The Order of Carmelites has its origins on Mount Carmel, in Palestine, where, as we read in the II Book of Kings, the great prophet Elijah defended the true faith in the God of Israel, when he won the challenge against the priests of Baal. It was also on Mount Carmel that the same prophet, praying in solitude, saw the small cloud which brought life-giving rain after the long drought. From time immemorial, this mountain has been considered the lush garden of Palestine and symbol of fertility and beauty. Indeed, "Karmel" means "garden".
In the XII century (perhaps after the third crusade, 1189-1191), some penitents-pilgrims who had come from Europe, came together near the "spring of Elijah", in one of the narrow valleys of Mount Carmel, to live out their Christianity as hermits after the example of the prophet Elijah in the very land of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then and in later times, the Carmelites did not acknowledge anyone in particular as their founder, but remained faithful followers of Elijah who was associated with Mount Carmel through biblical events and through Greek and Latin patristic tradition which saw in the prophet one of the founders of the monastic life. In the middle of the cells they built a chapel which they dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus, thus developing a sense of belonging to Our Lady as Mistress of the place and as Patroness, and they became known by her name as "Brothers of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel". Thus Carmel is deeply associated with Elijah and Mary. From Elijah the Carmelites inherited a burning passion for the living and true God and the desire to make His Word intimately their own in order to witness to Its presence in the world; with Mary, the most Pure Mother of God, they are committed to live "in the footsteps of Jesus Christ" with the same intimate and deep feelings which were Mary's.
In order to have some juridical stability, this group of lay hermits turned to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Albert Avogadro (1150-1214), who was then living at St. John of Acre near Mount Carmel. Between 1206-1214, Albert wrote for them a formula of life. Successive approvals of this formula of life by various Popes helped the process of transforming the group into a Religious Order, a fact which took place at the time of the definitive approval of the text as a Rule by Innocent IV in 1247. Thus the Carmelite Order took its place alongside the Mendicant Orders.
During the late Middle Ages, the Church, including the religious Orders , was in decline and the Carmelites too suffered from plague, lack of numbers and the general malaise of the age. All this was to change with the Catholic Reformation and the Council of Trent. God raised up two great reformers for the Order in St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. St. Teresa began the reform of Carmel by opening a new convent, St. Joseph's, in Avila in 1562 and in 1568 St. John of the Cross began the reform of the friars. Their aim was to search for greater intimacy with God through prayer and a burning zeal for the unity of the Church recently divided by the Reformation.
After many initial hardships and struggles the Reformed Carmel became an Order in its own right, spreading all over Europe and beyond to the Middle East, India and South America. This missionary zeal was added to the initial seeking after union with God and zeal for the Church.