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the Carmelite Order

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One of the mendicant orders.

Origin

The date of the foundation of the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel has been under discussion from the fourteenth century to the present day, the order claiming for its founders the prophets Elias and Eliseus, whereas modern historians, beginning with Baronius, deny its existence previous to the second half of the twelfth century. As early as the times of the Prophet Samuel there existed in the Holy Land a body of men called Sons of the Prophets, who in many respects resembled religious institutes of later times. They led a kind of community life, and, though not belonging to the Tribe of Levi, dedicated themselves to the service of God; above all they owed obedience to certain superiors, the most famous of whom were Elias and his successor Eliseus, both connected with Carmel, the former by his encounter with the prophets of Baal, the latter by prolonged residence on the holy mountain. With the downfall of the Kingdom of Israel the Sons of the Prophets disappear from history. In the third or fourth century of the Christian Era Carmel was a place of pilgrimage, as is proved by numerous Greek inscriptions on the walls of the School of the Prophets: "Remember Julianus, remember Germanicus", etc. Several of the Fathers, notably John Chrystostom, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, and Jerome, represent Elias and Eliseus as the models of religious perfection and the patrons of hermits and monks. These undeniable facts have opened the way to certain conjectures. As St. John the Baptist spent nearly the whole of his life in the desert, where he gathered around him a number of disciples, and as Christ said he was endowed with the spirit and virtue of Elias, some authors think that he revived the institute of the Sons of the Prophets.

The glowing descriptions given by Pliny, Flavius Josephus, and Philo, of the manner of life of the Essenes and Therapeutes convinced others that these sects belonged to the same corporation; unfortunately their orthodoxy is open to serious doubts. Tacitus mentions a sanctuary on Carmel, consisting "neither of a temple, nor an idol, but merely an altar for Divine worship"; whatever its origin may have been, it certainly was at the time of Vespasian in the hands of a pagan priest, Basilides. Pythagoras (500 B.C.) is represented by Jamblichus (A.D. 300) as having spent some time in silent prayer in a similar sanctuary on Carmel, a testimony of greater force for the time of Jambilichus himself than for that of Pythagoras. Nicephorus Callistus (A.D. 1300) relates that the Empress Helena built a church in honour of St. Elias on the slopes of a certain mountain. This evidence is, however, inadmissible, inasmuch as Eusebius is witness to the fact that she built only two churches in the Holy Land, at Bethlehem and at Jerusalem, not twenty, as Nicephorus says; moreover the words of this author show clearly that he had in view the Greek monastery of Mar Elias, overhanging the Jordan valley, and not Carmel as some authors think; Mar Elias, however, belongs to the sixth century. These and other misunderstood quotations have enfeebled rather than strengthened the tradition of the order, which holds that from the days of the great Prophets there has been, if not an uninterrupted, at least a moral succession of hermits on Carmel, first under the Old Dispensation, afterwards in the full light of Christianity, until at the time of the Crusades these hermits became organized after the fashion of the Western orders. This tradition is officially laid down in the constitutions of the order, is mentioned in many papal Bulls, as well as in the Liturgy of the Church, and is still held by many members of the order.

The silence of Palestine pilgrims previous to A.D. 1150, of chroniclers, of early documents, in one word the negative evidence of history has induced modern historians to disregard the claims of the order, and to place its foundation in or about the year 1155 when it is first spoken of in documents of undoubted authenticity. Even the evidence of the order itself was not always very explicit. A notice written between 1247 and 1274 (Mon. Hist. Carmelit., 1, 20, 267) states in general terms that "from the days of Elias and Eliseus the holy fathers of the Old and the New Dispensation dwelt on Mount Carmel, and that their successors after the Incarnation built there a chapel in honour of Our Lady, for which reason they were called in papal Bulls "Friars of Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel". The General Chapter of 1287 (unedited) speaks of the order as of a plantation of recent growth (plantatio novella ). More definite are some writings of about the same time. A letter "On the progress of his Order" ascribed to St. Cyril of Constantinople, but written by a Latin (probably French) author about the year 1230, and the book "On the Institution of the First Monks" connect the order with the Prophets of the Old Law. This latter work, mentioned for the first time in 1342, was published in 1370 and became known in England half a century later. It purports to be written by John, the forty-fourth (more accurately the forty-second) Bishop of Jerusalem (A.D. 400). However, as Gennadius and other ancient bibliographers do not mention it among the writings of John, and as the author was clearly a Latin, since his entire argument is based upon certain texts of the Vulgate differing widely from the corresponding passages of the Septuagint, and as he in many ways proves his entire ignorance of the Greek language, and, moreover, quotes or alludes to writers of the twelfth century, he cannot have lived earlier than the middle of the thirteenth. A third author is sometimes mentioned, Joseph, a Deacon of Antioch, whom Possevin assigns to about A.D. 130. His work is lost but its very title, "Speculum perfectæ militæ primitivæ ecclesiæ", proves that he cannot have belonged to the Apostolic Fathers, as indeed he is entirely unknown to patristic literature. His name is not mentioned before the fourteenth century and in all probability he did not live much earlier.

