The Carmel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Joseph at Darlington, Co Durham, England, Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, is the prolongation of the second of three English Carmels founded in the seventeenth century in Flanders, Province of Brabant, (today Belgium, then the Spanish Netherlands). Religious persecution in England did not permit any monastery to be established in England at that time.
The Community has never suffered interruption since it was founded in 1648 at Lierre, Diocese of Antwerp, but it has relocated several times until finally settling at the present address in 1830.
The foundation was planned by the first English Carmel which had been established at Antwerp in 1619 under the care of Mother Anne of Jesus (Brussels) and Fr Thomas of Jesus, Provincial. There were two Carmels at Antwerp at this time: the Flemish one was founded by Mother Anne of St Bartholomew, where she still resided, and the English one at Antwerp-Holland. This latter Carmel is now represented by the Carmel of Lanherne, Newquay, England. We consider ourselves the spiritual children of Mother Anne of St Bartholomew who trained the first English Prioress, Mother Anne of the Ascension Worsley. Close bonds of friendship united them to the end of their lives.
By 1648 the Hopland Carmel, in spite of several foundations in Flanders and Germany, numbered forty Sisters and a second purely English foundation became a necessity. The town of Lierre, in the same Diocese of Antwerp, was chosen as site for the new Carmel. The twelve foundresses all came from the Antwerp Community, and the foundation was financed entirely by the mother-Carmel which divided its patrimony in half. The new Carmel was very poor at the beginning.
Their first home was the ‘Refuge of Nazareth’ belonging to the Bernadine nuns of Lierre (this house still exists today) from which the Community moved in 1651 to some small houses turned into a monastery in Kerkstraat. They built a proper Carmel in the same street, almost opposite, at the beginning of the next century, with a beautiful, simple baroque church which was consecrated 17th October 1717. Of both these properties remnants still exist today, and the town of Lierre has a historical interest in the former monastery of ‘the Holy English Teresian Nuns’ and, we are told, intends to restore the old baroque garden-chapel and place a commemorative plaque there.
When the contemplative monasteries in the Spanish Netherlands were suppressed in 1782 under the Emperor Joseph of Austria, the English ones were not affected. The Carmel of Lierre provided a home for ten Flemish Carmelites from Douay and Bruges. But in 1794 they, too, had to flee before the advancing troops of the French. Since the mentality in England had become more tolerant and the penal Laws had been relaxed, the three English communities were able to return to their native land. Wearing secular clothes, our Community crossed the Channel on 4th July 1794 and were, by a few days, the very first daughters of St Teresa to set foot on English soil. The Prioress at that time was Mother Anne Bernard of St Teresa Houseman, remarkable for leadership and spirituality. The Community lived in hired houses, first at Bishop Auckland (1794-1804), Northern Ecclesiastical District (the Hierarchy was not yet restored) and then at Cocken Hall near Durham (1804-1830), once more in great poverty, but helped by generous benefactors. In 1830 they finally settled at their present property which they adapted and extended. The little church was consecrated on 25th October 1858. It is built in neo-Gothic style by the architect George Goldie. In Lierre we had our burial vault, in Darlington we have our own cemetery inside enclosure.