The History Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Carmelites are dedicated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Her Feast Day is July 16th. She is the inspiration of all Carmelite spirituality.
The earliest Carmelites were Crusaders from Europe who were disillusioned with the wars and violence associated with the Crusades. Some were so disappointed that they decided not to return to Europe but rather to stay in the Holy Land on Mount Carmel, the “garden of God,” the mountain of Elijah, and to seek intimacy with God and listen to the divine whisper of hope and presence.
They settled in the wadi-ein-Siah, a dry river bed, which reflected the state of their disillusioned souls. They lived as hermits in caves for a while but eventually needed the prayerful support of others in community. In the 1180s they built a chapel and named it after “Our Lady of this Place” – amid the darkness of disillusionment, they were aware that the Lady of Nazareth was so open to God’s presence that she might rekindle the spark of faith and presence in them. Nazareth is just across the Jezriel valley from Mount Carmel. They believed that Mary, “Our Lady of this Place,” would open them to experience Emmanuel, the God who is with us!
Within 100 years, as Islam reclaimed the Holy Land, the Carmelites gradually migrated to Europe and became a more mendicant Order, in service of and by the request of the Church. They continued to claim the “Lady of the Place” or “The Lady of the Mountain” to help them live in God’s presence. She would continue to teach them that wherever they are, God is with them.
Carmelites understand Mary as “our Sister in faith” – she stands beside us making us more aware that where we are is holy ground. Carmelites are officially called the “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.”
In the 13th and 14th centuries, when the Carmelites, along with many other religious communities, were threatened with suppression, the tradition arose that St. Simon Stock had a vision of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who told him that if the Carmelites wore their apron or habit in faith, that she would take care of them. The Carmelites survived and the tradition of the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel developed and continues to invite people to live under Mary’s mantle and have her heart, being radically open to God’s presence.