The tradition of the order, while admitted by many of the medieval Schoolmen, was contested by not a few authors. Hence the Carmelite historians neglected almost completely the history of their own times, spending all their energy on controversial writings, as is evident in the works of John Baconthorpe, John of Chimeneto, John of Hildesheim, Bernard Olerius, and many others. In 1374 a disputation was held before the University of Cambridge between the Dominican John Stokes and the Carmelite John of Horneby; the latter, whose arguments were chiefly taken from canon law, not from history, was declared victorious and the members of the university were forbidden to question the antiquity of the Carmelite Order. Towards the end of the fifteenth century this was again ably defended by Trithemius (or whoever wrote under his name), Bostius, Palæonydorus, and many others who with a great display of learning strove to strengthen their thesis, filling in the gaps in the history of the order by claiming for it numerous ancient saints. Sts. Eliseus and Cyril of Alexandria (1399), Basil (1411), Hilarion (1490), and Elias (in some places c. 1480, in the whole order from 1551) had already been placed on the Carmelite calendar; the chapter of 1564 added many more, some of whom were dropped out twenty years later on the occasion of a revision of the Liturgy, but were reintroduced in 1609 when Cardinal Bellarmine acted as reviser of Carmelite legends. He, too, approved with certain reservations the legend of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16 July, which had been instituted between 1376 and 1386 in commemoration of the approbation of the rule by Honorius III; it now (1609) became the "Scapular feast", was declared the principal feast of the order, and was extended to the whole Church in 1726. The tendency of claiming for the order saints and other renowned persons of Christian and even classical antiquity came to a climax in the "Paradisus Carmelitici decoris" by M. A. Alegre de Casanate, published in 1639, condemned by the Sorbonne in 1642, and placed on the Roman Index in 1649. Much that is uncritical may also be found in the annals of the order by J.-B. de Lezana (1645-56) and in "Decor Carmeli" by Philip of the Blessed Trinity (1665). On the publication, in 1668, of the third volume of March of the Bollandists, in which Daniel Papebroch asserted that the Carmelite Order was founded in 1155 by St. Berthold, there arose a literary war of thirty years' duration and almost unequaled violence. The Holy See, appealed to by both sides, declined to place the Bollandists on the Roman Index, although they had been put on the Spanish Index, but imposed silence on both parties (1698). On the other hand it permitted the erection of a statue of St. Elias in the Vatican Basilica among the founders of orders (1725), towards the cost of which (4064 scudi or $3942) each section of the order contributed one fourth part. At the present time the question of the antiquity of the Carmelite Order has hardly more than academical interest.

Foundations in Palestine

The Greek monk John Phocas who visited the Holy Land in 1185 relates that he met on Carmel a Calabrian (i.e. Western) monk who some time previously, on the strength of an apparition of the Prophet Elias, had gathered around him about ten hermits with whom he led a religious life in a small monastery near the grotto of the prophet. Rabbi Benjamin de Tudela had already in 1163 reported that the Christians had built there a chapel in honour of Elias. Jacques de Vitry and several other writers of the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth centuries give similar accounts. The exact date of the foundation of the hermitage may be gathered from the life of Aymeric, Patriarch of Antioch, a relative of the "Calabrian" monk, Berthold; on the occasion of a journey to Jerusalem in 1154 or the following year he appears to have visited the latter and assisted him in the establishment of the small community; it is further reported that on his return to Antioch (c. 1160) he took with him some of the hermits, who founded a convent in that town and another on a neighbouring mountain; both were destroyed in 1268. Under Berthold's successor, Brocard, some doubts arose as to the proper form of life of the Carmelite hermits. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Albert de Vercelli, then residing at Tyre, settled the difficulty by writing a short rule, part of which is literally taken from that of St. Augustine (c. 1210). The hermits were to elect a prior to whom they should promise obedience; they were to live in cells apart from one another, where they had to recite the Divine Office according to the Rite of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, or, if unable to read, certain other prayers, and to spend their time in pious meditation varied by manual labour. Every morning they met in chapel for Mass, and on Sundays also for chapter. They were to have no personal property; their meals were to be served in their cells; but they were to abstain from flesh meat except in cases of great necessity, and they had to fast from the middle of September until Easter. Silence was not to be broken between Vespers and Terce of the following day, while from Terce till Vespers they were to guard against useless talk. the prior was to set a good example by humility, and the brothers were to honour him as the representative of Christ.

Migration to Europe

As will be seen from this short abstract no provision was made for any further organization beyond the community on Carmel itself, whence it must be inferred that until 1210 no other foundation had been made except those at and near Antioch, which were probably subject to the patriarch of that city. After that date new communities sprang up at Saint Jean d'Acre, Tyre, Tripoli, Jerusalem, in the Quarantena, somewhere in Galilee (monasterium Valini ), and in some other localities which are not known, making in all about fifteen. Most of these were destroyed almost as soon as they were built, and at least in two of them some of the brothers were put to death by the Saracens. Several times the hermits were driven from Carmel, but they always found means to return; they even built a new monastery in 1263 (in conformity with the revised rule) and a comparatively large church, which was still visible towards the end of the fifteenth century. However, the position of Christians had become so precarious as to render emigration necessary. Accordingly colonies of hermits were sent out to Cyprus, Sicily, Marseilles, and Valenciennes (c. 1238). Some brothers of English nationality accompanied the Barons de Vescy and Grey on their return journey from the expedition of Richard, Earl of Cornwall (1241), and made foundations at Hulne near Alnwick in Northumberland, Bradmer (Norfolk), Aylesford, and Newenden (Kent). St. Louis, King of France, visited Mount Carmel in 1254 and brought six French hermits to Charenton near Paris where he gave them a convent. Mount Carmel was taken by the Saracens in 1291, the brothers, while singing the Salve Regina, were put to the sword, and the convent was burnt.

Character and Name

With the migration of the Carmelites to Europe begins a new period in the history of the order. Little more than the bare names of the superiors of the first period has come down to us: St. Berthold, St. Brocard, St. Cyril, Berthold (or Bartholomew), and Alan (1155-1247). At the first chapter held at Aylesford, St. Simon Stock was elected general (1247-65). As the oldest biographical notice concerning him dates back only to 1430 and is not very reliable, we must judge the man from his works. He found himself in a difficult position. Although the rule had been granted about 1210 and had received papal approbation in 1226, many prelates refused to acknowledge the order, believing it to be founded in contravention of the Lateran Council (1215) which forbade the institution of new orders. In fact the Carmelite Order as such was only approved by the Second Council of Lyons (1274), but St. Simon obtained from Innocent IV an interim approbation, as well as certain modifications of the rule (1247). Henceforth foundations were no longer restricted to deserts but might be made in cities and the suburbs of towns; the solitary life was abandoned for community life; meals were to be taken in common; the abstinence, though not dispensed with, was rendered less stringent; the silence was restricted to the time between Compline and Prime of the following day; donkeys and mules might be kept for traveling and the transport of goods, and fowls for the needs of the kitchen. Thus the order ceased to be cremitical and became one of the mendicant orders. Its first title, Fratres eremitæ de Monte Carmeli , and, after the building of a chapel on Carmel in honour of Our Lady (c. 1220), Eremitæ Sanctæ Mariæ de Monte Carmeli, was now changed into Fratres Ordinis Beatissimæ Virginis Mariæ de Monte Carmeli. By an ordinance of the Apostolic Chancery of 1477 it was further amplified, Fratres Ordinis Beatissimæ Dei Genitricus semperque Virginis Mariæ de Monte Carmeli , which title was rendered obligatory by the General Chapter of 1680.

