St. Simon Stock
One of the most interesting early Carmelites was St. Simon Stock. He grew up in England at a time of great religious enthusiasm. As a young man he became a hermit in the countryside, fashioning a primitive cell for himself in the hollow of a tree, from which he derived his last name, Stock. This mode of life may seem strange to us, but in that time there were many hermits in the English countryside, under the direction of the local Bishop.
Eventually he joined the Carmelite Order, probably after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He returned to England from Mount Carmel in 1241, with a group of Carmelites sponsored by two English barons. Soon after that, Simon was sent with the original group to make a foundation at Aylesford, in Kent.
The era was a turbulent one for the Carmelite Order. Having had to flee from Palestine because of persecution, and take refuge in Europe, they needed a leader of extraordinary ability. They elected Simon Stock as their new Prior General.
Simon was a man of sanctity and prudence; he loved and respected the traditions of the Order, and yet knew how to adapt to their new situation in Europe. He needed to make the Carmelite way of life practicable in a new European society, without changes to the essence of the Rule or detraction from the prophetic vocation. With permission from the Pope for these adaptations, he launched the Order into a new epoch, a golden age for the Carmelites, which would last for a century and a half.
St. Simon Stock was particularly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He continually pleaded with the Mother of God to grant some privilege to the Order of Carmelites, which enjoys the special title of the Virgin. He prayed devoutly:
Flower of Carmel, fruitful vine,
Splendor of heaven, Mother divine,
None like to thee;
Mother of meekness, spotless virgin,
To the Carmelites a favour impart,
Star of the sea.
He received the Scapular vision on July 16th 1251. Our Lady appeared to St Simon, holding in her blessed hands, the Scapular of the Order. She said “This shall be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites, that whoever dies clothed in this shall not suffer eternal fire; rather he shall be saved.” The Carmelites had already proposed themselves as an Order particularly devoted to the Blessed Virgin, but now by Our Lady’s promise to St. Simon, those who persevered until their death, in loyalty to the Virgin, would obtain assistance from her to save their souls. The Scapular was now regarded as a garment of deep religious significance in the Carmelite tradition.
While St. Simon was making a visitation of the Carmelite foundation at Bordeaux in France, in 1265, he took ill and died. His remains were kept in the room in the Monastery where he died, and the room was converted into a Chapel. Soon there were reports of numerous miracles which took place there. In 1276, the Holy See permitted the celebration of a Mass in his honour by the Carmelites of Bordeaux, which was later extended to the whole Order.
The feast of St. Simon Stock is celebrated on May 16th.