Saturday, May 04, 2013

Mariam Devotion in the Carmelite Order

"An ancient saying in the Carmelite Order states: Carmelus totus Marianus est, that is, "Carmel is totally Marian." The Holy Virgin permeates the whole of the monks' lives by her living presence in the midst of their brotherhood. "She is truly their life, their sweetness, and their hope; their source of kindliness, their sister, their friend, their dove, their immaculate one, the love of their hearts. Indeed, she is their heart and soul." 

"She is, likewise, the true foundress Her Order. Just as a founder bequeaths his charism to his sons, so our Lady has communicated her spirit and charism to the Carmelites"[1]

 Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the Patroness of the Carmelite Order. The spirituality of Carmel hinges on  two main pillars: Mary and Elijah. The charism of the Carmelite Order is contemplative prayer. The Order is considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary  and thus has a strong Marian devotion. As in most of the orders dating to medieval times, Carmelite tradition traces the origin of the order to a community of hermits on Mount Carmel that succeeded the schools of the prophets in ancient Israel.
By the 12th Century  a group of men had gathered at the well of Elijah  on Mount Carmel. These men, who had gone to Palestine from Europe either as pilgrims or as crusaders, chose Mount Carmel in part because it was the traditional home of Elijah. 

The foundation was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This oratory became the centerpiece of the liturgical life of the hermits and which earned them the name of "The Brothers of Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel." She was also called by the hermits as the "Lady of the Place." They placed themselves under her protection and she in turn became their main patroness and Lady.   

The conventual buildings were destroyed several times, but a monastery of hermits was built close to the original site under the auspices of Fr. Julius of the Saviour and duly consecrated on 12 June 1836.

The Icon La Bruna - First venerated in Carmel of Palestine

Later, during the Saracen persecutions the early Carmelites were driven out of the Holy Land and back to Europe. A painting of Our Lady believed to be painted by St. Luke himself was brought from Mount Carmel to Naples by the Carmelites Religious who settled there. This painting was a representation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. 

This painting of the Blessed Virgin and the Child is peculiar on account of the darkness of its color, and in consequence,  is often called "Santa Maria della Bruna. ("the dark one").   

In the image above Our Lady is represented holding the Infant in her arms with such tenderness.  The Divine Infant is most touching as he is shown to be affectionately touching the Blessed Virgin's chin, while his left hand grasps the edge of her veil.  Mary is enveloped in a large veil surmounted by a crown, a star ornaments her shoulder.  After Our Lady had given the Scapular to St. Simon Stock in 1251, a brown scapular was placed suspended from the right hand of this image.

 This image was very popular in Italy and numberless miracles were worked by invoking this image of our Lady. The ancient picture was placed on a throne above the high altar in the Carmelite Church.  Many copies were taken of it and distributed among the Carmelite churches of the world. 

The Virgin of Tenderness, or Eleousa in Greek, is the prototype said to have come from the hand of the Evangelist, St. Luke, who, according to tradition, was also an iconographer. Forced by the Islamic invasion of the Holy Land in the 13th century to leave their beautiful homeland, the Carmelites traveled for safety from Mt. Carmel to Europe, carrying with them the precious icon.


It was enshrined above the high altar of their church in Naples, and there, because of the dark skin tone of the Mother and Child, it came to be known as La Bruna. It remained in this place of honor for over 100 years, and many miracles took place until the icon was removed to a side altar by a royal decree. In the jubilee year of 1500, pious citizens of Naples carried the icon in procession to Rome. During the pilgrimage, people were again miraculously cured. Skeptical of these miracles, “King Frederic II of Naples conceived a plan to test the power of the Heavenly Mother. 

He ordered that all the sick and infirm [of the city] assemble before the image with written documentation of their maladies. High Mass was celebrated and special hymns were sung, and when the miraculous picture was unveiled, a ray of light fell upon the face of the Madonna, reflecting its brilliance on the assembled sick. The instantaneous healing of each person was authenticated” Summary and quotation from Joan Carroll Cruz Miraculous Images of Our Lady. (Rockford: TAN, 1993). 

To Better Understanding of La Bruna 

"La Bruna" ("The Brown One"), an icon that is of the Eleousa style but shows Mary with a star with one long tail on her right shoulder reflecting her purity. 

Again Our Lady is wearing a red tunic and blue mantle and veil, which Jesus clings to. 

Though it doesn't show up in this reproduction, Jesus and Mary are surrounded by large halos, hers with 12 rosettes representing the 12 Tribes and 12 Apostles, His with the Cross. 

This icon is a 12th c. Carmelite icon, the original of which is in the Basilica of Carmine Maggiore in Naples, Italy.

For other important images, some miraculous, see:
Infant of Prague, Santo Bambino di Ara Coeli, & Maria Bambina on the "Devotion to the Child Jesus" page
Our Lady of Good Success in Quito on the Marian Apparitions page
Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Marian Apparitions page

[1] Carmelite Monks of  Wyoming

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