Having obtained the mitigation of the rule, St. Simon Stock, who was altogether in favour of the active life, opened houses at Cambridge (1249), Oxford (1253), London (about the same time), York (1255), Paris (1259), Bologna (1260), Naples (date uncertain), etc. He strove especially to implant the order at the universities, partly to secure for the religious the advantages of a higher education, partly to increase the number of vocations among the undergraduates. Although the zenith of the mendicant orders had already passed he was successful in both respects. The rapid increase of convents and novices, however, proved dangerous; the rule being far stricter than those of St. Francis and St. Dominic, discouragement and discontent seized many of the brothers, while the bishops and the parochial clergy continued to offer resistance to the development of the order. He died a centenarian before peace was fully restored. With the election of Nicholas Gallicus (1265-71) a reaction set in; the new general, being much opposed to the exercise of the sacred ministry, favoured exclusively the contemplative life. To this end he wrote a lengthy letter entitled "Ignea sagitta" (unedited) in which he condemned in greatly exaggerated terms what he called the dangerous occupations of preaching and hearing confessions. His words remaining unheeded, he resigned his office, as did also his successor, Radulphus Alemannus (1271-74), who belonged to the same school of thought.

Habit

The approbation of the order by the Second Council of Lyons secured its permanent position among the mendicant orders, sanctioned the exercise of the active life, and removed every obstacle to its development, which thenceforth went on by leaps and bounds. Under Peter de Millaud (1274-94) a change was made in the habit. Hitherto it had consisted of a tunic, girdle, scapular, and hood of either black, brown or grey colour (the colour became subject to numberless changes according to the different subdivisions and reforms of the order), and of a mantle composed of four white and three black vertical stripes or rays, whence the friars were popularly called Fratres barrati, or virgulati , or de pica (magpie). In 1287 this variegated mantle was exchanged for one of pure white wool which caused them to be called Whitefriars.

The Thirteenth Century Besides the generals already mentioned, the thirteenth century saw two saints of the order, Angelus and Albert of Sicily. Very little is known of the former, his biography, purporting to be written by his brother Enoch, Patriarch of Jerusalem, being a work of the fifteenth century; in those portions in which it can be controlled by contemporary evidence it is proved to be unreliable, e.g. when it establishes a whole Greek hierarchy at Jerusalem during the period of the Crusades; or when it gives the acts of an apocryphal Council of Alexandria together with the names of seventy bishops supposed to have taken part in it. These and some other particulars being altogether unhistorical, it is difficult to say how much credence it deserves in other matters for which there is no independent evidence. It is, however, worthy of notice that the Breviary lessons from 1458, when the feast of St. Angelus first appears, until 1579 represent him simply as a Sicilian by birth and say nothing of his Jewish descent, his birth and conversion at Jerusalem, etc. Nor is there any positive evidence as to the time when he lived or the year and cause of his martyrdom. According to some sources he was put to death by heretics (probably Manichæans), but, according to later authors, by a man whom he had publicly reproved for grave scandal. Again, the oldest legends of St. Francis and St. Dominic say nothing of a meeting of the three saints in Rome or their mutual prophecies concerning the stigmata, the rosary, and the martyrdom. The life of St. Albert, too, was written a long time after his death by one who had no personal recollection of him and was more anxious to edify the reader by an account of numerous miracles (frequently in exaggerated terms), than to state sober facts. All that can be said with certainty is that St. Albert was born in Sicily, entered the order very young, in consequence of a vow made by his parents, that for some time he occupied the position of provincial, and that he died in the odour of sanctity on 7 August, 1306. Though he was never formally canonized, his feast was introduced in 1411.

Foundations in the British Isles

The English province, to which the Irish and Scottish houses belonged until 1305, made rapid progress until about the middle of the fourteenth century, after which date foundations became less numerous, while from time to time some of the smaller houses were given up. The Carmelites enjoyed the favour of the Crown, which contributed generously towards several foundations, particularly that of Oxford, where the royal residence was handed over to the order. The site is now occupied by the Beaufort Hotel, but there may still be seen Friars' Walk, and the little church of St. Mary Magdalen which for a time was served by the Carmelites. Other royal foundations were Hitchin, Marlborough, etc. John of Gaunt was a great benefactor of the order and chose his confessors from amongst its members; the House of Lancaster likewise almost always had Carmelites as royal confessors, a post which corresponded to some extent to that of royal almoner or minister of public worship. These confessors were as a rule promoted to small bishoprics in Ireland or Wales. The order became very popular among the people. The life was one of deep poverty, as is proved by various inventories of goods and other documents still extant. During the Wycliffite troubles the order took the leadership of the Catholic party, the first opponent of Wyclif being the Provincial of the Carmelites, John Cunningham. Thomas Walden was entrusted by Henry V with important missions abroad, and accompanied Henry VI to France. During the wars with France several French convents were attached to the English province, so that the number of English Carmelites rose to fifteen hundred. But ultimately there remained only the house at Calais, which was suppressed by Henry VIII. At the end of the fifteenth century the province had dwindled down to about six hundred religious.

None of the various reforms seems to have been introduced into England, although Eugene IV and the general, John Soreth, took steps in this direction. The peculiar constitutions in vigour in England, and the excellent organization of the province rendered the spread of abuses less to be feared than elsewhere. At the beginning of the Reformation a number of the junior religious, affected by the new learning, left the order; the remainder were compelled to sign the Act of Supremacy, which they apparently did without hesitation, a fact not much to be wondered at if it be borne in mind that Cardinal Wolsey had already obtained power from the Holy See to visit and reform the Carmelite convents, a measure which left no alternative but blind submission to the royal will or suppression. Separated from the rest of the order, the Carmelites were for a time subjected to the rule of George Brown, general of all the mendicants, but gained a comparative independence under John Byrd, first provincial and then general of the English section of the order. At the time of the final suppression there were thirty-nine houses, including that of Calais. The suppression papers are very far from complete, exhibiting the names of only about 140 religious, and containing the inventories of less than a dozen houses. These were in a state of abject poverty. At Oxford the friars had been obliged to sell the benches of the church and the trees in the road, and the commissioners stated that soon they would have to sell the tiles off the roof, to buy a few loaves of bread. Yet one of the novices, Anthony Foxton, nothing daunted by this trying situation, fled to Northallerton to continue his novitiate, whence a few weeks later he was expelled for the second time. The property of the order was squandered with the same recklessness as other ecclesiastical goods. The library of the London house, considered one of the finest in England (this applies in all probability to the building, not to its contents, which bear no comparison with other monastic libraries of that period), came into the possession of Dr. Butt. The other buildings were sold in parcels. Only two Carmelites are known to have suffered death, Lawrence Cook and Reginald Pecock; others seem to have recanted in prison. But as practically nothing is known of the fate of a large number of convents, especially those of the North, it is more than probable that during the different risings some were burnt and their inmates hanged. Among the few remains of the English Carmelite convents must be mentioned the first two foundations, Hulne, now a ruin, and Aylesford, in a fairly good state of preservation, and also the beautiful cloister in what is now the workhouse for male paupers at Coventry. An attempt to revive the English province during the reign of Queen Mary was unsuccessful.

