The first Carmelites were a group of Crusaders who, at the end of their military service, remained in the Holy Land, pledging "allegiance to Jesus Christ" as their one true Lord. They lived as a community of hermits near the Wadi Carith on Mt. Carmel, a place associated with the prophet Elijah. They constructed a chapel on the site, dedicating it to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They became known as the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel, or "Carmelites."
These hermits received a rule of life from St. Albert of Jerusalem, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who exhorted them to ponder unceasingly the law of the Lord in the Scriptures, to lead a life of unceasing prayer in silence and solitude in accordance with the Gospel admonition to watch and pray. The first Carmelites sought also to "put on the armor of God," as they lived an intense life of faith, hope and charity.
These first Carmelites lived in a spirit of evangelical self-denial and a generous commitment to work, after the example of Paul the Apostle. They came together daily for the celebration of the sacred liturgy, striving to enter into a genuine sharing of life, having at heart the good of the community and the salvation of souls, holding to the guidance of a superior placed at the service of his brothers.
From Mt. Carmel, the Carmelite hermits migrated to various places in Europe. They were granted "mendicant" status, like the Franciscans and Dominicans. With this status, they received permission to beg alms in the name of the Church, to sustain their lives of service to the Church. The Church, in turn, endorsed the Carmelite Order. They were entrusted with apostolic ministry, especially the preaching the word of God and the promoting of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, while at the same time remaining true to their spirit of contemplative prayer. The Carmelite Order eventually grew to include monasteries of contemplative nuns, as well as laity associated with the Order.