Carmelites (kär´məlīts), Roman Catholic order of mendicant friars. Originally a group of hermits, apparently European, living on Mt. Carmel in Palestine, their supervision was undertaken (c.1150) by St. Berthold. In 1238 they moved to Cyprus, and thence to Western Europe. St. Simon Stock (d. 1265), an Englishman, was their second founder. He transformed them into an order of friars resembling Dominicans and Franciscans and founded monasteries at Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, and Bologna. They rapidly became prominent in university life. An enclosed order of Carmelite nuns was established. The Carmelites, like other orders, declined in the 15th cent. They were revived by St. Theresa (of Ávila) and St. John of the Cross in 16th-century Spain. These great contemplatives gave the order a special orientation toward mysticism. Their reformed branch is the Discalced (or Barefoot) Carmelites; it is now more numerous than the Carmelites of the Old Observance. The Discalced Carmelites cultivate the contemplative life in all aspects, and they have produced many works on mystical theology. St. Theresa (of Lisieux) is a well-known Discalced Carmelite of the 19th cent. In 1790 the first community came to the United States and settled near Port Tobacco, Md. There are presently about 6,900 priests and brothers living in Carmelite communities, with 500 living in the United States.
See E. A. Peers, Spirit of Flame (1944, repr. 1961); P. Rohrback, Journey to the Carith (1966).