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History of Carmel

'The Spring of Elijah' on Mount Carmel's slopes was taken to signify the streams of divine grace. It also prefigures Mary through whom the springs of grace flowed to us, 'Fons iste Carmeli Maria est'.

Mount Carmel

The name Carmel is derived from the Hebrew "Karem El" which means 'vineyards of God'. In earlier times it was covered by vineyards and was always famous for its fertility. The Carmelites have an ancient history, tracing their roots to 12th century Crusaders from western Europe and simple pilgrims to the Holy Land who remained and settled in the ravine called wadi 'ain es-Siah, on Mount Carmel, living frugally and following a life of prayer. At the beginning of the 13th century a group of these settlers approached Albert the Patriarch of Jerusalem asking him to establish for them a definitive way of life, which was later to be given papal approval in the form of a simple Rule. They lived as hermits 'in allegiance to Jesus Christ and his Mother' in separate cells near the Spring of Elijah. They devoted themselves to continual prayer, pondering God's law in silence and solitude, and practising the evangelical counsels of poverty and chastity in a common life, lived in obedience to a Prior chosen from among themselves not to rule over but to serve the community, just as Christ came to serve and not to be served. The brothers met regularly to discuss matters of importance, but above all they gathered daily to celebrate the Eucharist in a chapel dedicated to Mary whom they claimed as their patroness, the Lady of the place, under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Expanding to Europe and adapting to mendicant life

Harassed by the Saracen invasions and the warfare between Christians and Muslims the Brothers began migrating to parts of western Europe about 1238. (The first Carmelites in Scotland are recorded in Perth in 1262). Adapting to their new style of life in urban surroundings they became a mendicant order alongside the Franciscans and Dominicans, while Albert's formula for their lives was brought up to date and officially confirmed as the Primitive Rule by Pope Innocent IV in 1247. Taking on a pastoral ministry but retaining the commitment to prayer of their original vision, they flourished and had expanded to about 150 houses in twelve provinces by the beginning of the fourteenth century. However religious life slowly began to decline as time went on and the Hundred Years War and the Black Death half way through the century took their toll of the population both in secular and religious society.

Opening to Second and Third Order

It was round about the year 1380 that the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as Patroness of the Order began to be solemnly commemorated every 16 July. From 1451 to 1471 John Soreth was Prior General of the Order. He worked for renewal, approving its opening to women as Carmelites of the Second Order, and getting it authorised by a papal bull, Cum Nulla, in 1452. Through John Soreth groups of lay people were also affiliated as the Secular or Third Order of Carmelites.

St Teresa of Avila

The convent of the Incarnation in Avila began in 1479 as a Beaterio, one of these affiliated communities of the Second Order, and it was there that Teresa de Ahumada entered in 1535. Her story is most compellingly told in her own writings, especially in The Life and the Book of Foundations. At first she entered happily into the social life of this large community of over 140 nuns with its class distinctions and varying lifestyles, under the much mitigated Rule. But by the time she was 38 she began to realise that God was calling her to much more than this. Her desires for solitude and closer friendship with Jesus led her to try and commit herself more seriously to prayer with the help of various spiritual directors, some of them Jesuits of the recently founded Society. The Franciscan St Peter of Alcantara also helped to confirm her in her method of prayer and gave her great support in the work she was about to undertake, by 'explicit commands' from God as she relates, to found a new convent to be named St Joseph's, under his care and patronage and that of Our Lady.

Teresian Reform

During the 16th century there were Carmelite communities of men and women in several European countries living more or less haphazardly by different Constitutions. As time went on there was some loss of dedication and fervour. It was clear that there was a general need for revitalisation, and in various places movements sprang up responding to that need. This was the kind of religious climate in which the Teresian Reform came into existence.

It began in 1562, when Teresa of Jesus as she called herself, dropping her family name of de Ahumada, was inspired to gather together a small group of likeminded nuns into a completely new community founded at the convent of St Joseph's, adapted from a small property she had acquired. They intended to try and live, according to the original ideal of Carmel in all its simplicity and poverty, a life of unceasing prayer, nourished supremely by faith, hope and charity. A vital element in Teresa's ideal is the balance to be kept between prayer in solitude and silence and a genuine community life. The Carmelite General Superior of the time, John Baptist Rubeo, seeing and approving all she was doing at St Joseph's, ordered her to found 16 more Carmels in Spain, starting in 1567.

Meanwhile she had met at Medina del Campo a young Carmelite friar, Juan de Yepes (later known as John of the Cross) whom with another friar, Fr Antonio of Jesus, she established in her way of life at Duruelo, the first of the new communities for men. In this way there began the new religious family which was to be known as the Discalced Carmelites. The reform was in effect a refoundation, which is why we look on St Teresa as the foundress of our Order. It grew and developed along with her own spiritual experiences as she reflected in herself the life of the Church whose unity was being rent by the Reformation. Teresa's call to build up the Church was to fully evolve when she awoke to the missionary ideal of bringing the Gospel to all nations. From then on this apostolic aim was at the heart of the Teresian Reform.

Teresian Carmel reaches England

Teresa's reform rapidly spread beyond Spain to France and the Low Countries, where English women were seeking to follow their Carmelite vocation, since England at the time was very hostile to Catholicism. So a monastery was founded for them in Antwerp, which later founded daughter monasteries in Lierre and Hoogstraten. It was only two centuries later that it became possible to found Carmels in England at Lanherne, Chichester and Darlington, while nuns from Hoogstraten also crossed the Atlantic to found the first Carmel in the New World at Port Tobacco in Maryland in 1790. Meanwhile by 1667 sixty three Carmels had been founded in France, since the original Paris foundation at Rue St Jacques. The violent suppression of the Carmels during the French Revolution was not able to prevent their members from continuing with their Carmelite lives outside their monasteries, and once the Reign of Terror was over the Paris community of nuns reassembled in 1797 and 55 years later rebuilt their monastery on some land they owned on the Rue d'Enfer. Not many years later Fr Faber of the Oratory in London sent three English women to try their vocation there in the hope of eventually founding an English Carmel.

Notting Hill and its foundations

On 29 September 1878 two of these English Sisters, Sr Mary of the Blessed Trinity and Sr Mary of St Joseph together with five French Sisters were sent from the Rue d'Enfer to found the Carmel in St Charles's Square, Notting Hill. One of the French Sisters was Sr Mary of Jesus, who all her religious life had felt very drawn to England. Their first years in Notting Hill Carmel were fraught with material difficulties and an immense burden of work, which was too much for the Prioress, already frail, and her SubPrioress who had become seriously ill. As a result young Sr Mary of Jesus found herself having to take on many responsibilities on their behalf. She proved herself not only equal to them but also blessed with gifts of wisdom and prayer. So in 1883 Cardinal Manning appointed her Prioress of Notting Hill. Remaining Prioress until her death in 1942, it was Mother Mary of Jesus who was to found from Notting Hill no fewer than thirty three Carmels in Britain in the 31 years between 1907 and 1938.

And so it came about that our Carmel in Dysart was founded here on 18th June 1931.