Carmelite Chronicles:
The First Appearance of Carmelites in Literature

April 2, 2019 |

De Vitry (Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre from 1216 to 1228 and wrote of the hermits in Palestine) would seem to indicate that western hermits settled on Mount Carmel from the beginning of the Frankish conquest of Palestine, yet indisputable evidence occurs only in the 13th century.

Seal of Jacques de Vitry

Two earlier references must be discarded. In 1163, the Spanish rabbi, Benjamin of Tudela, saw near the cave of Elijah a church built by two Christians and dedicated to the prophet. About the year 1174, John Phocas, a Greek monk from Patmos, found a group of monks near the same cave. The cave of Elijah, known as el-chadr (the “Green One”) situated at the northernmost tip of the promontory at the base of the mountain, is quite distinct from the fountain of Elijah mentioned by De Vitry. Moreover, it is not even certain that Benjamin is referring to religious. The monks noted by Phocas were probably Greeks.

The first appearance of western hermits on Mt. Carmel was in 13th century literature but the fact that other eremitical locations were now under Muslim control, suggest that refugees from other parts of Palestine found a haven on Carmel. Perhaps it is not all imagination that leads the early chroniclers of the Carmelite Order to claim for Carmel the other deserts in Palestine and Antioch.

Ruins of the first Carmelite monastery situated in the Wadi ‘ain es-Siah on Mount Carmel

The Frankish hermits settled around the fountain of Elijah in the Wadi ‘ain es-Siah, a valley opening toward the sea on the western flank of Carmel, about two miles south of the promontory. The perennial fountain of Elijah offered a yearlong source of water. Fig, granate, and olive trees added variety to their diet. Below them lay the calm expanse of the sea. In this quiet valley, the hermits, bees of the Lord in  their comb-like  cells, “laid up spiritual honey.”

In time, the hermits approached the papal legate and patriarch of Jerusalem, Albert of Vercelli, then resident in Acre, to set down their way of life in the form of a rule.

From The Mirror of Carmel by Joachim Smet, O. Carm.

Fr. Joachim Smet O. Carm.
Fr. Joachim Smet, O.Carm. (1915-2011) was one of the leading historians of the Carmelite Order. In addition to being a founding member and President of the Institutum Carmelitanum in Rome and editor of Carmelus, a journal of Carmelite Studies, Fr. Joachim was a gifted writer. he is well-known for his four-volume work The Carmelites and his Life of Saint Peter Thomas. Among his other works: Familiar Matter of Today-Poems (2007), The Mirror of Carmel: A Brief History of the Carmelite Order, (2011), various publications on Carmelite Nuns, Carmelite Liturgy, Carmelite Libraries of Spain and Portugal and the Carmelites of Medieval England.
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