The history of the Irish and Scottish provinces has never been exhaustively studied, owing chiefly to the loss of many documents. The total number of Irish convents is variously given as twenty-five or twenty-eight, but in all probability some of these had but a short-lived existence. The fact that the general chapters repeatedly appointed Englishmen as provincials for Ireland seems to indicate that the province was frequently troubled by disunion and strife. At an early epoch the Dublin house was designated a studium generale , but as it is never mentioned as such in the official lists it probably served only for the Irish students, foreign provinces not being required to send their contingent. For the pursuit of higher studies special faculties were given to the Irish and Scottish in London and at the English universities. The Irish convents fell without exception under the iron hand of Henry VIII.

The Scottish province numbered at the utmost twelve convents, of which that of South Queensferry at the foot of the Forth Bridge is still extant. Here again we have to content ourselves with stray notices, from which, however, it is manifest that the order was in high favour with the Crown. Some Scottish Carmelites played an important part at the University of Paris, while others were among the chief promoters of the Reform of Albi. At the suppression of the English convents many religious betook themselves to Scotland where convents were allowed to exist as best they could until 1564.

Constitutions

The oldest constitutions that have come down to us are dated 1324, but there is evidence of a former collection begun about 1256 to supplement the rule, which lays down only certain leading principles. In 1324 the order was divided into fifteen provinces corresponding to the countries in which it was established. At the head of the order was the general, elected in open scrutinium (ballot) by the general chapter; at each successive chapter he had to render an account of his administration and if no serious complaints were made he was confirmed in his office until he was removed by the nomination to a bishopric, or by death, or until he resigned of his own accord. He chose his own residence which from 1472 was usually Rome. He was given two companions (generally of his own choice) to accompany him on his journeys and to assist him with advice. The whole order contributed annually a fixed amount towards the maintenance of the general and the costs of the administration. In theory, at least, the power of the general was almost unlimited but in practice he could not afford to disregard the wishes of the provinces and provincials. The general chapter assembled fairly regularly every third year from 1247 to the end of the fourteenth century; but from that period onward the intervals became much longer, six, ten, even sixteen years. The chapters had become a heavy burden, not only for the order but also for the towns which accorded them hospitality. Each province (their number was constantly increasing) was represented by the provincial and two companions. In addition to these there was a gathering of masters in divinity and promising students who held theological disputations, while the definitors discussed the affairs of the order; as the Holy See usually granted indulgences on the occasion of chapters, the pulpits of the cathedral and parochial and conventional churches were occupied several times a day by eloquent preachers; traveling being performed on horseback, each province sent a number of lay brothers to care for the horses.

Thus the general chapters were always attended by large numbers of friars, from five hundred to a thousand and more. To defray the costs each provincial was bound to ask his sovereign for a subsidy, the English Crown as a rule contributing ten pounds, while board and lodging for the members of the chapter were found in other religious houses and among the townspeople. In return the order used to grant the town letters of fraternity and to place its patron saints on the Carmelite calendar. For the election of the general all the provincials and their companions assembled, but the remaining business was entrusted to the definitors, one for each province; these were chosen at the provincial chapter in such a way that no one could act in this capacity in two successive chapters. The duty of the definitors was to receive reports on the administration of the provinces; to confirm provincials or to depose them, and elect the annual taxation; to nominate those who were to lecture on Scripture and the Sentences at the universities, especially Paris; to grant permission for the reception of academical honours at the expense of the whole order; to revise and interpret existing laws and add new ones; and finally, to grant privileges to deserving members, deal with those guilty of serious offenses by meting out adequate punishment, or, if cause were shown for leniency, by relaxing or condoning previous sentences. This done, the whole chapter was again called together, he decisions of the definitors were published and handed in writing to each provincial. Of the records of the earlier chapters only fragments are now to be found, but from 1318 the acts are complete and have partly been printed.

The provincial chapters were held as a rule once a year, but there were complaints that some provincials held only two in three years. Each convent was represented by the prior or vicar and by one companion elected by the conventual chapter to take complaints against the prior. Out of the whole number of capitulars four definitors were chosen who together with the provincial performed much the same duties on behalf of the province as did the definitory of the general chapter on behalf of the whole order. Among other things they had full authority to depose priors and to elect new ones; they also selected students to be sent to the various studia generalia and particularia , and to the universities, and made adequate provision for their expenses. They decided--subject to the approval of the general and the Holy See--on the foundation of new convents. They dealt with delinquents. Attempts were made from time to time to limit the duration of the office of provincials, but so long as the general legislation of the church tolerated an indefinite tenure of office these endeavours were practically unavailing.

The superior of a convent was the prior, or in his absence and during a vacancy the vicar. The prior was controlled in his administration by three guardians who held the keys of the common chest and countersigned bills and contracts. Complaints against the prior were sent to the provincial or the provincial chapter. There was no limit to the tenure of office of the prior; he might be confirmed year after year for twenty or more years. In the case of convents in university towns, especially Paris and the Roman Curia (Avignon, afterwards Rome) the nomination belonged to the general or the general chapter; and there appears to have been an unwritten law that at Cambridge, Louvain, and other universities the priorship should be filled by the bachelor who in the course of the year was to take his degree as Master in Divinity. From about the middle of the fourteenth century it became customary to fill the offices of general, provincial, and prior (at least in the larger convents) exclusively with those who had taken degrees. Almost the only systematic exception to this rule is to be found in the province of Upper Germany.

