Our lady of Carmen

Our lady of Carmen. El Carmen basilica. Jerez de la Frontera.

The Carmel mount



Our lady of Carmen, known also as Our lady of the Carmel mount, owes her name to this mountain, currently located in Israel, between the Mediterranean Sea and the valley of Jezreel.

The word Carmel comes from the Hebrew כרמן ,”Karm-El”, which means God’s garden or vineyard.

This mountain appears numerous times in the Bible as a symbol of beauty and fertility:

  • To have the “beauty of Carmel” was to be truly blessed (Is 35:2).
  • Solomon praised his beloved: “Your head is erect, like Carmel” (Cnt 7:5).
  • But if Carmel withered it would be a sign of a devastating judgment (Nah 1:4).

It is also known in the Bible as the dwelling place of the prophet Elijah, who is said to have lived on the mountain, in a grotto. This is where the prophet demonstrated the power of the Lord before the priests of the pagan god Baal and since then, there were hermits who used to visit.



The Carmel order

Over time, some of these hermits withdrew to live on the mountain, and by the year 1200 they formed the Carmelite Order, the Carmelites.



Our lady apparition, the scapular symbol and her promises



A little later, on July 16, 1251, Our Lady appeared to the order’s superior Carmelite, Saint Simon Stock. It was on that occasion, the Virgin gave him the scapular, symbol of the order and element with which the image of the Virgin is adorned. The scapular is of vital importance because according to Our Lady, everyone who wears it would be freed from eternal punishment. This symbol had papal recognition in 1587 and was endorsed by the following pontiffs.

Our lady appeared again in the fourteenth century, in this case to Pope John XXII, promising him her help against his adversaries if he approved the Carmels. He also promised the salvation of those who were professed, of the devotees who would wear the sign of the habit or the scapular and fulfill the prayer or chastity, should it proceed.

But her promises didn’t stay there, in addition, the first Saturday after the death of her devotees, she would descend to purgatory to take charge of their souls to heaven, the well-known Privilege Sabatino, approved by Pope John XXII in the Bula Sabatina of March 3, 1322 and by Pope Clement VII through the Breve Dilecti filii of 1527.



Our lady of Carmen, the sea star



The Virgin is exalted as Stella Maris, and therefore patron saint of fishermen and sailors. On the day of its festivity, it is very exciting to see how these guilds still continue to walk the Virgin in procession, in a ornamented small boat by sea, for the enjoyment of all those who come to the coast to see her.

Her devotion is extended to many countries of Europe, Spain, Portugal and Latin America from the 16th.

In Spain, she is patroness of the sea and the Spanish Armed Forces.



An ancient deity, Astarté, the morning star

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Mesopotamic figurine to Ishtar or Astarté. III-II BC.

We certainly know the connection of our lands with the Phoenician civilization, therefore it isn’t surprising that among the great sample of it remains, there are representations and special places where they worshiped their gods.

The goddess Astarte comes from the Mesopotamian deity Ishtar, introduced by the Phoenician routes along the Mediterranean and commercial relations with the Tartessians.

Her name is different according to civilizations:

  • in ancient Greek, she was Astarté.
  • to the Phoenicians was Ashtart.
  • to Sumerian she was known as Inanna.
  • to Arcadians, Assyrians and Babylonians as Ishtar.
  • to Hebrews as Astoret.

Astarté was the “morning and evening star”, as the Latin name “aster” (star) indicates. For the Romans it was the Sea Venus or Noctiluca, versions of the mother goddess worshipped since prehistory by Mediterranean settlements. She was the representation of the cult of mother earth, fertility, the goddess of love and life.

All along the Mediterranean, they set temples, mountain grottos, where they performed rituals, offerings and cults.

Her symbols:

  • the lion
  • the horse
  • the sphinx
  • the dove
  • crescent moon

She is represented:

  • naked or covered by veils.
  • standing on a lion.

Important sanctuaries along the Adalusian coast:

  • Cádiz: it is known that where Saint Catherine castle is standing nowdays, one of the two castles that protects the charming Caleta beach, they found remains of offerings and “thymiaterion” or perfume burners, to the deity. The one on the photo, in particular, located in Cádiz city museum, shows lotus flowers and boats, among rising moon and sun or both.
  • Málaga: Noctiluca sanctuary matches the description of the Treasure cave in located in Rincón de la Victoria. Avieno in his writting “Marítima ora ” says: “… under Tartessian domains there exist there, in front on the city (Mainake) an island, consacred before by the inhabitants to Noctiluca.”

It is curious that one of the rituals to this goddess Noctiluca, also known as Malac (“the one that looks in the dark”) which was considered protective of the navigators, consisted of carrying her image in procession to the sea and put it on the water in order to be blessed by her… could this be the origin of our current tradition of carrying Our Lady of Carmen through the waters?

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Great “thymiaterion”. Arcaic Phoenician period (VII-VI BC) Around Punta del Nao, Cádiz.

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