The ENGLISH Carmel owes its origin to two splendid English women of the 17th century, Ann Worseley - the spiritual foundress and Lady Mary Lovell, the temporal foundress. Two minds with but single thought, "the greater glory of God through Our Lady of Carmel".
In pre-Reformation England, Carmel was popular and kept in high esteem. Carmelites were known as White Friars and their first foundation in London was Fleet street convent. Friars characteristic white mantles were very common sight there in 12th and 13th centuries. Carmelite friars were well educated, very influential with Kings and the faitful and renown for their pastoral and apostolic work. The mendicants were exempted from the jurisdiction of the bishops, and had been granted extensive faculties for preaching and hearing confessions, together with the right of sepulchre in their churches, - privileges hitherto reserved to the secular clergy. Besides, as confessor and preachers, the orders became immensly popular, so that many a benefice now come to them that might otherwise have gone elsewhere. Lastly, their religious profession imposed on them the obligation of living on alms donated by the faithful as a reward for their services. Almost from the inception of the Mendicant Orders they had met with a determined opposition from the opulent secular clergy and some of wealthy monasteries, for these appreciated that the recognition of the mendicants, and the approbation of their penitential Rules by the Holy See, was the first step in an organised plan of religious reformation. The bitterness was most intense throughout the fourteenth century, and no opportunity for slur and slander was missed. The end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth brought a new element of strife into the lives of the Carmelites. This time, however, they were the attackers, for they themselves bound by honour as well as duty to defend the purity of Catholic doctrine against those who would pollute it. The first to dishonour the proud name of Catholic England was John Wycliff, who, about the year 1366, rose in revolt against God, the Church, the Sacraments, the clergy, and sought to overthrow the very foundamentals of religion. His rebellious faction, increasing from day to day, tried to upset all law and order. John Wycliffe, founded Lollardy, the nickname for the political and religious movement of the mid-14th century to the English Reformation.
In the image above we see John Wycliffe giving Bible translation to his followers at Oxford.
John Wycliffe, taught the concept of the "Church of the Saved", meaning that Christ's true Church was the community of the faithful, which overlapped with but was not the same as the official Church of Rome. He taught a form of predestination and advocated apostolic poverty and taxation of Church properties. A Lollard blacksmith in Lincolnshire declared that he could make "as good a sacrament between ii yrons as the prest doth vpon his auter (altar)". Believing in a lay priesthood, the Lollards challenged the Church’s ability to invest or deny the divine authority to make a man a priest. Denying any special authority to the priesthood, Lollards thought confession unnecessary since a priest did not have any special power to forgive sins. Lollards challenged the practice of clerical celibacy and believed priests should not hold political positions since temporal matters should not interfere with the priests’ spiritual mission.Believing that more attention should be given to the message in the scriptures rather than to ceremony and worship, the Lollards denounced the ritualistic aspects of the Church such as transubstantiation, exorcism, pilgrimages, and blessings. These focused too much on powers the Church supposedly did not have and led to a focus on temporal ritual over God and his message.Immediately upon going public, Lollardy was attacked as heresy. At first, Wycliffe and Lollardy were protected by John of Gaunt and anti-clerical nobility, who may have been interested in using Lollard-advocated clerical reform to create a new source of revenue from England’s monasteries, as Henry VIII would finally succeed in doing. The University of Oxford also protected Wycliffe and allowed him to hold his position at the university in spite of his views on the grounds of academic freedom, which also gave some protection to the academics who supported it within that institution. Lollardy first faced serious persecution after the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381. The Carmelites had to face a double menace now, but they had, also, great men, intellectually and spiritually great, to enter the combat with the courage of lions. These were the most able opponents of Wycliffites, especially in the reigns of Henry V and Henry VI, and some of them, faithful to the last, sufferred greatly in the cause of truth. Wycliffites were also strongly resisted by secular authorities. Among those in opposition was Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was descendants of the noble Arundel family who provided Lanherne lodging for the foundation of the first Teresian Carmel on English soil.
During Reformation, many Catholic nobilities went on exile to Europe and took refuge in the Netherlands. Among them was Worsely family with young girl, Ann, born on the exile. During her girlhood Ann Worsley was attached to the Court of the Infanta Isabella, a patroness of the daughters of St Teresa, inviting them to establish a house in Brussels. In this way Ann came in contact with the spiritual power of Ven. Ann of Jesus, St Teresa's friend and co-adjutrix. To this venerable soul Ann offered herself as a postulant and was accepted, since as the venerable Mother herself declared, "she judged her to be admirable disposed to be accepted for the Order." And so in the Carmel at MONS, under the guidance of the then Prioress, Blessed Mother Anne of St Bartholomew, on Ascension Day the 15th May, 1608, Ann received the Habit of Our Lady taking the name of Ann of Ascension. She took her Solemn Vows on Pentecost Sunday, the 7th of June, 1609. In the next ten years Ann lived successively at Mons, Antwerp (again under Blessed Mother Ann of St Bartholomew), and Mechlin, in the latter place she was elected sub-Prioress.
Ann the Foundress.
