 and 1214, is still
very much in tune with the spirituality of the time. It begins and
ends with Christ.
These first hermits were
noted for their spiritual attachment to the prophet Elijah and to
the Mother of the Lord. The motto of the Order is from the words
of Elijah: I am filled with zeal for the Lord, the God of
Hosts (1Kings 19:10). The prophet who sought the face of God
is patron of the Order. Carmelites see him today as a model for
the task of witnessing to the presence of God in the world. In Mary,
Mother of Jesus, Carmelites honor the most perfect fruit of the
redemption and see in her a complete openness to the Word of God
and a model for their lives (see Luke 1:38-45, 8:20, 11:28).
Following the era of
the Crusades, the Saracen invaders began menacing the Christians.
Being forced to flee their homes and place of prayer, to avoid possible
massacre, the Carmelites agreed that any brother who wished to leave
Mount Carmel and live the Rule in other countries should be allowed
to do so. Some on leaving the Holy Land founded monasteries in Cyprus
and Sicily about 1237. Around the same time monasteries were also
founded in Pisa, Florence and Siena. Others went to France (Marseilles
and Paris) and by 1240 reached England. Within sixty years the Order
grew to 150 houses in many countries, the Holy Land, Sicily, England,
Cyprus, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Ireland and Scotland. In
Europe they adopted the mendicant way of life like the Dominicans