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Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Aylesford, England

AYLESFORD, ENGLAND  (1251, 1322)  “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel”

For the noble task of giving us Her Scapular, Mary selected the great Carmelite Order of contemplative religious, whose sacred tradition of devotion to Her goes back to the Old Testament Prophet Elias – and to the holy Mount Carmel on which he and his followers dwelt, by the sea, not far from Mary’s home in Nazareth.  In the Bible, the third book of Kings describes a terrible drought afflicting Palestine.  On Mount Carmel, Elias prayed seven times for rain, and finally “a little cloud arose out of the seas the heavens grew dark with clouds and wind, and there fell a great rain and the hand of the Lord was upon Elias.”  Elias was also shown a mystical vision – a prophetic vision of the Virgin who was destined to give to the world the Messiah, who would save men from the drought of sin.  Elias therefore instructed his disciples to pray for the coming of this Virgin Mother.  During her life, Mary did visit this holy mountain.  Our Lord has called the Carmelites “The Order of My Mother.”

Even as a child, Simon Stock had an unusually intense devotion to Mary.  While still in his teens, he became a hermit and lived in the hollow trunk of a great tree.  A small dog used to bring him crusts of bread.  Simon would compose poems to Mary and carve her name on trees.  He would make pilgrimages to shrines of Our Lady.  Often she appeared to him in visions, guiding and advising him.  On one occasion, the Blessed Virgin revealed to him that some holy hermits would come from Mt. Carmel in a few years, and that he should join their Order, which was especially dedicated to Her service.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

St. Simon Stock became ordained as a priest at age forty.  Having met some of the Brothers of Carmel, he lived their strict penitential lifestyle for several years.  He left his homeland of England for the Holy Land, but he returned when Muslims invaded.  Upon his return, he joined the Carmelite Order and was eventually elected Prior General.  He found the task of organizing a group of contemplative hermits into an order of friars in Europe almost beyond his capacities.  When disruption and ruin threatened his beloved Order in the summer of 1251, the aged St. Simon withdrew to his monastic cell.  He appealed to the patroness of the Order, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on July 16, 1251, with this prayer that is still recited frequently by members of the Order:

“Flower of Carmel, Blossom-laden Vine, Splendor of Heaven, Mother Divine, none like to thee, peerless and fair, to Thy Children of Carmel, grant favors, O Star of the Sea.”

Suddenly, a great flood of supernatural light filled his cell.  In the company of many bright angels, the Blessed Virgin appeared with the Child Jesus on her arm, living and moving in dazzling splendor.  She presented the Brown Scapular to him with this promise:

“Receive, my beloved son, this habit of thy Order.  This shall be the privilege for you and for all Carmelites — that whoever dies piously wearing this scapular, shall not suffer eternal flames.”

As Blessed Mary and the Child Jesus vanished, the Saint was filled with joy and gratitude on seeing himself clothed in the Scapular which Our Lady had just given him.  He thanked her profusely for this garment of grace and her marvelous promise.  He hastened to assemble his brethren and tell them what had happened.  The scapular consisted of two lengths of fabric, joined at the shoulders, with a hole in the center for the head, so that the scapular lies front and back.  With this recognition given by the Queen of Heaven, this Scapular or monastic apron became a permanent and much respected addition to the Carmelite habit.  A smaller form of this exists today and is more familiar to Catholics as two small panels of cloth joined by string and worn over the shoulders.  The Church considers the Scapular a miniature religious habit and a highly indulgenced sacramental.

After this apparition, and after numerous appeals for protection against the Order’s antagonists, Pope Innocent IV sent a letter of protection that secured the Order from the problems they encountered.  The King of England also issued letters of protection and favor for the Carmelite Order.  The Scapular was also officially adopted as the regular habit of the White Friars.

Some years later, when St. Peter Thomas was engaged with important missions of the papal court, Our Lady of Mount Carmel again favored Her Order.  Concerned about the Order, he heard these words:

“Have confidence, Peter, for the Carmelite Order will last until the end of the world.  Elijah, its founder, obtained it a long time ago from My Son.”

Many were attracted to this Order during the fourteenth century and became members by way of confraternities.  They then participated in the graces, benefits, and observances of the Order, and were properly enrolled in the Third Order.

On March 3, 1322, another apparition occurred – this time to Pope John XXII.  Now known as the Sabbatine Privilege, Our Lady revealed,

“I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend into Purgatory on the Saturday after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free.”

St. Robert Bellarmine explains the promise to mean “that anyone dying in Mary’s family will receive from Her, at the hour of death, either grace of perseverance in the state of grace or the grace of final contrition.”  On learning of this vision, Pope Benedict XV encouraged all to wear this “common armor which enjoys the singular privilege of protection – even after death.”

Sixteen popes have given their approval to this Privilege, including Pope Paul V, who issued a decree on its behalf.  Many saints have also added their approval.

Six hundred years after the apparition with Pope John XXII in which the Sabbatine Privilege was revealed, Pope Pius XI observed the occasion by writing in 1922:

“It surely ought to be sufficient to merely exhort all the members of the confraternities and third orders to persevere in the holy exercises which have been prescribed for the gaining of indulgences to which they are entitled and particularly for the gaining of the indulgence which is the principal and the greatest of them all, namely, that called the Sabbatine.”

Many saints have spoken highly of the Scapular, including St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Claude de la Colombiere, who announced:

“I aver without a moment’s hesitation that the Scapular is the most favored of all.”

