Today is International Women's Day (8 March), which is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
At the Shrine of Saint Jude, we have some beautiful icons of just a few of the great female Carmelite Saints, as well as various images of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, our mother and sister.
Read about these women, below..
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The 1995 Constitutions of the Carmelite Friars summarise the importance of Mary in Carmelite spirituality today:
"Mary, overshadowed by the Spirit of God, is the Virgin of a new heart, who gave a human face to the Word made flesh. She is the Virgin of wise and contemplative listening who kept and pondered in her heart the events and the words of the Lord. She is the faithful disciple of wisdom, who sought Jesus - God’s Wisdom - and allowed herself to be formed and moulded by his Spirit, so that in faith she might be conformed to his ways and choices. Thus enlightened, Mary is presented to us as one able to read “the great wonders” which God accomplished in her for the salvation of the humble and of the poor.
Mary was not only the Mother of Our Lord; she also became his perfect disciple, the woman of faith. She followed Jesus, walking with the disciples, sharing their demanding and wearisome journey - a journey which required, above all, fraternal love and mutual service.
Mary brings the good news of salvation to all men and women. She is the woman who built relationships, not only within the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, but, beyond that, with the people: with Elizabeth, with the bride and bridegroom in Cana, with the other women, and with Jesus’ “brothers”.
Carmelites see in the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and archetype of the Church, the perfect image of all that they want and hope to be. For this reason, Carmelites have always thought of Mary as the Patron of the Order, its Mother and Splendour; she is constantly before their eyes and in their hearts as “the Virgin Most Pure.” Looking to her, and living in spiritual intimacy with her, we learn to stand before God, and with one another, as the Lord’s brothers. Mary lives among us, as mother and sister, attentive to our needs; along with us she waits and hopes, suffers and rejoices."
In the outer shrine area is a beautiful stained glass window of Mary and the Christ Child with the Holy Spirit. The window was executed by the artist, Richard Joseph King:
The serpent behind is seen as a reference to domination over evil. The serpent and the crescent shape of half moon just visible at the bottom right of the window signify Mary's Immaculate Conception. King was interested in the close relationship of Mary and Christ. The importance of the Holy Spirit is shown in the circular shape of the wings of the dove surrounding the heads of Mary and Christ and the rays which come down from heaven. The red cross against the white background in Christ's halo is a reference to his cross and resurrection. The cross and M seen in the front of the Christ Child are symbols of Mary and Christ. Read more about these windows here
On the side walls of the Shrine chapel are the icons of Carmelite saints:
Blessed Frances D'Amboise
One of the icons is of Blessed Frances D'Amboise, who was born in 1427, probably at Thouars, France. At fifteen years of age, she was married to Peter II, Duke of Brittany and crowned with him in the cathedral at Rennes in 1450. She was widowed in 1457 and, not wanting a second marriage, she turned towards religious life. For this purpose, she built a Carmel for sisters at Bondon in 1463 following the advice of Blessed John Soreth, Prior General of the Carmelites. Read more about the icons here
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
The second icon is of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Carmelite nun, martyr, and patron of Europe.
Edith Stein was born to a Jewish family at Breslau on 12th October 1891. Through her passionate study of philosophy she searched after truth and found it in reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Jesus. In 1922 she was baptised and in 1933 she entered the monastery of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Cologne where she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. During the Second World War Edith was sheltered from the Nazi persecution of Jews at the Carmel in Echt, Holland. Because of her refusal to deny her Jewish heritage or abandon her sister who was sheltering in the same Carmel, Edith was deported, gassed and cremated at Auschwitz concentration camp on 9th August 1942 and died a martyr for the Christian faith after having offered her holocaust for the people of Israel. A woman of singular intelligence and learning, she left behind a large body of writing notable for its doctrinal richness and profound spirituality. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II at Cologne on 1st May 1987, and canonised by him in 1998. In 1999 she was declared one of the six patron saints of Europe. Read more about the icons here
These icons were written by Sister Petra Clare, a Benedictine hermit living in Scotland.
We pray for all Carmelite women today and in the past. Saint Bernadette, pray for us; Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us; Blessed Frances D'Amboise, pray for us; Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.