The apparition of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel actually begins with the story of the life of St. Simon Stock. And, the apparition unfolds within the story of the Carmelite Order, who has as its patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Simon Stock was born in the County of Kent, England about the year 1165. Records indicate that when Simon was about 12 years old he began to live as a hermit and chose to live in the hollow trunk of a huge oak tree. He studied the Word of God and shared it with others, as he developed into an itinerant preacher. Then, when the Carmelite Order came to England, he entered its community and became a friar.
Soon, he traveled to Rome, and from there, onto Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land. On the holy mountain of Elijah, in the western Galilee (very near the city of Haifa today), Simon Stock spent several formative years in the Carmelite monastery of Mt. Carmel.
It is historically certain that in 1247, when Simon was 82 years old, he was elected the sixth superior-general of the Carmelites, at the first chapter held in Aylesford, England. He continued to live in Aylesford (where the apparitions occurred). Throughout his life, he continued to show remarkable energy and did much to benefit the order then, as well as, far into the future. Unfortunately, at that particular time the order was experiencing much oppression – struggling everywhere to gain admission, either to obtain the consent of the secular clergy, or the toleration of other orders.
In the year 1251, the monks fervently asked their patroness, the Blessed Virgin Mary, for her special intercession, counsel and guidance as to what to do. Her answer was revealed to their prior, that they were “to apply fearlessly to Pope Innocent, for they will receive from him an effective remedy for these difficulties.” The prior followed the counsel of the Virgin, and the order received a letter of protection from Innocent IV against any such molestations. (Papal letter dated 13 Jan. 1252, Perugia.)
It was during the same year of 1251, that Our Lady of Mt. Carmel appeared to Simon Stock with a scapular in her hand. On Sunday, July 16th she appeared to him holding the child Jesus in one arm and the brown scapular in her other hand. She said to Simon, “Take, beloved son, this scapular of thy Order as a badge of my confraternity and for thee and all Carmelites a special sign of grace; whoever dies in this garment, will not suffer everlasting fire. It is the sign of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, a pledge of peace and of the covenant.”
After this apparition, Simon was instrumental in the formation of Carmelite houses in the university cities of that era: Cambridge, Oxford, Paris and Bologna. He, also, became distinguished for his special veneration and love for the Blessed Mother, as evidenced by the moving chants and canticles that he wrote in her honor.
St. Simon Stock lived a holy life for 100 years! He died in the Carmelite monastery at Bordeaux, France on May 16, 1265.
The feast of “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel” was instituted between 1376 and 1386 to celebrate the victory of the Carmelite order over its enemies on obtaining the official seal of approval of its name and constitution from Pope Honorius III on January 30, 1226. But the feast day was assigned to July 16th because on that date in 1251, according to Carmelite traditions, the scapular was given by Our Lady to St. Simon Stock. This apparition was officially approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587.
The scapular of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, also known as the Brown Scapular, is the best known, most celebrated, and most widespread of all small scapulars. It is referred to as “the Scapular” and the feast of the Scapular is the same as that of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – July 16. Most likely, it is the oldest scapular and has served as a prototype of all others.
The Brown Scapular