Hermits at the Fountain of St. Elijah

CARMELITES The ‘Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ dates from the late 12th cent. The revival of the eremitical life in the W. Church and of pilgrimages to the sites associated with Christ’s earthly life during the Crusades led many to adopt the solitary life in various places in the Holy Land, but by the end of the 12th cent. only those on Mt. Carmel were securely within the Frankish Kingdom. A group of hermits living there accepted a rule written c.1208 by St. Albert, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. They built a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, from which they took their title, but saw Elijah as their model in the contemplative life. Albert’s Rule echoes the traditional style of Palestinian lavrae. Each hermit was allotted a cave-dwelling, where he was to remain ‘day and night’ praying continually. It also prescribed a daily Eucharist and the recitation of the Psalter, perpetual abstinence from meat, and an annual fast from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14) to Easter.

Crusader Knights Hermits at the Fountain
of St. Elijah
The Primitive Rule
of St. Albert, c. 1208

By the middle of the 13th cent. the instability of the Crusader kingdom led some of the hermits to migrate to Europe and by 1242 foundations had been made in Cyprus, Sicily, France, and England. In 1247 Pope Innocent IV gave permission for foundations to be made not only in desert places, but in towns and cities, for meals to be taken in common, and for the canonical hours to be recited in place of the Psalter. The undertaking of public preaching and permission to accept alms brought the Carmelites into the class of Mendicant Friars. They grew rapidly. During the 14th and 15th cent. communities of women were associated to the Order; wearing the Carmelite habit, they adopted the Rule of Albert and were formally incorporated into the Order in 1432. Also, groups of lay people became affiliated to the Order; members of these confraternities wore part of the Carmelite habit, either the white mantle (from which the Carmelites were known as Whitefriars) or the brown scapular (on which see simon stock, St).

In 1432 Pope Eugenius IV approved a second mitigation of the Rule, relaxing the abstinence from meat and the obligation of silence. This, together with the decline in religious observance in the later Middle Ages, led to attempts to reform and renew the Order. Congregations of reform included those at Mantua and Albi. Under John Soreth (Prior General 1451–71) the existence of reformed houses (sometimes referred to as Observants in contrast to the Conventuals) was encouraged in the revised constitutions of 1456. The best known of the reforms was that begun by St Teresa of Avila who founded many convents following the ‘Primitive Rule’ of Carmel, and her own Constitutions for Discalced Nuns. Her disciple St John of the Cross was among the first friars to follow her reform in Spain.

After losing the French provinces during the Revolution and suffering from the anti-monastic legislation of the Napoleonic era, the Carmelites have rebuilt their European provinces and expanded in the New and Third World. The Carmelite family today consists of three orders of men; the Carmelite Friars (of the Ancient Observance); the Discalced Carmelite Friars (who look to the ‘Teresian Reform’ as their special inspiration); and the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (founded in India in 1831). In addition to the enclosed communities of Carmelite Nuns, there are many congregations of active Carmelite Sisters, and Secular Institutes of lay people. All share in a particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, esp. to ‘Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’ (feast day, 16 July). In the Middle Ages Carmelite theologians were among the earliest defenders of the Immaculate Conception. Well-known Carmelites, besides those already mentioned, include T. Netter, St Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, St Teresa of Lisieux, and St Edith Stein.

J. B. de Lezana, OCC, Annales Sacri, Prophetici et Eliani Ordinis Beatae Virginis Mariae de Monte Carmeli (4 vols., Rome, 1645–56). [C. de Villiers de St-Étienne,] Bibliotheca Carmelitana: Notis Criticis et Dissertationibus Illustrata (2 vols., Orléans, 1752; repr. with suppl. material by G. Wessels, OCC, Rome, 1927). Collection of texts relating to the early history ed. A. Staring, O. Carm., Medieval Carmelite Heritage (Textus et Studia Carmelitana, 16; Rome, 1989). J. Smet, O. Carm., The Carmelites: A History of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (4 vols. in 5; vols. 2–4, Darien, Ill., 1976–88; vol. 1 first pub. Rome, 1975, but rev. [much improved] edn., Darien, 1988) [the most authoritative history]. Id., Cloistered Carmel: A Brief History of the Carmelite Nuns (Rome, 1986). Earlier general works incl. L. van den Bossche, Les Carmes (1930) and H. Peltier, Histoire du Carmel [1958]. S. Possanzini, O. Carm., La Regola dei Carmelitani: Storia e spiritualità (Florence, 1979). A. Jotischky, The Carmelites and Antiquity: Mendicants and their Pasts in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2002). L. C. Sheppard, The English Carmelites (1943). B. Hours (ed.), Carmes et carmélites en France du XVIIe siècle à nos jours: Actes du colloque de Lyon (12–26 septembre 1997) (2001). P. W. Janssen, OCC, Les Origines de la réforme des Carmes en France au XVIIe siècle (Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées, 4; The Hague, 1963). Monumenta Historica Carmelitana (Lérins, 1905 ff.); Analecta Ordinis Carmelitarum (Rome, 1908 ff.); Carmelus (ibid., 1954 ff.). B. Zimmerman, ODC, in CE 3 (1908), pp. 354–70, s.v.; Melchior de Ste-Marie, OCD, in DHGE 11 (1949), cols. 1070–104, s.v. ‘Carmel’; Bl T. Brandsma, OCC, in Dict. Sp. 2 (1953), cols. 156–71, s.v. ‘Carmes’. The Carmelites and their branches are comprehensively treated by various authors in DIP 2 (1975), cols. 398–605, with bibl.

On the Discalced Carmelites see also Constitutiones Fratrum Discalceatorum Congregationis S. Eliae Ordinis Beatissimae Virginis Mariae de Monte Carmelo (Paris, 1638). Chroniques de l’ordre des Carmélites de la réforme de Sainte-Thérèse depuis leur introduction en France (5 vols., Troyes, 1846–65; 2nd ser., 4 vols., Poitiers, 1888–9). Silverio de Santa Teresa, OCD, Historia del Carmo Descalzo en España, Portugal y América (15 vols., Burgos, 1935–52). L. Saggi, O. Carm., Le Origini dei Carmelitani Scalzi 1567–1593: Storia et Storiografia (Textus et Studia Carmelitana, 14; 1986). Études carmélitaines (Paris, 1911 ff.); Analecta Ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum (Rome, 1926ff.); Ephemerides Carmeliticae (Florence, 1947 ff.), with supplementary Archivum Bibliographicum Carmelitanum (Rome, 1956 ff.). Gabriel de Sainte-Marie-Magdaleine, OCD, in Dict. Sp. 2(1953), cols. 171–209, s.v. ‘Carmes Déchaussés’, with bibl.



cent. century.

Patr. Patriarch.

BVM Blessed Virgin Mary.

edn. edition.

CE Catholic Encyclopedia (15 vols. + index, New York, 1907–14).

DHGE Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Géographie Ecclésiastiques, ed. A. Baudrillart and others (1912 ff.).

Bl Blessed.

Dict. Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, ed. M. Viller, SJ, and others (16 vols. + index, 1937–95).

DIP Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione, ed. G. Pelliccia and G. Rocca (10 vols., 1974–2003).

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