Sources of Membership

When St. Simon Stock established convents in university towns he obviously counted upon the undergraduates as the future recruits of the order; nor was he deceived in his expectation. True, the time had passed when in one day sixty or more students with their professors flocked to the Dominican convent at Paris to receive the habit from the hands of Blessed Jordan. But there were still many applicants, notwithstanding the severe by-laws of the universities regulating the reception of students in mendicant convents. It was perhaps chiefly the poor scholars who by joining one of these orders secured for themselves the necessaries of life as well as the means of education. Not only in the time of St. Simon but even much later a good deal of trouble was caused by these young men, who had recently exchanged the free and easy life of the scholar for the discipline of the cloister. In many convents we find numerous instances of members of the families of the founders and chief benefactors becoming conventuals; in some cases the relationship of uncle and nephew may be traced through several centuries; just as the prebends of cathedrals and collegiate churches were often the gift of the founder and his family and were handed down from generation to generation, the more humble cells of a Carmelite convent remained frequently in the hands of one and the same family who considered it their duty as well as their right to be ever represented by at least one member. Again, it frequently happened that a father desirous of settling his son in life bought or endowed a cell for him in a convent. It was probably due to the ardent piety of former times and the careful preservation from dangerous society that such casual calls ripened into solid vocations. In places where the Carmelites had public or semi-public schools they found little difficulty in choosing suitable boys. But there remained a good many convents in small places, where the recruiting was evidently not so easy and where with a decreasing number of inmates a dangerous relaxation of religious observance went hand in hand. For, throughout the Middle Ages a friar belonged to the convent in which he had taken the habit, although through force of circumstances he might be absent from it for the greater part of his life. Hence, the general chapter repeatedly commanded the priors to receive every year one or two promising young men even if they brought no endowment, so as to gradually increase the number of religious. In other cases where provinces were numerous enough but lacked the means of subsistence the reception of novices might be stopped for several years.

Probation and Formation of Members

The clothing of novices was preceded by certain inquiries into their antecedents and the respectability of their families. The year of probation was spent in the convent which they entered, the "native convent" as it was called, and a father was commissioned to take personal care of a novice, teaching him the customs of the order and the ceremonies of the choir. According to the oldest constitutions, each novice might have a special master, but in practice one master, assisted, if necessary, by a substitute, was appointed for all. The novices were not allowed to mingle with the rest of the community or with the boys of the convent school; no office that in any way could interfere with their chief duty, viz. learning the Divine Office, was given them. On the other hand the prior was not to allow anyone to reprehend the novices or find fault with them, except the novice-master himself, whose business it was to teach, correct, guide, and encourage them. Towards the end of the novitiate the probationer was voted on; if he had given satisfaction he was allowed to make his profession, otherwise he was dismissed. One of the conditions for profession was that the novice should be able to read fluently and write correctly. Those who might smile at such elementary requirements should remember that reading and writing implied a complete mastery of the Latin grammar and a practical knowledge of the system of abbreviations and contractions, a knowledge of palæography which is not now required either of schoolboys or advanced scholars.

After profession the provincial decided what was to be done with the young religious. He might stand in need of further training in grammar and rhetoric, or he might begin at once the study of physics and logic. If his own convent afforded no facility for these pursuits, which was probably seldom the case, he would be sent to another. Once a week or a fortnight the teacher would hold a repetition with his scholars in presence of the community so that it might become known who had studied and who had been negligent. Special convents were assigned for the study of philosophy and theology; in England the former was taught at Winchester, the latter at Coventry. The higher studies were, however, pursued at the studia generalia of which in 1324 there were eight: Paris, Toulouse, Bologna, Florence, Montpellier, Cologne, London, and Avignon. Their number was gradually increased until each province had its own, but in earlier times every province was bound to send a certain number of students to each of these studia, and to provide for their maintenance; they were even free to send a larger number than prescribed, but they had to pay for the full number even if they sent less. In addition to the students sent to the studia at the expence of their provinces, others might be sent at the expense of their parents and friends, provided the superiors had given their consent. Thus the number of students at the Carmelite convent at Paris averaged three hundred, in London over a hundred. The majority of students were sent to pro simplici formâ, that is just to complete their course, after which they returned to their provinces. Only the most promising were allowed to study for degrees, because this involved a prolonged residence at the universities, ten, twelve or more years, and a corresponding outlay. (For the course of studies and the various steps leading to the degree of Master in Divinity see UNIVERSITIES.) The provincial and general chapters regulated the succession of lecturers on Scripture and the Sentences; particularly at Paris, the foremost university, provision was often made for ten years in advance, so as to ensure a steady supply of able readers and to distribute as far as possible the honours among all the provinces. For the universities would allow only one friar of each of the mendicant orders to take degrees in the course of a year, and each order was naturally anxious to put its most capable men in the foreground. It was therefore not an idle boast when it was said, as we read sometimes, of one or other of the Carmelites, that he was the best lecturer of his term at Paris. As Paris was the most celebrated university, so the doctors of Paris had precedence over those of the other universities. During the schism Paris took sides with the Clementist party whose most powerful support it was. The Urbanist party in the Carmelite Order transferred the prerogatives of the graduates of Paris to those of Bologna, a poor makeshift. There exists a fairly complete list of the Masters of Paris, but only fragmentary information concerning other universities. Unfortunately the register of the English province was destroyed during the Reformation, while the greater part of the archives of Oxford and Cambridge were lost during the Civil War, so that the priceless notices collected by John Bale are the chief sources for our knowledge of Carmelite activity at the English universities. This is the more regrettable as the position of Carmelite friars was regulated by special statutes often alluded to, but nowhere preserved. On their return from the universities the religious were usually appointed to some readership, care being taken that in every convent there should be a daily lecture on Scripture and theology.

