The Carmelite Order derives its name from its place of origin- Mount Carmel, a short mountain range, more a promontory, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in northwest Palestine (now Israel). The peak rises some 1791 feet above sea level.  The Carmelite website  provides a wealth of excellent information about this mountain, sacred to many religions of antiquity.

Because our Carmelite roots connect  the Prophet Elijah with Mount Carmel,  one sentence from the website is particularly fascinating.  Referring to the cult of Zeus on Mount Carmel in the 4th century B.C. (as described by the Roman historian Tacitus),  the  present day Carmelite author explains that "one could be dealing with the Greek form of the ancient cult of Baal, shown by the Bible as existing alongside of that of YHWH." 

It is here that Carmelite history begins- with the Prophet Elijah, whose zealous zeal championed the cause of Yahweh and disposed of the pagan priests of Baal, after which scene on Mount Carmel, he has the vision of the "tiny cloud, rising from the Sea" - which incident has been cherished by Carmelites as  prefiguring  the Immaculate Mother of the promised Messiah.

When, in the mid-twelfth century, the first hermits, European men, settled on Mount Carmel, they became heirs of this Elijahan heritage, namely zeal for God by which they  served the Lord God with a pure conscience and undivided heart  along with devotion to the Mother of the Messiah. These first hermits came to Mount Carmel in the wake of the Crusades and about 1206 they obtained a Rule of life from Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem.  At the end of that century, as the Saracens recaptured Palestine and ended the "Latin Kingdom", the Carmelite brothers returned to Europe.

The Carmelites, newly arrived in Europe, found themselves somewhat unwelcome  because of the superabundance of religious, especially  in England, France and Italy . The Institution of the First Monks, a beautiful exposition of Carmelite life, was composed in southern Spain, purporting to be a mid-fifth century chronicle in order  to justify Carmelite existence as a venerable Order, of eastern  origin and not a new beginning.   To this day The Institution is highly respected as capturing the contemplative spirit of Carmel.

In subsequent years, the Carmelite Order requested a mitigation of the Rule, due mainly to the plague and economic difficulties that marked these centuries.  During this time a women's branch of the Order was founded, when Bl. John Soreth was Prior General.

Saint Teresa is the Mother of Teresian Carmel. Her work of reform,   restoring the Primitive Rule, and contemplative  spirit of the Ancient Order, is her great work. This "reform" culminated in the birth of a new Order - the Discalced (or as is becoming more popular) "Teresian Carmel". "Her great work of reform began with herself" and she made a vow to follow the more perfect course and to keep the Rule as perfectly as she could. This firm intent resulted in the foundation of San Jose in Avila on August 24, 1562. The Nuns in the new Monastery would be few, observe strict poverty and enclosure. She added an apostolic dimension to the purely contemplative life: the well being and expansion of the Church and the salvation /evangelization of souls through a life of prayer.  During her life, Teresa founded 17 monasteries of nuns throughout Spain and with St John of the Cross also opened the first monastery of Discalced Carmelite Friars at Duruelo. Fifteen Monasteries of friars were founded during her lifetime.

Saint Teresa of Avila
Saint John of the Cross
Click on the photos to read their biographies