An estimated census of the numbers of friars in the Carmelite houses in England between 1296 and 1347 (their period of greatest expansion) indicates a total of 720 friars. The largest houses were London (67 friars in 1347), Cambridge and Norwich (50 each in 1312-26), and Oxford (45 in 1326). Most other houses averaged between twenty and thirty friars.
By 1324 the sites of studia generalia for the training of Carmelite candidates were located at London, Paris, Avignon, Bologna, Cologne, Montpelier, Toulouse and Florence.
(It is not surprising, incidentally, that the Augustinians and Carmelites were both present in many of these cities, and had arrived usually at about the same time. The Carmelites were founded in 1247 and the Augustinians in 1256, and were increasing at a similar rate. Likewise the two older mendicant orders, the Dominicans (in 1216) and the Franciscans (in 1226) paralleled one another numerically and geographically in an almost similar manner.)
But, again like the Augustinians, however, the Carmelites were motivated to promote heavily their links with the past that pre-dated the “cut-off point” of 1215 that had been reasserted in that same year by the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1274) – thereby reaffirming the previous decree Ne nimium of the Second Council of Lyons in 1215.
In this context, the tradition later developed that the Carmelite habit was presented to an English-born Carmelite name Simon Stock by the Virgin Mary herself in 1287, but historical evidence in this regard is quite nebulous – even in establishing the existence of a friar of that name. Although Carmelite historical myths were first developed as a response to the threat of suppression, they increasingly came to form the basis of a distinctive ecclesiology and mission.
The only contemplative religious order to have been founded in the Crusader States in the mid-thirteenth century, the Carmelites began to develop their earlier geographical associations with the Holy Land into a complex historical tradition which proposed that they had been founded by the Old Testament prophet, Elijah.
To mention one more historical parallel between the Carmelites and the Augustinians: in the final decades of the nineteenth century, both of these Orders experienced serious decline, and were possibly on the verge of extinction. With only 200 Carmelite friars remaining, the Order revived under vigorous leadership early in the twentieth century, and in 2001 had 2,100 friars (about 80% of the number of Augustinians at that time).
In 1452 the horizons of the Carmelite Order were broadened when the reforming Prior General, Blessed John Soreth, obtained permission from the Pope for the establishment of convents of Carmelite nuns and for the Order to accept laity as members of the Third Order. So, after 250 years the Carmelite Order began to welcome women members.
Picture 1: Sketch of a medieval Carmelite.
Picture 2: The Carmelite cross.
Picture 3: St Therese of Liseiux, Carmelite.
The Carmelite Province of Australia and Timor Leste. A web site on one of the many provinces of different sections of the international Carmelite family.
Discalced Carmelites of Australia-Oceania. This web site also contains a brief history of the Carmelites.