[News] [Curia] [Addresses] [Carmelite sites] [o.c.d.s.



Ildefonso Moriones OCD


 Pages of history

Pages from its history translated by
S.C. O'Mahony 




Introduction Bibliographic Note
I The Carmelite Order XI The legacy of Father Doria.
II Teresa de Ahumada, Carmelite Nun XII Break rather than Bend: the Discalced Split.
III St. Joseph's, Avila XIII The Spanish Congregation.
IV The Teresian Constitutions XIV A History that was difficult to write.
V The Radiation of a Charism XV Leading figures in the Italian Congregation.
VI Teresa of Jesus, Foundress of Friars XVI Reinforcements: Domingo Ruzola and Thomas of Jesus.
VII "Calced" and "Discalced" Carmelites XVII The Spread of the Italian Congregation.
VIII The New Province under Father Gracián. XVIII World-wide Expansion of the Daughters of St Teresa.
IX John of the Cross -The "Inner Man". XIX Restoration (19th Century) and Renewed Expansion (20th Century) of the Order.
X Change of Superior, change of Direction:
Father Nicholas of Jesus and Mary, Doria.
XX The Teresian Carmel and Vatican II Renewal.




During the first 25 years of their existence the Carmelite nuns were a compact group centred round the person of St.Teresa; both they and the Order's superiors looked on her as their Foundress and the person responsible for the new communities being founded. Thus Fr.Rossi (Rubeo) exempted them from the jurisdiction of the provincial and took them directly under his own care; Pedro Fernández always consulted Mother Teresa before making any decision which affected the nuns; Jerónimo Gracián, both as commissary and as provincial, delegated all his powers concerning the nuns to the Mother Foundress; St.Teresa herself remarked in March 1582 that she thought María de San José would be able to take her place as "foundress".

This feeling of constituting one group was so deep-rooted in the sisterhood that when the friars divided up into five provinces in 1588 they insisted on remaining subject to one and the same superior for all; they felt that being subject to five provincials would give rise to differences between them. They event went so far as to obtain a Brief from the Holy See (1590) giving them a Commissary, a kind of Vice-General, with responsibility for the nuns alone. (This Brief was never given effect; Doria opposed it).

The vitality of St.Teresa's communities at the time of her death is evidenced by the fact that six more foundations were made during Fr.Gracián's term as provincial (1581-85) and there were nine more in the pipe-line when he went out of office. They were even seriously thinking of making foundations in France and in the Congo.

Then the change in direction of which we spoke in Ch.X came, and that had a decisive influence on the nuns' prospects for expansion. The new elements which were introduced into their laws, againts the expressed will of those affected by them, signified that their separate indentity and independent organization were no longer clearly recognised; they were beginning to be treated as an extension of the friars. The importance of this historical point must not be lost sight of if certain aspects of the development and spread of the nuns is to be fully understood.


The founding of the Lisbon convent by María de San José towards the end of 1584 was not just the first step taken by the Carmelite nuns into a foreign kingdom; poised at it was on the shores of the Atlantic, it could also be looked on as a launching pad for the Congo, Mexico and France. However, Doria's limiting of horizons for the friars also affected the nuns, so that María de San José was in fact never able to take flight to new dovecots or embark for distant shores. She studied Frech, waited persistently for nearly twenty years for the desired permission, but it never came. Not until 1604 would the nuns be able to give effect to plans which they had as early as 1583.


Though Doria always opposed the nuns' efforts to found in Francem, he actively promoted their Genoa foundation, which was inaugurated on 12 December 1590. As the reader will have noticed, this foundation coincided with the most critical phase of the confrontation which was taking place between Fr.Doria and the Carmelite nuns led by Mother Anne of Jesus. Hence his choice of Jerónima del Espíritu Santo to take charge of the foundation; she had known St.Teresa personally, but did not share Mother Anne's point of view. This detail was immediately noticed by Catalina de Cristo. She had put the founding party up in the Barcelona convent while they were waiting for a ship to Genoa, so she knew them well. Writing to Bernabé del Mármol on 30 November 1590, she commented: "About six weeks ago the sisters who are going to Genoa arrived here. They are belong to those who gave in to the Consulta and renounced the Brief. Just think what.