It is regarded as the most indulgenced of all sacramentals.  It is of interest to realize that the scapulars of St. Alphonsus and St. John Bosco were found intact during their exhumations and are still preserved in reliquaries today.  Pope Saint John Paul II joined the Third Order of Mount Carmel as a young man and always wore the scapular – even when in the hospital after the attempt on his life.  Pope John Paul II said,

“Through the Scapular, those devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel express their desire to mold their existence on the example of our Mother, Patroness, Sister, Most Pure Virgin, to accept God’s word with a purified heart and devote themselves to the zealous service of others.”

We wear Our Lady’s Scapular as a loving “yes” to her desire that we keep Jesus as the center of our lives and bring Him to others.  At the First Communion, we usually add a “new cloak” – that of Our Lady’s Brown Scapular.  The beautiful custom of enrolling children in the Scapular puts them, in their innocence, under the tender care of their Heavenly Mother.  Mary wants to draw all of humanity under her protecting and sanctifying mantle by means of her Brown Scapular.  She has solemnly promised us that if we sincerely fulfill the conditions of this beautiful devotion, we shall not only be saved, but she will see to it that we do not remain long in Purgatory before joining her in Heaven!

Pope Pius X concluded, “Can anyone fail to see that there is no more direct or surer way than Mary to unite all mankind in Christ?”  And the Catholic Encyclopedia states, “Like the Rosary, this Scapular has become the badge of the devout Catholic and the true servant of Blessed Mary.”

The Virgin by the Sea, Walsingham, 1061AD

WALSINGHAM, ENGLAND   1061  “The Virgin by the Sea”

In a small village in North Norfolk, England, in 1061, lived a devout young widow, Richeldis de Faverches, Lady of the Manor of Walsingham.  Our Lady appeared to her three times in a vision, and each time showed her the house in which the Holy Family had dwelt in Nazareth.  Mary led Richeldis “in spirit” to Nazareth to show her the place where the Archangel Gabriel had greeted her, and directed the widow to take measurements of the house so that she could build one like it at Walsingham.  In this spot, the Virgin Mary explained, the people would celebrate the Annunciation, “the root of mankind’s gracious redemption.”

“Do all this unto my special praise and honor.  And all who are in any way distressed or in need, let them seek me here in that little house you have made at Walsingham.  To all that seek me there shall be given succor.  And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when Saint Gabriel told me I should through humility become the Mother of God’s Son.”

Three times Richeldis experienced this vision and request.  This confirmed her desire to have the replica constructed, but the directions about the exact location were unclear to her and the carpenters.  Richeldis gave instructions for the building to commence but nothing seemed to go right.

When the carpenters could make no progress in building, Richeldis found it difficult to go to sleep.  She spent the night in prayer, asking for guidance.  There was an energy in the air that “made the night seem almost alive.”  She heard singing that seemed “not of this world” and went out into her garden to investigate.  She noted that the “heavenly singing” was coming from the direction of the unfinished construction.  As she approached the site she was amazed to see that the little house had been completed – but had been moved about two hundred yards from the site of the original construction!  She then saw what appeared to be angels leaving the now completed house.  When the carpenters returned to the site, they, too, reported hearing strange sounds and were amazed to see that the house had been moved and completed.  They pronounced the craftsmanship of the completed construction to be far superior to their own.

Our Lady of Walsingham
Our Lady of Walsingham

The Holy House had been miraculously built, and very soon pilgrims began to arrive.
During the Middle Ages, Walsingham became one of the greatest pilgrimage sites in all of Europe.  It became widely known as “England’s Nazareth.”  A church was constructed around the house to protect it from the elements.  All walks of life came there – peasant, king, rich and poor.  At the Holy House, all were equal.  From the time of Henry III in 1226 almost every king and queen of England as well as Queen Isabella of France and King Robert Bruce of Scotland visited the shrine.  For almost 500 years, Walsingham continued to draw thousands.  Many miracles were attributed to Our Lady of Walsingham, including one in which King Edward I was saved from a piece of falling masonry.

In the early 1500’s, Henry VIII visited the Holy House of Walsingham more than once as a pilgrim.  On one such occasion he walked barefoot twice the usual distance traversed by penitents.  But Henry’s ways changed as the years passed.  In an effort to be rid of one of his wives, Queen Catherine, and marry another, the king broke with the Pope and had himself declared by his parliament to be head of the English Church.  Then, in 1538, in order to move against all religious orders in his domain, Henry confiscated and burned to the ground the Holy House of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Only a portion of the massive east wall is visible today.

A wealthy Anglican woman, Charlotte Boyd, bought and restored it in 1863.  In 1864, Pope Leo XIII re-founded the ancient shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and pilgrimages were permitted to resume.  In 1954, the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was solemnly crowned at the direction of Pope Pius XII.

A chapel devoted to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, about a mile before the shrine, became nicknamed the “Slipper Chapel” because visitors would leave their footwear there, out of respect, and walk the last mile barefoot or in slippers.

The Slipper Chapel
The Slipper Chapel

Our Lady of Walsingham is also known as “The Virgin by the Sea.”  The medieval ballad told that she helps mariners in distress.  The Anglican pilgrim hostel displays the name “Stella Maris” or “Star of the Sea,” one of Mary’s more ancient titles.  Just a few miles from the Norfolk coast, Walsingham is a sanctuary of prayer and healing, a metaphor of salvation from storm and shipwreck, offering calm waters and safe harbor for all in trouble.