Simon Stock, who died in 1265 and whose feast day we celebrate on May 16, is a shadowy figure, of whom little is known with any certainty. Tradition holds, however, that he played an important part in the spread of the Carmelite order in western Europe.
The order developed from a group of hermits who lived on Mount Carmel in Palestine during the 12th century. Around 1210 St Albert of Jerusalem drew up a Rule. This enjoined strict obedience to the prior, residence in individual cells, constant prayer, a life of poverty and toil, daily celebration of the Eucharist and rigorous fasting.
In 1238 the Carmelites, troubled by disorder in Palestine, settled in Cyprus and Sicily, and from thence established themselves throughout western Europe.
The precise point at which Simon Stock joined the order is not clear. He is said to have been an Englishman, born in Kent, where he spent much of his youth living in the hollow trunk, or “stock”, of a tree. According to one account, he was with the Carmelites in Palestine. According to another he became the first member of the order to receive a degree from Oxford University. Still another tradition places him as a monk at Hulme in Northumberland.
More certainly, he became the sixth prior-general of the Carmelites in 1245. Soon afterwards he is said to have called a general chapter at Aylesford in Kent and to have instituted a revision of the Rule, better adapted to monks who were now rather mendicant friars than hermits.