The Carmelite Family is one of the ancient religious communities of the Roman Catholic Church. Known officially as the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, the Carmelite Order developed from a group of hermits in thirteenth-century Palestine; priests and lay people living a contemplative community life of prayer and service modelled on the prophet Elijah and the Virgin Mary.
By the year 1214 the Carmelites had received a Way of Life from Saint Albert, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Carmelites first came to Britain in 1242. The hermits became an order of mendicant friars following a General Chapter held in Aylesford, Kent, in 1247. Enclosed nuns, apostolic sisters and lay men and women have always played a major part in the life of the Order, and have had formal participation since 1452. Over centuries of development and reform, the Carmelites have continued their distinctive mission of living ‘in allegiance to Jesus Christ’, by forming praying communities at the service of all God’s people. The heart of the Carmelite vocation is contemplation, that is, pondering God and God’s will in our lives.
Like the spirituality of all the major religious orders (Benedictines, Franciscans, etc.), Carmelite spirituality is a distinct preaching of the one Christian message. Through our charism Carmelites blend prayerful contemplation with active service of those around them, and this takes many different forms depending on the time and the place they find themselves in.
Over the centuries ‘Carmel’ has produced some of the greatest Christian thinkers, mystics, and philosophers, such as Teresa of Jesus (of Avila), John of the Cross, and Thérèse of Lisieux (three Carmelite ‘Doctors of the Church’). In the twentieth century, the Carmelite Family bore witness to the Gospel in the martyrdoms of Titus Brandsma, Edith Stein, and Isidore Bakanja.
England boasted the largest Carmelite Province in the Order until its suppression at the Reformation. The British Province was re-established under the patronage of Our Lady of the Assumption in the twentieth century. There are communities of friars, sisters and lay Carmelites across England, Scotland, and Wales. Similar communities exist in Ireland, and throughout the world. The international Order of Discalced Carmelite friars, nuns, and laity is also present in Britain and Ireland. Members of the Carmelite and Discalced Carmelite Orders work, live, and pray together to make up the wider ‘Carmelite Family’, which seeks the face of the Living God in parishes, prisons, university chaplaincies, retreat centres, hospitals, workplaces, media outlets, schools, and through many other forms of ministry.