Penalties Established by Rule

The constitutions deal very fully with the faults committed by religious and their punishment. A few words will not be out of place with regard to more serious breaches of discipline, especially the violation of the religious vows. Faults against chastity were punished with six months', or, if notorious, with a year's imprisonment, and the loss of voice and place in chapter for from three to five years. If special circumstances required it the punishment was increased, and in the case of a grave scandal the culprit was sent to the galleys for hard labour for a number of years or even for the remainder of his life. If serious suspicion existed against anyone which it was impossible either to prove or to disprove, the accused was allowed the benefit of canonical purgation, i. e. having himself denied the charge on oath, he produced six other religious of good name and high standing to affirm on oath that they considered the charge unfounded and the accused innocent. If unable to find such witnesses, he was punished as though he had been convicted. Other faults that occur frequently were open disobedience and rebellion against the command of the superiors, the undue exercise of proprietorship, theft, apostasy (by which was understood any absence from the convent without proper permission, even if there was no intention of quitting the order permanently). Thus, if a religious, being sent from one place to another, tarried on the road without proper cause, or went out of his way without necessity, he was punished as an apostate; again, a lecturer at the universities leaving town before the end of the course was judged guilty of the same crime, his action being prejudicial to the honour of the order. In all these matters it must be borne in mind that the penal system of the Middle Ages was far less humane than the modern one, and that many faults were ascribed to perversity of will where we should make allowance for weakness of character or even mental derangement. The more serious faults were judged and punished by the provincial and general chapters, to whom was also reserved the absolution of the culprits and their reinstatement. The general chapters frequently granted free pardon to all prisoners except those recently condemned and there were occasional complaints that some of the superiors showed undue leniency; but the material before us proves that on the whole discipline was well maintained. With an average of twenty thousand friars or more during the fifteenth century, the "Chronique scandaleuse" is singularly unimportant, a fact that tells in favour of the order, all the more as a large percentage of this number consisted of students at the great universities exposed to many temptations.

Constitutional Revisions

These constitutions underwent numerous changes. Almost every chapter made additions which were frequently canceled or qualified by subsequent chapters. John Balistarius (1358-74) published a revised edition in 1369 (unedited) and the mitigation of the rule by Eugene IV necessitated a further revision under John Soreth (1462, printed in 1499). Nevertheless it must be admitted that the legislation of the order moved too slowly, and that many measures were out of date almost as soon as they were passed. Moreover, laws that may have been excellent for Norway or England were hardly applicable in Sicily or at Seville. These simple facts account for many complaints about relaxation or want of discipline.

From the approbation of the order by the Council of Lyons until the outbreak of the great Western Schism (1274-1378) there was a steady increase in provinces and convents, interrupted only temporarily by the Black Death. At the time of the schism it was not left to the provinces, much less to individuals, to choose their own party; they necessarily followed the politics of the country to which they belonged. A census taken in 1390 shows the following provinces on the Urbanist side: Cyprus (number of convents not stated); Sicily, with 18 convents; England with 35; Rome with 5; Lower Germany with 12; Lombardy with 12 or 13; Tuscany with 7; Bologna with 8; and Gascony with 6. The Clementist party with the Scottish, French, Spanish, and the greater number of the German houses, was rather more powerful. The general, Bernard Olerius (1375-83) being a native of Calatonia, adhered to Clement VII, and was succeeded first by Raymond Vaquerius and next by John Grossi (1389-1430), one of the most active generals, who during the schism made numerous foundations and maintained excellent discipline among the religious belonging to his party, so that at the union in 1411 he was unanimously elected general of the whole order. The Urbanists had been less fortunate. Michael de Anguanis who succeeded Olerius (1379-86) having become suspect, was deposed after a long trial; the financial administration was far from satisfactory, and the loss of Paris proved a serious blow to that section of the order. Soon after the re-establishment of the union a radical change of the rule became necessary. This, as has been seen, was originally composed for a handful of hermits living in a singularly mild climate. Notwithstanding the few changes made by Innocent IV, the rule had proved too severe for those who spent one half of their life in the intellectual turmoil of the university and the other half in the exercise of the sacred ministry at home. Accordingly Eugenius IV granted in 1432 a mitigation allowing the use of flesh meat on three or four days a week, and dispensing with the law of silence and retirement. But even so the chief abuses that had crept in during the fourteenth century were by no means abolished.

Abuses, Irregularities

It is indispensable to have a clear idea of these abuses in order to understand the reforms called into life to counteract them.

  • The permanency of superiors. Even an excellent superior is liable to lose his first energy after a number of years while an indifferent superior seldom improves. This is one of the most difficult problems in the history of monasticism, but the experience of fifteen hundred years has turned the scales in favour of a limited tenure of office.
  • The right of private property. Notwithstanding the vow of poverty many religious were allowed the use of certain revenues from hereditary property, or the disposal of moneys acquired by their work, teaching, preaching, the copying of books, etc. All this was fully regulated by the constitutions and required special permission from the superiors. It was, therefore, quite reconcilable with a good conscience, but it necessarily caused inequality between rich and poor friars.
  • The acceptance of posts of honour outside the order. From the middle of the fourteenth century the popes became more and more lavish in granting the privileges of papal chaplaincies, etc., to those who paid a small fee to the Apostolic chancery. These privileges practically withdrew religious from the rule of their superiors. Again, after the Black Death (1348) thousands of benefices fell vacant, which were too small to provide a living for an incumbent; these were eagerly sought after by religious, among others by Carmelites, who, for an insignificant service, such as the occasional celebration of Mass in a chantry, obtained a small but acceptable income. The papal dispensation ab compatibilibus and the necessary permission of the superiors were easily obtained. Others again were empowered to serve high ecclesiastics or lay people "in all things becoming a religious" or to act as chaplains on board ship, or to fill the post of organist in parish churches. All such exceptions, of which many instances could be quoted, tended to loosen the bonds of religious observance; they filled with pride those who had obtained them and with envy those who were less fortunate.
  • A further source of disorder was found in the small convents with only a few religious, who, naturally, could not be expected to keep up the full observance and sometimes appear to have kept hardly any.
Reforms

