Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Carmelites in Britain Before and After the English Reformation

On this feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, it's only appropriate for me to highlight the presence and absence and restoration of the Carmelite order in England. According to the website of the British Province of Carmelite Friars:

The hermit brothers from Mount Carmel were first brought to Britain in 1242 by returning crusaders; arriving first at Hulne near Alnwick in the north east of England, and then later in the same year at Aylesford in the southern county of Kent.

At that time we were still a group of hermits but, following a historic General Chapter (meeting of the Order) held at Aylesford in 1247, we became part of the newly formed movement of mendicant friars (begging brothers). Because of our white cloaks, we became known as the Whitefriars. . . .

At its height there were more than 1,000 friars in the English Province in some 40 communities (known as priories, friaries or convents), divided into four 'distinctions' with regional headquarters at London, Oxford, Norwich and York. . . .

Carmelite friars were pastors and theologians, confessors to kings and servants of the poor. To read an article about Carmelite spirituality in the fourteenth century, please click here.

Although there was no 'Third Order' of Lay Carmelites and no Carmelite nuns in Britain before the Reformation, we do know of many lay people - including women - who had varying degrees of affiliation to the Order.

The Carmelite presence disappeared from Britain in 1538 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII. At the Reformation the friars were dispersed and the houses were either desecrated and destroyed or handed out to private individuals as rewards by the Crown.

The last active friar we know of, George Rayner, died for the Faith in chains (in odium fidei) in York prison during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The site also has information about the restoration of the Carmelite order and the interim when English Carmelites lived in exile on the Continent here. There are even more great resources on the order between the dissolution and the restoration linked here.

St. Simon Stock of England is one of the better known of the Carmelite saints, who received the Brown Scapular in a vision of Our Lady and wrote this prayer:

Flower of Carmel, tall vine, blossom-laden;
splendour of heaven, child-bearing, yet maiden;
none equals thee.

Mother so tender, whom no man didst know,
on Carmel's children thy favours bestow;
Star of the Sea!

Strong stem of Jesse, who bore one bright flower,
be ever near us, and guard us each hour,
who serve thee here.

Purest of lilies, that flowers among thorns,
bring help to true hearts that in weakness turn
and trust in thee.

Strongest of armour, we trust in thy might,
under thy mantle, hard pressed in the fight,
we call to thee.

Our way, uncertain, surrounded by foes,
unfailing counsel you offer to those
who turn to thee.

O gentle Mother, who in Carmel reigns,
share with your servants that gladness you gained,
and now enjoy.

Hail, gate of heaven, with glory now crowned,
bring us to safety, where thy Son is found,
true joy to see. Amen.

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