MOUNT CARMEL - Brief History
The Carmelites, a group of religious men, came to Niagara Falls in 1875. The first residence for the Carmelites was a simple farm house on the side of the escarpment across from the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace, overlooking Niagara Falls. This building was demolished around 1935 to make way for Portage Road.
Construction on the present Monastery building began in 1894. The original purpose was to serve as a hospice and retreat centre. In 1920, because of a decrease in interest for the hospice and an increase in vocations to the Carmelites, the building became known as Mount Carmel College Seminary. In 1926, the Chapel, the present building and gymnasium were added. A convent was built in 1933 to house the Carmelite Sisters who worked in the seminary. This building is presently called Avila Hall and is used for small group retreats. In 1966, the Gervase Toelle Memorial Library building was erected. This building housed an expanded library for the seminary and four additional classrooms.
In November of 1967 a disastrous fire destroyed the north wing as well as a good portion of the Chapel roof and interior ceiling. As a result, the north wing was modified and the Chapel restored to its present condition. In June of 1979 the seminary was closed and the Monastery returned to its original purpose as a retreat house. It is now called Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre and serves the spiritual needs of the people of the Niagara Region and beyond..
The Main Chapel possesses a unique beauty because of its monastic simplicity. The main altar is the most prominent feature of the Chapel. All the wood carvings and the wall paneling are of American white oak stained a majestic seal brown and carved by the Valley City Seating Company of Dundas, Ontario. Most of the details were done by hand.
Above the main altar is a massive carved statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Patroness of the Carmelite Order. Mary stands on a cloud and is surrounded by rays of light. She bears the Christ child in her left arm., while with her right hand she extends the Scapular, the traditional devotion of the Carmelite Order. Over this statue two angels bear a scroll upon which is written in Latin: "Behold the sign of salvation."
To the left of Mary's statue is a smaller one of the prophet Elijah, the biblical patron of Carmel. To the right is a statue of St. Brocard, holding the Carmelite Rule of Life. Over the altar is a huge, circular stained glass window divided into twelve panels which represent various titles attributed to Mary in the Litany of Our Lady.
On the right side of the Chapel is a secondary altar dedicated to St. Therese, the modern Carmelite saint who is Patroness of vocations to the Carmelite Order. The altar on the left is dedicated to St. Joseph, the protector of the Carmelite Order. Three tiers of choir stalls line each side of the chapel which were used by the Carmelites for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. The tile floor, in colors symbolic to the Order, was imported from Belgium. The altar in the centre of the choir is used for the celebration of the Eucharist.
The windows in the Chapel are fine examples of the beautiful and ancient art of stained glass, imported from England and stained in Toronto by McCausland Limited. The windows have a double theme. The major or upper series depicts the life of Mary. The lower series portrays the life of the prophet Elijah as written in the First Book of Kings Chapters 17-19. The Carmelites strive to imitate the two-fold spirit of Elijah: contemplation and zeal for the works of the Lord.
The Rose Window
Over the main altar is an immense, round “rose” window resembling a wheel. The inner circumference of the window delineates a scalloped circle, while the outer circumference is a perfect circle. The area is divided into twelve panes by spokes of stone projecting from the hub of the wheel. The predominant colors of the window are blue (for the Blessed Virgin) and orange (for zeal). In the hub, the Holy Spirit is portrayed descending from heaven in the traditional figure of a dove. Each of the twelve separate panes bears some attribute, figure, or glory of the Blessed Virgin. These are taken, for the most part, from the Litany of Loretto or from the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55). Starting at the top and reading clock-wise, the insignia are as follows:
The monogram of Mary, showing only the letters A and M ("Ave Maria").
The moon ("pulchra ut luna" – "as beautiful as the moon").
The cedar of Lebanon ("I was exalted like a cedar in Lebanon.") Sirach 24:13
The house of gold
The fountain of gardens
"Speciosa oliva" ("As a fair olive tree in the plains was I exalted") Sirach 24:14.
The shield of the Carmelite Order.
The Ark of the Covenant.
The golden crown of Mary.
The tower of ivory.
The mystical rose.
The sun ("electa ut sol" – "bright as the sun").
Around the hub of the wheel there is a star in each of the panes, the whole forming Mary’s corona of twelve stars ("and on her head a crown of twelve stars") Revelation12:l.
The Chapel is built on the East-West axis so that the rising and the setting sun may shine at the door (East) and the Rose Window (West). Christ is considered the beginning and the end, the “Alpha” and the “Omega”. On a summer evening as the sun sets, the Rose Window can become like a ‘ball of fire’ flooding The Chapel with the “Light of Christ.”
WALKING THE LABYRINTH
The labyrinth is an ancient symbol of life’s journey. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral. The meditation walk involves a meandering but purposeful path that can be experienced as a personal pilgrimage to our inner center. The labyrinth walk often yields spiritual healing, new insight, and inner peace. By walking Mt. Carmel Spiritual Centre’s own replica of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral (circa 1200), one can rediscover a long-forgotten mystical tradition. The labyrinth is a tool of integration between mind and body. Our labyrinth was a gift to the Carmelites from the Haden Institute of North Carolina. It is located on the 4th floor of the Spiritual Centre and is usually available daily for meditation walks from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm. A free will donation is appreciated.