Families of monastic orders dedicated to the contemplative life

The Order of the Carmelites has its origins in Mount Carmel, in Palestine, where, as the Second Book of Kings recalls, the great Prophet Elijah fought in defense of the purity of faith in the God of Israel, winning in the fight with the priests of Baal and where the Prophet himself, praying in solitude, saw a small cloud appear bringing beneficial rain after the drought.

This mountain has always been considered the flowering garden of Palestine and a symbol of fertility and beauty. “Karmel” actually means “garden.”

In the 12th century (perhaps after the third crusade, 1189-1191) some penitents-pilgrims, coming from Europe, settled next to the “fountain of Elijah”, in one of the narrow valleys of Mount Carmel, to live comfortably in hermitage and imitation of the Prophet Elijah in his Christian life in the same land of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Both then and later, the Carmelites did not recognize anyone in particular with the title of founder, remaining faithful to the Elijah model linked to Carmel by biblical episodes and by the Greco-Latin patristic tradition, which saw in the Prophet one of the founders of the monastic life.

Having built a small church in the middle of the cells, they dedicated it to Mary, Mother of Jesus, developing the sense of belonging to the Virgin as the Lady of the place and as Patroness, and from there they took the name “Brothers of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel”.

This group of lay hermits, in order to have a certain legal stability, turned to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Albert Avogadro (1150-1214), residing at that time in San Juan de Acre, near Mount Carmel. He wrote a rule of life for them, between 1206-1214.

Successive approvals of this rule of life by several popes helped the process of transformation of the group towards a Religious Order, which occurred with the definitive approval of such text as a Rule by Innocent IV in 1247. The Order of Carmel was from this moment inserted into the current of the Mendicant Orders.

Around 1235, however, the Carmelites had to partially abandon their place of origin, due to the raids and persecutions of the Saracens, who were reconquering the Holy Land, taking it back from the Crusaders, returning to their countries of origin in Europe.

They soon multiplied and flourished in science and holiness. Over time, some women approached the religious, who in 1452 became nuns who lived in their own communities.

In the 15th-16th centuries there was a certain relaxation in various communities, combated by the work of Priors General such as Blessed John Soreth (+1471), Nicholas Audet (+1562) and John Baptist Rubeo (+1578) and by some reforms (among such as those of Mantua and Monte Oliveti in Italy and that of Albi in France) to put a stop to the profusion of abuses and mitigations.

The best-known reform is certainly that carried the one carried out in Spain by Saint Teresa of Jesus for the reform of the nuns and then of the religious, helped by Saint John of the Cross and Father Jerónimo Gracián.

The most important aspect of Saint Teresa’s work is not so much having combated the mitigation introduced into the life of Carmel, but rather having integrated into her project vital and ecclesial elements of her time.

In 1592 this reform, called the “Barefoot Carmelites” or “Teresians”, became independent of the Carmelite Order and had great development in the two Congregations of Spain and Italy, later reunited in 1875.

There are thus two Orders of Carmel:

– That of “The Carmelites”, also called “Ancient Observance” or “Footed”.

– That of “The Discalced Carmelites” or “Teresians”, who consider Saint Teresa of Jesus as their reformer and founder.

Despite this division, in the following centuries the Carmelite Order continued its spiritual path. Numerous illustrious religious men and women gave life to Carmel with their spirituality and genius.

Great advances were also made among the laity with the institution of the Third Order of Carmen and the Brotherhoods of the Scapular of Carmen in various parts of the world.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the movement of closer observance expanded in some parts with the Turonense Reformation in France and with those of Monte Santo, Santa María della Vita, Piemonte and Santa María della Scala in Italy.

At the beginning of the French Revolution, the Carmelite Order was already established throughout the world with 54 Provinces and 13,000 religious.​

Precisely, because of the French Revolution, the Order of Carmel suffered serious damage, so that at the end of the 19th century it was reduced to 8 Provinces and 727 religious. However, it was these few religious who during the 20th century, with courage and determination, restablished the Order in those countries where they had previously been present, as well as implanted Carmel in new continents.

The Carmelite Order today

Since the Second Vatican Council, Carmelites have been reflecting deeply on their own identity, on their charisma, on what is at the base and constitutes their life project, namely “to live in the gift of Jesus Christ and serve him faithfully with a pure heart.” and good conscience” (Rule).

They have found their gift to Christ by committing themselves to the search for the face of the living God (contemplative dimension) and in brotherhood and service (diakonía) among the people.

Currently, the Carmelite Order (branch of religious) is made up of Provinces, General Commissariats, General Delegations, Communities of Hermits and an Affiliated Community, with a total of approximately 2,000 religious. They are found on all continents.

The Carmelite Nuns

Currently, there are two large groups of Carmelite nuns.

The Carmelite nuns of the Ancient Observance profess the Rule of Saint Albert and observe their own identical Constitutions for all monasteries. Now, observance and spirit vary from one monastery to another, since they are autonomous, although they are federated to help each other in some matters. Its male branch is the Carmelite friars of the Ancient Observance (or footed).

The Discalced Carmelite nuns profess the Rule of Saint Albert and their own Constitutions drawn up by Saint Teresa of Jesus. Now, following the concilia request for renewal, the Holy See approved two constitutional texts (one in 1990, and another in 1991), which represent two interpretations of the same Discalced Carmelite charism.

Therefore, there are monasteries that observe the Constitutions of 1990, among them those founded or renewed by Saint Maravilla de Jesús, and those that observe the Constitutions of 1991, which are those that have a legal link with the Order of Discalced Carmelites and its General.

It must be said that although these Constitutions are observed in these monasteries, each autonomous monastery is different from another.

In some of the monasteries that observe the 1991 Constitutions, the religious habit has been renewed, ceasing to use the traditional one, and the bars have been removed from the locutory and the lower choir.


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