These and other abuses were by no means peculiar to the Carmelites; they occurred, to say the least, in an equal degree in all the mendicant orders, and awakened everywhere loud cries for reform. In point of fact, long before the end of the Western Schism nearly every order had inaugurated that long series of partial and local reforms which constitutes one of the most refreshing elements in the history of the fifteenth century; but though it seems to have remained unknown to the strenuous reformers, no lasting improvement was possible so long as the root of the evil was not removed. This was not in the power of individual reformers, even of saints, but required the concerted action of the whole Church. It required a Council of Trent to raise the whole conception of religious life to a higher level. The first step towards reform in the Carmelite Order dates from 1413, when three convents, Le Selve near Florence, Gerona, and Mantua, agreed to adopt certain principles, among which were the limitation of the tenure of office to two years, with an enforced vacation of four years between each two terms of office, the abolition of all private property, and the resignation of all posts necessitating the residence of religious outside their convents. After considerable difficulty, the congregation of Mantua, as it was called, obtained in 1442 quasi-autonomy under a vicar-general. It gradually brought under its authority several other houses in Italy, but it was only after the death of the general, John Soreth, himself an ardent reformer but an enemy of all separatist tendencies, that it began to spread with rapidity. In 1602 it counted fifty-two houses. The most celebrated member of this reform was Blessed Baptista Mantuanus (Spagnoli) (q. v.) who filled the office of vicar-general six times and became general of the whole order. The statutes of this congregation were printed in 1540 and again in 1602. After the French Revolution it was amalgamated with the remains of the old stock of the order in Italy.

Blessed John Soreth (1451-71) throughout his long generalship carried out a similar reform, but on the basis of the constitutions. His own life and work are a proof that under certain circumstances a protracted tenure of office can be most profitable. While offically visiting numerous provinces he established in each of them several reformed houses whither the most fervent religious flocked. For these he obtained many privileges; no superior could refuse permission to one desirous of joining such a convent; the very fact of entering a reformed house dispensed a religious from penalties previously incurred, which, however, would revive should he return to a non-reformed convent. No superior could withdraw a member of a reformed community except for the purpose of reforming other houses through his instrumentality. If Soreth was, on the whole, successful in his enterprise he also encountered a certain amount of systematic opposition on the part of graduates who were loth to give up their privileges of not attending choir, of taking their meals privately, and of having lay brothers and "fags" [younger brothers required to perform certain menial tasks] for their personal attendance, and who preferred to withdraw to distant convents rather than submit to the rules of the general. The latter obtained leave from the Holy See to fill up the gaps by bestowing the title of doctor on those who were not qualified by a proper course at the universities, a most dangerous proceeding, which before long led to fresh and serious abuses. It has often been asserted that Soreth died of poison, but there is no foundation for such a calumny. Even after his death the movement so happily inaugurated did not lose all vigour, but neither of his two immediate successors understood the art of appealing to the higher nature of his subjects, whereby Soreth had gained his marvellous influence. Christopher Martignon (1472-81) was considered an intruder, his election being ascribed to the pressure exercised by Sixtus IV, his personal friend, and Pontius Raynaud (1482-1502) had the reputation of being a martinet. Peter Terasse (1503-13) visited most of the provinces and has left in his register (unedited) a vivid picture of the condition of the order immediately before the Reformation. Many convents, he is able to state, were thoroughly reformed, while others were far from perfect. He himself, however, was too generous in granting licenses and privileges, and, though strict in punishing, he contributed not a little to the very abuses he intended to abolish. His successor, Blessed Baptista Mantuanus (1513-16), was too old and worn out to exercise any lasting influence. He obtained, however, the recognition and approbation of the congregation of Albi.

This congregation had been established in 1499 by Bishop Louis d'Amboise, who, there being no reformed convent in the province of France, obtained from Mantuanus tow religious, one of whom died on the road; the survivor found in the Collège Montaigu in Paris some twenty students willing to embrace the religious life. They were placed in the convent of Albi, while the legitimate inmates were dispersed. Soon other convents, Meaux, Rouen, Toulouse, joined the movement, at the head of which was Louis de Lyra. It is related, though hardly credible, that the general died of grief when he heard of this new rift in the unity of the order. The General Chapter of 1503 excommunicated Louis de Lyra on the ground that the right of reforming belonged to the general and not to self-constituted reformers. But the congregation was already strong enough to offer resistance and had even found an entrance into the most important convent of the order, that of Paris. The next year Terasse spent five months there trying to win back the dissidents. At last, by a strange error of judgment, he ordered the lecturers to leave Paris at the conclusion of the term and the students to return to their native convents within three days. The natural result was that many of them formally joined the congregation of Albi which now obtained complete control at Paris. A compromise was then reached whereby the vacancies were alternately filled by the order and by the congregation of Albi. Baptista Mantuanus obtained for the latter papal approbation and an extension of the privileges of his own congregation. Notwithstanding this victory the new congregation became prey to disunion and was unable to make much headway. The evils brought about by the Reformation and the civil and religious wars weighed heavily upon it until, in 1584, it was dissolved by the Holy See.

A further reform of somewhat different nature was that of the convent of Mount Olivet near Genoa, 1514; it consisted in a return to the purely contemplative life and the ancient austerity of the order. The general, Giovanni Battista Rubeo, has left a record that during his visit there in 1568, which lasted only three days, he abstained from flesh meat. This reform continued well into the seventeenth century. A later reform modelled upon that of St. Teresa was inaugurated at Rennes in 1604 by Philip Thibault (1572-1638) and nine companions. With the assistance of the Discalced Carmelites he was able to give it a solid basis, so that before long it embraced the whole province of Touraine. Unlike the other reforms it remained in organic union with the bulk of the order, and enjoyed the favour of the French Court. Among its greatest ornaments were Leo of St. John, one of the first superiors, and the blind lay brother, John of St. Sampson, author of various works on the contemplative life.

Affiliations, Carmelite Sisters

About the middle of the fifteenth century several communities of Beguines at Gueldre, Dinant, etc., approached John Soreth with the request that they be affiliated to the order (1452). He gave them the rule and constitutions of the friars, to which he added some special regulations which unfortunately do not appear to be preserved. The prestige of the Carmelite Sisters grew rapidly when the Duchess of Brittany, Blessed Frances d'Amboise (1427-85), joined one of the convents, which she herself had founded. Before the end of the century there were convents in France, Italy (Blessed Jane Scopelli, 1491), and Spain. Especially in the latter country the manner of life of the nuns was greatly admired, and several convents became so crowded that the slender means available hardly sufficed for their maintenance.