There now comes into the picture a splendid English widow, the Lady Mary Lovell, who, possessed of great wealth, desired to use her fortune by establishing English Foundations in France and Flanders, especially a Carmel of St Teresa's Reform for English Subjects. And so Ann, as the spiritual force and Lady Lovell as the temporal aid, under the guidance of the Venerable Mother Ann of Jesus Lebora, founded the FIRST ENGLISH CARMEL of St TERESA'S REFORM, in HOPLAND, ANTWERP, on the 1st of MAY, 1619. it is interesting to record that tradition has it that the sight of the future Carmel was shown by Our Lady herself to the two foundresses and to the Superior of all Discalced Carmelites in the Netherlands, Fr Thomas of Jesus. Of the Community which consisted of six sister chosen by Ven Ann of Jesus was Sister Teresa of Jesus, younger sister of Mary Ward the foundress of the Institute of Our Blessed Lady. From the first Mother Ann Worsley was elected as Prioress, a second foundation was made at Boise-le-duc (s'Hertongenbosch) in October, 1624, Mother Ann going there in person to supervise all arrangements. A Third Foundation followed the next year at bruges, but owing to the difficulties raised by the Friars, its final establishment passed out of the hands of Mother Ann.
A Fourth Foundation was more successful at Cologne whither she went in 1630, with some nuns from Bois-le-duc, who had gone to Hopland Convent for refuge when their own convent was destroyed. Thus Mother Ann Worsley was regarded the Foundress of the Lindenthal Carmel. As late as 1936 this Carmel kept up friendly intercourse with Lanherne.
A Fifth Foundation was at Alost in 1631, to which Carmel the rest of the Bois-le-duc community was transferred. Mother Ann's younger Sister Elizabeth, who had entered Hopland Carmel six months after its foundation, taking the name of Teresa of Jesus Mary, was elected Prioress in 1632. There she remained, dying a holy death in the seventh triennium as prioress on the 7th of November, 1651.
Mother Ann Worsley's last external work was the foundation of a Carmel at Dusseldorf in 1643, at the request of the Duke of Julich-Cleve-Berg, who had heard of the sanctity of the English Carmelites and their fidelity to the Reform of St Teresa. Being unable to travel so far herself, she sent two nuns, Ann of St Teresa Leveson and Lucy of St Ignatius Katherine Bedingfield, the former being elected Prioress, the latter Sub-Prioress and Mistress of Novices and whose body was very many years later found to be incorrupt.
Mother Ann of the Ascension was now afflicted with the cross of great suffering, yet we find her clothing Margaret and Ursula Mostyn in the habit of Our Lady, which was to be the last official act on the 10th of August, 1644, since she was confined to her cell soon after. Up to the following December she "ever maintained a most gracious, pleasing and serene countenance." Whenever she was able for it she would sent for the nuns and speak with them on spiritual topics. She often quoted St John's words: "Children, love one another," adding, "and preserve the peace and union I now leave among you." On the 23rd December, 1644, after repeating in a clear voice the Advent responsary, "Come, Lord, do not delay" mother Ann Worsley gave up her soul to God.
Subsequent Foundations including first South Africa and American Carmel.
In 1648 Hopland sent out another foundation of English Teresians with Mother Margaret Downs and eleven other sisters to Lierre. This flourishing Community came over to England in the troubled times of 1794 and is now at Darlington, Co Durham. In recent years the first foundation in South Africa was made by them in Johannesburg. Nine years after the demise of Mother Ann the Carmel at Dusseldorf, where Mother Teresa Leverson was prioress, was instrumental in founding a Carmel at Munstereifel, the new community consisting of five nuns from the Hopland House.
Again in 1678 a Third English Carmel at Hoogstraet, later transferred to Chichester, was made possible, under a legacy left by Mr EVANS. This generous benefactor desired that the New Convent keep the anniversary of its dedication, "on ye feast of Our Blessed Lady's Immaculate Conception." And so it was done.
It is interesting to note that all three English Carmels received postulants from the Colonies in America; indeed it was from the Hoogstreat Carmel that the FIRST CARMEL IN THE NEW WORLD looked for its foundation on October 15th, 1790.
The translation to Lanherne.
The peaceful life of the English Carmels was rudely broken when, in 1794 the French entered Flanders. After some weeks of indecision and alarm, all three communities determined to seek refuge in England. So on June the 29th, the Hopland nuns, "after receiving Holy Communion, hearing three Masses and saying the Hours," left their Conven, arriving in London by way of Rotterdam on the 12th July. they lodged at first with a Mr Coghlan at no 3 Orchard Street, Portman Sq. From this centre they vainly sought a suitable house. At last Providence came to their assistance in the person of the Lord and Lady Arundel of WARDOUR, who offered the nuns their Cornish Mansion at Lanherne. Here the Faith had survived the Reformation in an almost unbroken continuity since Celtic times. With glad and thankful hearts the then Prioress, Mother Francis Xavier Maddocks, together with the community, took up the residence on the 10th of September, 1794. In their flight from Flanders the Community brought with them amny rich and costly Church ornaments and vestments given to them by their first temporal foundress, Lady Mary Lovell. The necessary alterations being almost completed, the first plans of the enclosure were drawn up by the Vicar Apostolic, Charles Walmesley, OSB, on the 27th of February, 1796.
Since then the Lanherne Carmelites have quietly continued their lives of prayer and penance, the only external event of importance being the foundation of another Carmel in the Diocese of Plymouth in 1864, and later transferred to Wells.
Text based on 1936 edition of "English Carmelites in Penal Times" by Sr A. Hardman, SND and on 1926 edition of "The White Friars - an outline Carmelite History" by Rev PR McCafrey, OCarm