Nine hundred years before the birth of Christ the great prophet, Elijah, lived on Mount Carmel, in Palestine. Two thousand years afterwards - in the 12th century of the Christian era - a group of hermits from Europe settled on this same mountain. These hermits imitated Christ in the solitary aspects of his life: in His fasting in the desert, in his watching by night in prayer, and in his surrender to the Cross. Therefore solitude, study, prayer (especially the prayer of contemplation), manual labour, fasting, vigils and works of mercy were the main elements in their life.
The Hermits of Our Lady
The hermits of Mount Carmel placed themselves under the protection of Our Lady and they built in her honour a very beautiful little church. Very soon they became known as “the hermits of St. Mary of Mount Carmel”. And finally they were called “the hermit brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel”. An indulgence was even granted by Pope Urban V1 (in 1379) to all who would call them by this title. Today the successors of these hermits form the Carmelite Order. On July 16th they solemnly commemorate their life-long devotion to Our Lady.
The Hermits of Elijah the Prophet
It was the figure of Elijah that had attracted the first hermits to Mount Carmel. The early Carmelites studied Elijah’s way of life. They imitated him. They prayed to him, addressing him as their “leader and father”. They came to be regarded as true followers of Elijah, true sons of the great prophet. In this spiritual sense Elijah is the inspiration of the Carmelite Order, and it is a prophetic vocation, which means, primarily, standing in the presence of the Living God.
The Hermits and the Written Rule
The first hermits on Mount Carmel requested Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to write a rule of life for them. He did so between 1209 and 1214 in keeping with the hermits’ own aspirations. To this day the Rule of St. Albert is followed by the whole Carmelite Order. One of the central precept of the Rule is: “Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty.”