The Origin of the Carmelite Order
On Mount Carmel, in the Holy Land, close to what is now known as Haïfa, are caves where hermits lived in the spiritual tradition of the prophet Elijah. In the thirteenth century some of these hermits created an order known as ‘Brothers of the Virgin Mary’. The Carmelite order was born.
During the sixteenth century in Spain , Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross profoundly reformed the Carmelite order. They simplified it, centering the fraternal life around contemplative prayer along with work within the solitude of a strict cloister. They became “little deserts” praying for the salvation of the world.
The Carmelite Convent of Lisieux
The Carmelite convent in Lisieux was founded in 1838. When Thérèse Martin entered it on the 9th April 1888, there were 26 Sisters in it, their average age being 47. They prayed together for six and a half hours every day, two hours of which were spent in contemplative prayer.
They worked to earn a modest living. They had two hours for communal recreation. Fasting was very severe. They rose at 5.45am in the morning, even in winter. They went to bed at about 11.00pm.
A Carmelite Missionary
The future Patron Saint of the Missions entered a Carmelite Convent that was truly missionary. It was missionaries from this convent who founded the first Carmelite Convent in the Far East at Saigon in 1861.
The seed that was carried from Lisieux bore fruit as many more Carmelite Convents were soon founded throughout the Far East. Starting from Saigon : Hanoi, It was in this missionary environment that Thérèse lived and had it not been for her illness in 1896 she would certainly have gone to Tonkin.
Thérèse Martin entered the convent which would become for her ‘the desert where the Good God wanted her to hide’. She came ‘to save souls and above all to pray for the priests’. The Lisieux Convent celebrated its 50 years of existence that year.
The Convent Chapel
On entering the convent chapel in Lisieux the pilgrim feels in communion with St. Thérèse who lived here from 9th April, 1888 until 30th September, 1897. It is also possible to unite oneself to the community prayer of the Carmelite Sisters.
There have been numerous renovations and additions to the chapel, for example the extension of the Chapel of the Reliquary and the side aisle of the church. Despite these changes this is the same chapel that Thérèse knew.
Pilgrims can come and venerate the remains of St. Thérèse in the Chapel of the Reliquary. Some of her remains have been inserted into the figure which represents her on her death bed. Almost all of the relics are enclosed in a casket underneath the reliquary. Every year on the last Sunday in September, the relics are brought in procession through Lisieux.
Above the reliquary is a statue of the Virgin Mary which is the same statue that cured Thérèse by ‘her beautiful smile’ on 13th May 1883 at her home in Les Buissonnets.
Since the works, you can reach the chapel by a pathway of inwardness which allows one to have a deeper meaning of the message of saint Thérèse.