Origin & History
Carmelites take their origin from Mount Carmel on the seacoast of Israel, where the prophet Elijah lived in Old Testament times. Elijah has always been an inspiration to Carmelites on account of his glowing zeal for the Lord God of Hosts. His confidence in God, drew down great miracles in answer to his powerful and persevering prayer. He realized that he lived in the sight and presence of the living God, who spoke to him in the stillness of his retreat.
These are the traits of his timeless appeal to those seeking the contemplative Carmelite way of life.
In the 12th century, hermits, mainly crusaders from Europe, gradually formed a group in Palestine. They lived in caves around a chapel dedicated to Our Lady, coming together for worship, spiritual support, and direction. They were known as the Hermit Brothers of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel.
Forced to leave the Holy Land in the 13th century, the Hermit Brothers moved to Europe. Adapting their way of life to the urban environment, they became friars, undertaking a spiritual apostolate similar to that of the Franciscans while retaining the spirit of their origins. Later, monasteries were also established in the Order for women.
In the 16th century, in the midst of the turmoil of the Reformation, St. Teresa of Jesus, a Spanish Carmelite drawn by God to a deeper prayer-life, was eventually led by Him to give fresh life and vigour to the contemplative ideal of the Order. Establishing small communities in towns and cities, she created a desert environment for her nuns through a strict form of enclosure, thus providing an atmosphere in which a life of intense prayer could be lived by the whole community.
In a providential encounter with the young friar, St. John of the Cross, Teresa found her closest collaborator. Together they laid the foundations of the Discalced Carmelite Order. Under the protection and in imitation of Our Lady, Carmelites observe the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience in a simple lifestyle supported by silence and solitude, detachment and humility, manual work, sisterly love and service.
By God’s grace we bear the name ‘Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel’ and belong to a religious family dedicated to her love and service. This special bond with our Lady influences our whole approach to the pursuit of perfect charity. It pervades our communities and stamps our life of prayer and contemplation, our apostolic zeal and activity and even the kind of self-denial we practice, with a distinctly Marian character.
Teresa de Ahumada was born in 1515 in Ávila, Spain. She entered the Carmelites and made great progress in the way of perfection and was granted mystical revelations. Wishing to share in the spiritual renewal of the Church of her time, she began to live her religious life more ardently and soon attracted many companions, to whom she was a mother. She also helped in the reform of the friars, and in this had to endure great trials. She wrote several spiritual classics like, The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, which are renowned for their depth of doctrine and which showed her own spiritual depth and experience. She died at Alba de Tormes in 1582. St. Teresa was made the first woman doctor of the Church in 1970.
The prophet Elijah appears in Scripture as a man of God who lived always in His presence and fought zealously for the worship of the one, true God. He defended God’s law in a solemn contest on Mount Carmel, and afterwards was given on Mount Horeb an intimate experience of the living God. The inspiration that was found in him from the very beginnings of the Order so pervades its whole history that the prophet may deservedly be called the founder of the Carmelite ideal.
Thérèse Martin was born in Alençon, France. While still young, she entered the Carmel of Lisieux. There she lived with the greatest humility, evangelical simplicity, and confidence in God. By her words and example she taught the novices these same virtues, offering her life for the salvation of souls and the spread of the Church. Her autobiography is the popular Story of a Soul and is well known for its relating of her Little Way. St. Thérèse was made a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.