Although Jesus never lived in a monastery (as far as we know), the Bible contains many stories that have continuously encouraged people to consider a different way of life.


Even during the very first centuries of Christianity, there were those who were inspired by a more radical form of following Jesus Christ and the Gospel. They chose not to start a family, abandoned dreams of a profitable career and tried to lead a frugal and poor life. They used a certain solitude to make more room for prayer, silence, and encountering God.

Some went on to live as hermits, but most opted for a form of community with like-minded people. This is how the first monasteries came into being. Over time, there was also a better understanding of the best way to shape this monastic life, for example the ‘Rule of Saint Benedict’. A great diversity of monastic orders has gradually emerged, each with its own emphases, but at its core, the life of every monk or nun is the same: you choose a celibate and austere, consecrated life in which you promise obedience to the community.


Monastic communities also sprung up on Mount Carmel, initially made up of hermits who more or less lived in communion. They drew inspiration from the Old Testament prophet Elijah, among others. Elijah retreated to a cave to encounter God there, in silence. rom the 11th century, Carmel monastic life gained more direction, through a very simple rule that the Carmelites still follow to this day. The heart of this rule is our life of prayer.


In the 12th century, the Carmelites fled to Europe as hostile troops in Israel blazed a trail of violence and unrest. There, they were asked to found new monasteries in the cities. The Carmelites started to combine the original ideal of a hermit’s life with apostolate and pastorate forms. In the 16th century, the Spanish Carmelite Teresa of Avila started a reform movement. She wanted to return to the way of life the first Carmelites lived, one of silence, prayer and austerity. She soon gained many followers, both women and men. A new monastic order was born, the Discalced Carmelites.


Every Carmelite is a Christian first and foremost, like any other Christian. As baptised people, we want to follow the Gospel and be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Carmelite spirituality does have its own emphasis on the inner relationship with God. In prayer and in silence, we continuously want to make space for God, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The encounter with God is the most important source of life to us, prayer is our oxygen and the community we are part of is a training school for love.


The Carmel is often associated with ‘mysticism’, which sounds slightly vague to some. For us, it is very specific: it is about becoming more and more receptive to God’s mercy and love all the time, in the same way a pregnant woman makes space for new life. That is why our bond with Mary, our Lord’s mother, will always have a special place in our spirituality.

Monastic life

Living in accordance with the Carmel tradition is not just reserved for monks and nuns. However, they do so in their own, more intensive way than is usually possible for people who – as laypeople – have a family or live as a single person. In the male branch of the Carmel family, the contemplative charism is combined with apostolate works, such as spiritual direction or facilitating retreats. Some have roles as priests in the sacramental life of the Church. Others choose to be a monk and be part of the Carmel, with their own tasks. We would also like to expressly invite people who are interested in this calling.

The female branch of the Carmel is strictly contemplative. Yet they give substance to Teresa of Avila’s original ideal, and their prayers are an indispensable support to the male Carmelites.


Carmelite spirituality has always been an inspiration to people living outside the monastery. Just think of the popularity of Thérèse de Lisieux, the young, 19th-century French Carmelite who demonstrated how you can love God more and more, even in everyday life. Her ‘little way’ to holiness is an invitation to all. Some lay faithful join the so-called Secular Order of the Carmelites. It is also an option to regularly attend a service in the Carmel monastery churches, or to take part in a retreat. It is a joyous fact that non-Catholics often find nourishment for their spiritual life in Carmel’s spirituality too (here for example).