Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Pietro Novelli's painting of 1641 shows Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Simon Stock, Angelus of Jerusalem, Mary Magdalene de'Pazzi, Teresa of Avila (Museo Diocesano, Palermo).

Mount Carmel is located in a richly forested area at the southern end of a long fertile valley known from ancient times for its wine and oil production. At the top of the mountain there is a view of the Mediterranean, making it a strategic site for defence of the rich land below it. There are indications that stone-age communities once lived in the caves on its side. Mount Carmel is featured in 1 Kings 8 as the place where Elijah contested the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah.

In the Song of Solomon 7:5 the bride is compared to the beauty of this mountain, renowned for its cover of flower blossoms, flowering shrubs, and fragrant herbs. On its slopes are plentiful pastures (Isaiah 33:9, Jeremiah 50:19, Amos 1:2). Its caves in which Elijah and Elisha took refuge (1 Kings 18:19, 2 Kings 2:25) often provided shelter for monks through the ages. The Hebrew "karmel" means "garden land" and "a fruitful place."

Today’s feast recalls the foundation of the Carmelite religious order in the 12th century. The founder, Berthold, may have been a pilgrim to the area (perhaps to the cave of Elijah), or even a crusader. It is said that he came from southern France but when venturing in the Holy Land encountered fierce soldiers. He had a vision of Jesus and went to Mount Carmel. He built a small chapel there, and was soon joined by hermits who lived there in community in imitation of Elijah. After his death, it seems that St Brocard became leader of the hermits eventually leading to the establishment of the Order of Carmelites.

The Carmelites built a monastery dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as she was "Star of the Sea" - a medieval title likening her to the cloud of life that hovers over the sea, promising rain and fertility. Throughout the monastery's long history there were periods of sadness, especially when it fell under Muslim control, becoming a mosque known as El-Maharrakah (“the place of burning”, referring to Elijah's challenge to the pagan prophets.) In the 18th century, Napoleon established the location as a hospital, but this was destroyed in 1821. Funds were collected by the Carmelites, an order worldwide by this time, and they restored the monastery.

The Carmelite Order itself has had a long and blessed history. Monasteries have been built throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Some of the greatest spiritual guides, acknowledged by Christians of all traditions, have been Carmelites. Let us pray today that Our Lady will continue to shine like a star over the sea, leading us all to her Son, and to the fruit-bearing life God intends for us now and in eternity.

O God our Father,
who didst adorn the Order of Mount Carmel
with the special title
of the most blessed Mother of thy Son,
the ever-virgin Mary:
Mercifully grant that as we remember her
in our solemn observance,
so by her intercession we may attain to everlasting joy;
through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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