St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross

The convent of the Incarnation at Avila was destined to fashion the brightest ornament of the Carmelite Order, St. Teresa of Jesus. Born in 1515 she entered the convent in 1535 and made her profession in the following year. Shortly afterwards she fell ill and, unable to fulfill the usual duties of a religious, gave herself to the practice of mental prayer. Frightened by her directors, who believed her trances to be diabolical illusions, she passed through a period of interior trials which awakened in her the desire for a more perfect life. Learning that the primitive rule aimed at the contemplative life and prescribed several austerities which had since been dispensed with, she resolved upon the foundation of a convent for thirteen nuns in her native town, which after many difficulties was established on 24 August, 1562. The general, Rubeo (1564-78), who at that time visited Spain, approved of what St. Teresa had done and encouraged her to make further foundations. In a letter written from Barcelona (unedited) he enlarged on the blessings of the contemplative life and granted permission for the establishment of two convents for reformed friars within the province of Castile. But warned by what had happened in the case of the congregation of Albi he made some very stringent regulations so as to suppress from the outset any separatist tendencies. In the course of fifteen years St. Teresa founded sixteen more convents of nuns, often in the teeth of the most obstinate oppression.

Among the friars she found two willing helpmates, the prior Anton de Heredia who had already filled important posts in the order, e. g. that of auditor of civil causes at the General Chapter of 1564, and St. John of the Cross, who had just completed his studies. They entered with supernatural courage upon a life of untold hardships and were joined not only by a number of postulants, but also by many of their former brethren in religion. The province of Castile being numerically weak, it stands to reason that the provincial resented the departure of so many of his subjects, among whom were the most reliable and promising. The papal nuncio, Hormaneto, was favourably disposed towards the reform. As Apostolic visitor of the religious orders he wielded papal powers and considered himself entitled to overrule the restrictions of the general. He granted leave for the foundation of other convents of friars, besides the two stipulated by the general, and for the extension of the reform to the province of Andalusia. By an almost incomprehensible error of judgment he appointed visitor of the Calced Carmelites of this last named province Jerome of the Mother of God (Jerome Gratian, 1545-1615) who had just made his profession among the Reformed or Discalced Carmelites, and who, however zealous and prudent, could lay no claim to much experience of the religious life. The Calced Carmelites appealed to Rome, and the result was that the general took a great dislike to the new reform. He himself was a reformer, and had favoured the foundation of a convent of reformed nuns at Alcalá de Henares by Mary of Jesus (1563), and of a reformed convent of friars at Onde in Aragon under James Montanes (1565), and in his visitations he frequently resorted to drastic measures to bring about improvements; moreover he was a strict disciplinarian, punishing faults with a severity which to us seems inconceivable. When he found that the danger he had striven to avert, viz. a repetition of the disorders caused by the congregation of Albi, had actually occurred, he resolved to root out the new reform. The General Chapter of 1575 decided to abolish the Discalced Carmelites, threatened to send Mariano del Terdo, formerly a hermit, and Baldassare Nieto, an ex-Minim, to their former abodes, ordered the three Andalusian convents of Grenada, Seville, and Peñuela, to be closed, and the friars to return to their proper convents within three days. The acts of the chapter (unedited) are silent as to the nuns, but it is known from the correspondence of St. Teresa that she received orders to choose one of her convents their to remain, and to abstain from further foundations.

The Discalced friars, however, relying upon the powers they had received from the nuncio, resisted these commands and went so far as to hold a provincial chapter at Almodóvar (1576). The general sent a visitor with ample powers, Girolamo Tostado, who for some years had been his official companion and was fully acquainted with his intentions. At this juncture the nuncio died and was succeeded by Sega, who at first remained impartial but soon began to proceed vigorously against the reform. A second chapter having been held at the same place (1578), the nuncio excommunicated all the capitulars; St. John of the Cross was seized in the convent of the Incarnation at Avila where he was confessor and hurried to Toledo, where he was thrown into a dungeon and cruelly treated; others were imprisoned elsewhere. The persecution lasted for nearly a year until at length Philip II intervened. The reform having thus proved too strong, it was resolved to give it legal standing by establishing a special province for the Discalced friars and nuns, but under obedience to the general (1580). The first provincial was Jerome Gratian who throughout had been the chief support of St. Teresa. To her it was given to see the triumph of her work, but dying on 4 October, 1582, she was spared the pain which the disunion among the friars of her own reform must have caused her. When founding her first convent she had a definite object in view. Not only was she anxious to reintroduce the contemplative life, but knowing how many souls were daily being lost through heresy and unbelief she wished the nuns to pray and offer up their mortifications for the conversion of infidels and heretics, while the friars were also to engage in active work. She was delighted when St. John of the Cross and his brethren went from village to village instructing the ignorant in Christian doctrine, and her joy knew no bounds when, in 1582, missioners of the order were sent out to the Congo. This first missionary expedition, as well as a second, came to an abrupt end through misadventures at sea, but a third was successful, at least so long as it received support from home.

Jerome Gratian, the provincial, was heart and soul in these undertakings. When his tenure of office expired he was replaced by a man of a very different stamp, Nocoló Doria, known in religion as Nicholas of Jesus (1539-94), a Genoese who had come to Spain as the representative of a large banking house, in which capacity he was able to render important services to the king. Aspiring after a higher life, he distributed his immense fortune among the poor, took Holy orders and joined the reformed friars at Seville (1577). He rapidly rose from dignity to dignity, and while engaged in the foundation of a convent in his native town, was elected provincial of the Discalced Carmelites. Endowed with an iron will and indomitable energy, he at once began to fashion his subjects after his own ideas. Having known only the old stock of the order during the troublous times preceding the separation of his province, he was not attached to the order as such. He widened rather than lessened the breach by laying aside, on a mere pretext and against the wishes of the friars, the venerable Carmelite Liturgy in favour of the new Roman Office books, and by soliciting useless privileges from Rome; he withdrew the missioners from the Congo, renounced once for all every idea of spreading the order beyond the frontiers of Spain, restricted the active work to a minimum, increased the austerities, and without consulting the chapter introduced a new form a government which, it was said at the time, was more fit for the policing of an unruly Italian republic than for the direction of a religious order. He relegated St. John of the Cross to an out-of-the-way convent and on the flimsiest pretext expelled Jerome Gratian. Finally at the General Chapter of 1593 he proposed


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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'the Carmelite Order'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/t/the-carmelite-order.html. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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