The founding of a Carmelite convent in Paris met with more and greater difficulties than any to date, but its success more than compensated for all the effort. "France's injuries", which had caused St.Teresa so much pain and which had spurred her on in her founding activity, found a ready response in the hearts of her daughters; ever since Jean de Quintanadueñas had offered to sponsor a foundation in his native Rouen, numerous sisters from a variety of convents had volunteered to go personally to France's aid(1). However, partly because of the political difficulties between the two kingdoms, and partly because of the opposition of the Carmelite superiors to the project, all Quintanadueñas's efforts were in vain. Eventually, some important personages in the French spiritual revival (people who had come into contact with St.Teresa through the first translation of her works (Paris 1601) and through Ribera's biography) and the obstacles began to give way one by one. The principal people involved in the undertaking were Barbe Acarie (the future Bl.Mary of the Incarnation) and her friends and counsellors the Carthusian Dom Beaucousin; the parish priest of Aumale, Jacque Gallemant; André Duval, a Doctor of the Sorbonne; Pierre (later Cardinal) de Bérulle; and St.Francis de Sales.

The person who sponsored the foundation was Princess Catharine de Longueville; it was in her name that the petition was presented to Clement VIII, and he granted it by the Bull In supremo, dated 13 November 1603.

The Pope's permission was followed by long and difficult negotiations between Francisco de la Madre de Dios, the general, and Pierre de Bérulle, acting on behalf of the interested parties in France. The French wanted to see the Teresian Carmel established on a sound footing in their country, so they were determined at all costs that the first community should be led by a nun who had been prioress during St.Teresa's lifetime; that would guarantee that she had fully assimilated her spirit and that her ability had been recognised by the foundress. The general, on the other hand, insisted on offering them nuns who had proved amenable to the orientation introduced by Doria and continued by himself. After considerable bargaining de Bérulle won the duel and, under pressure from the Nunzio, the general had to concede Anne of Jesus as leader of the expedition. With her went the subprioress of Salamanca, Isabel de los Angeles, and Sister Beatriz de la Concepción of the same convent; Leonor de San Bernardo from Loeches, who knew a little French; Anne of St.Bartholomew from Avila; and Isabel de San Pablo from Burgos.

This group reached Paris on 15 October 1604 and set in motion the greatest flowering of Teresian Carmels since the days of St.Teresa. Fifty years after the founding of the Carmel of the Incarnation in Paris, the Carmelite nuns had founded 59 convents in France. Anne of Jesus was personally involved in those of Paris (1604), Pontoise (1605) and Dijon (1605); Anne of St.Bartholomew was in charge of that of Tours (1608); Isabel de los Angeles founded Amiens (1606), Rouen (1609), Bordeaux (1610), Toulouse (1616) and Limoges (1618).

Anne of Jesus and Anne of St.Bartholomew had spent many years with St.Teresa. The others had been trained by first generation Teresians. All of them had a contagious enthusiasm which made so great an impact on the novices that they never tired of thanking them for bringing the Teresian Carmel to their country. It is clear that these new communities began with the same lifestyle as those which the two Annes had founded with St.Teresa in Spain, for we know that as far as Anne of Jesus was concerned all the changes introduced by Doria in their laws and all the circulars which had preceded and followed them were but a passing storm which had no effect on her other than to sharpen her desire to preserve the Teresian ideal intact.

This is a good a place as any to say a few words about another gesture of Anne's which was destined to have far-reaching consequences for Carmelites throughout their history and to cause many a headache for writers down to our own day. In spite of the official promulgation of the Constitutions as revised by Doria in 1592, and Doria's subsequent prohibition of the use of any other text, Anne went to France with her 1581 copy. These were the Constitutions which she introduced into all the French convents and those she later founded in Flanders. Why did she do this? As far as she was conoerned, she had no reason to do otherwise. One should near in mind that all through the court case between herself and the superiors in the Royal Council of Castille, in which she sought to preserve St.Teresa's Constitutions intact (and during all the discussions that surrounded this), she was always accused of changing the Saint's laws, while the friars supposedly wanted them kept unchanged... Mother Anne was a woman of action rather than of words, so she did nos waste her breath on further argument; she simply obeyed the Vicar General's prohibition against any "new" constitutions and held on to what she had always had. During the course of the above-mentioned lawsuit she once said that "custom was the best interpreted of the law. Now she followed her own custom of appealing to the Pope whenever as immediate superior tried to interfere in the life of her communities: in Spain she defended them against Fr.Doria's plans, in Paris from de Bérulle's temptation to introduce new elements, in Belgium from the effort made by the superiors of the Italian Congregation to bring the other convents into line with that of Genoa, where the 1592 Constitutions (translated into Italian in 1593) were in force.

One thing which Mother Anne did not succeed in doing in France was to have the friars found there in time to take on the government of the nuns. For this reason, their superiors were Gallemant, Duval and de Bérulle at the start, then secular priests appointed by the Nunzio for three years at a time (Brief Cum alias of 9.9.1606), and, finally, de Bérulle and his successors as superior of the Oratory (Brief Cum pridem of 17.4.1614). When de Bérulle died (1629), the general chapter of the Oratory gave up this responsibility and the holy See then authorised the Nunzio to appoint a visitator to the Carmelite nuns every three years (11.4.1632). Apart from changes in detail not worth mentioning, this was how the nuns were governed down to th French Revolution. After the suppression of the religious, the nuns became subject to the bishops.

