16 May is the feast day of the only canonised British Carmelite Saint – St Simon Stock (also known as St Simon of England.) Little is known of his early life but during the 1250s he became Prior General of the Carmelite Order at a crucial time of transition. Around 20 years previously, the hermit brothers of Mount Carmel had taken the decision to move from the besieged Holy Land to Europe, involving a radical change of lifestyle from hermits to mendicant friars. At the General Chapter held at Aylesford in 1247 they agreed to make changes to the Rule, so that they no longer needed to live in isolated places, thus ensuring the survival and growth of the Order in Europe. Pope Innocent IV approved the changes and it is this 1247 version of the Rule of St Albert that is still observed by the entire Carmelite family today.
St Simon established foundations in university towns, ensuring that well educated men would join the Order and that the friars would be well employed in teaching and preaching.
He is perhaps best known as the visionary of the Carmelite Scapular. Tradition has it that Our Lady of Mount Carmel appeared to him and promised salvation and special protection to all who devoutly wore the brown scapular. Originally part of the Carmelite habit, smaller versions of the scapular became popular in medieval piety and are still worn by millions of people today.
St Simon died at Bordeaux in 1265 while on a visitation. After an absence of over 400 years, the Carmelite friars returned to Aylesford Priory in 1949 and began to rebuild on the ancient foundations. In 1951, a relic of St Simon’s cranium was returned by the Archbishop of Bordeaux to Aylesford, where it can now be venerated in the Relic Chapel. There is also a relic at the Discalced Carmelite Church in Kensington.
Hymn to Our Lady of Mount Carmel attributed to St Simon Stock:
Flos Carmeli Flower of Carmel
Vitis Florigera Tall vine, blossom laden
Splendor Caeli Splendour of heaven
Virgo puerpera Child bearing, yet maiden
Singularis None equals thee
Mater mitis Mother so tender
Sed viri nescia Whom no man didst know
Carmelitis On Carmel’s children
Da privilegia Thy favours bestow
Stella Maris Star of the Sea
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