Just before the Revolution, Carmelite convents in France numbered 62. Though the nuns were all then dispersed and some even guillotined (one remembers the sixteen martyrs of Compiègne led by Mother Teresa of St.Augustine) they managed to keep their ideal alive and resurrect it from the ashes younger and more vigorous than ever: by 1880 the convents numbered 113, and about 120 by the end of the century.


As we have seen, the Carmelites in France had an external government which might called anomolous if compared with the vision which St.Teresa had and which the first generation of her daughters defended, but their internal government was genuinely Teresian and preserved her Constitution intact. In Spain, on the other hand, the nuns were under Discalced friars, bur paradoxically their Constitutions were changed. The paradox is more apparent than real, of course, when one bears in mind the particular evolution of the Spanish Congregation as described in Ch.XIII.

Faithful to the principle, valid enough in the days of Soreth and a earlier type of Carmelite nun but anachronistic where the Discalced were concerned, that the nuns should be guided by the laws and customs of the friars, the superiors decided that a complete revision of their legislation was necessary; it had remained unchanged since 1592, while that of the friars had undergone further evolution. The revision was ordered by the 1613 general chapter and carried out during the following triennium. The resulting legislation was examined by an enlarged definitory general and by all the outgoing provincials. It was promulgated on 30 May 1616 by the general José de Jesús María without any reference to the Holy See.

We don't know hos Anne of Jesus would have reacted had she been in Spain at the time, nor is there any record of her thoughts on the subject. We do, however, have the comments of one of the sisters who had accompanied Anne to France, Isabel de los Angeles. Writing to the prioress of Salamanca (her own former convent) on 2 June 1618, she says: "I must confess, Mother, that the way things are done now in Spain grieves me. Reading through the new Constitutions these past few days, I said to myself: "God, this is no way to treat your servants and daughters! They are more like slaves, doing things or not doing them out of fear of punishment". I don't believe, dear Mother, that the spirit of our Order will be preservee by this means; instead we shall cease to go to God along the path our Holy Mother taught us. I know holy obedience is very important, but if it is fear rather than love that makes them obedient, I don't know what progress they will make in perfection"(2)

It is not always easy tl establish just how far changes in laws reflect a changed situation or how far they bring about that change, but it is obvious that in the Carmelite convents of early 17th century Spain the influence of the friars's guidance was making itself increasingly felt. (Fr.Alonso gave them a new Ordinarium and ceremonial in 1622, and a Manual in 1623).

As this influence is an important historical fact, and one destined to have far-reaching consequences, it will not be superfluous to listen to one more, unimpeachable, witness. This is Beatriz de la Concepción, who, after twelve years in the Salamanca convent, accompanied Anne of Jesus to France in 1604. Unlike her companions, however, she decided to return to her old convent when she was 60. That was in 1630, so she had lived in Salamanca with people who knew St.Teresa (she had Anne of Jesus as prioress there from 1596 to 1599) and now returned after an absence of twenty-five years imagining that she would find the atmosphere of her youth and early days in religious life. But, as we have said, things had changed quite a lot since then. In a letter to Margaret of Jesus, her successor as prioress of Brussels, dated 8 August 1631, she gave vent to her disenchantment: "Believe me, Mother, the old way is incomparably better. You should see the confusion at wash-up time! They all go in to help and, as they recite psalms instead of talking, recreation cannot begin until they finish. And for this they set the timer! None of the nuns who were here in my time are left, nor do they do any of the things we used to do. I am very much out of place and feel more so every day. Consider your efforts to keep things as they were well worth the trouble"(3).

Perhaps it was these changes in the constitutions that sparked off a phenomenon which made its appearance shortly after this: the founding of convents under the jurisdiction of the bishops and with the condition that the constitutions to be observed would be those of 1581. The first to do this, by a special Bull of Pope Urban VIII, was the convent of St.Teresa, founded in Zaragoza in 1624. Those of Tarazona (1632), Vich (1637), Teruel (1660), and Caudiel (1671) followed suit, and they printed the 1581 Constitutions for their own use. The official chroniclers of the Order were instructed not to write about convents founded outside the Order's jurisdiction.

Growth continued throughout the 17th centurym though the rate of that growth slowed down as the century progressed. By the end of the century there were in all 71 convents in Spain -48 subject to Carmelite superiors, 23 subject to the bishops-. On the occasion of the second centenary of the foundation of St.Joseph's Avila (1562-1762) that number had increased to 81. One more foundation (Lesaca) was made in 1767, and that was the last until the restoration which took place in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

During the persecutions and suppressions of the 19th century the Carmelite nuns in Spain lost remarkably few convents. When the troubles were over, they emerged with new strength and experienced a second Spring beside their brethren, who were also making a new start in a new style.


By 1607 the Order was firmly established in France; so, Mother Anne of Jesus left Anne of St.Bartholomew and Isable de los Angeles in charge there and moved on to Belgium to establish a new focal point for the radiation of the Teresian Carmel. She personally founded convents in Brussels (1607), Louvain (1607), La Mons (1608). When the presence of Anne of St.Bartholomew was no longer necessary in France, Anne of Jesus made her prioress of a new convent in Antwerp in 1614. In 1619, a second convent was founded in Antwerp expressly for exiled young English ladies who had been received and trained by Anne of Jesus in her new Belgian convents. Their first prioress was Anne of the Ascension (Worsley), and she had Teresa of Jesus (Ward) as her subprioress. Margaret of St.Francis and Anne of Jesus (van der Duyne) were two others whom we know to have belonged to this community.

Always scrupulous where obedience was concerned, Anne of Jesus did not rest until she saw her convents placed under the jurisdiction of the Order. This turned out to be no easy matter, nor did it bring her the rest she expected it would. The first thing that must be said her is that we do not know whether Anne knew the contents of the Bull by which the Italian Congregation was established. The fact that she went to great lengths to try and persuade the Spanish friars to found in France and look after her convents suggests that she didn't. Only after the Spaniards had proved adamant in their refusal did she turn to those in Italy. These eventually went to France, but too late for her purposes.

As soon as she began founding in Flanders, she again invited the Spanish fathers to come and be their superiors. Only when it was clear that there was no hope of help from that quarter did ahe again turn to Italy. In this case the refusal of the Spaniards is more surprising, because Flanders being a Crown territory one would have thought they would have been within their rights in making foundations there. Thanks to Anne's efforts, the Italian Congregation decided to come to her aid. She had everything ready for them when, led by Thomas of Jesus, the first group arrived in 1610. Shortly afterwards, on 18 September, the nuns solemnly place themselves under the jurisdiction of the Italian Congregation, in accordance with the Brief Cum sicut accepimus, dated 26 January 1610.

Immediately, it became apparent that in one matter there was an important anomaly: the Constitutions of the nuns in Genoa differed from those of the Belgian convents. The superiors of the Congregation wanted to rectify this by bringing Anne's nuns into line with Genoa. But Anne had only just had the 1581 Constitutions translated by Quintanadueñas and published in Brussels in 1607. She appealed to the Holy See and once more saved the text which had become for her a symbol and a guarantee of the lifestyle she had learned from the Mother Foundress.

Only after Anne's death (1621) did the superiors succeed in gradually winning over the nuns to the 1592-93 text. Even then there was a historically important exception to this trend: the Louvain community and that of the English nuns in Antwerp vowed that the only Constitutions they would accept would be those of 1581. Since they were adamant about this, the Order resigned from its jurisdiction over them. Pope Gregory XIV approved this step (17.3.1627) and placed them under the jurisdiction of the bishops.

The "English convent" showed signs of great vitality. It was from that convent that the Order spread to Holland, Germany, England, and the United Stated of America.

The Carmelite nuns of the Italian Congregation spread more slowly than those of the Spanish Congregation. Nevertheless, by 1656 they had 47 convents, not counting a few which were subject to the bishops. By 1780, just before their troubles began, they had reached 102; 73 under the Order's jurisdiction, 27 subject to bishops(4).


1. For the foundations in France and Flanders see P.Serouet, Jean de Brétigny (1556-1634). Aux origines du Carmel de France, de Belgique et du Congo. Louvain 1974.
2. BMC 21, p.282.
3. P.Serouet, Lettres choisies de Béatrix de la Conception. Paris-Tournai, 1967, pp.362-363.
4. For a fine synthesis of this subject, see V.Macca, Carmelitane Scalze, col.430-454. To trace the lines of descent of the various convents, see the unique work prepared by the Carmel of Cherbourg for the Fourth Centenary: Généalogie des Couvents de Carmélites de la Réforme de Ste.Thérèse.

 English] [ Italiano] [ Español] [ Français ] [ Deutsch]
[ ] [  ]

Updated 02 giu 2003  by OCD General House
Corso d'Italia, 38 - 00198 Roma - Italia
 ++39 (06) 854431  FAX ++39 (06) 85350206