The Carmelitana Collection, a research library holding materials pertinent to the eight-century old literary and spiritual tradition of the Carmelite Order, is housed at Whitefriars Hall, the handsome Georgian building only minutes from the campus of the Catholic University of America in Washington DC. Its location in the American capital city makes it easily accessible to students from over a dozen universities and colleges as well as approximately ten theological faculties in the greater Washington DC area.
The Collection, now holding over 14,000 titles, was established after the Second World War by Fr. Joachim Smet, O.Carm. to provide a North American site corresponding to the principal library of the Carmelite Order located at its International House of Studies in Rome. In subsequent years, the Washington library has expanded to become the finest collection of Carmelite materials in the world outside of Rome.
Scholars and graduate students alike come from all over the world to use the Carmelitana Collection. The presence of so many women authors in the Carmelite tradition makes it particularly appealing to those pursuing a gender-critical approach to spirituality. In addition to Teresa of Avila, lesser known figures such as Mary Magdalene de Pazzi and Cecilia del Nacimiento are providing fertile ground for those investigating a hitherto under-appreciated influence of women in post-Reformation Catholicism. Nineteenth and twentieth century Carmelite writers such as Thérèse of Lisieux, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Edith Stein, Jessica Powers, and Titus Brandsma, are exciting scholars interested in more contemporary themes.
The collection’s holdings range from rare early editions of the works of such Carmelite Authors as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Baptist of Mantua to audio tapes of such modern experts on spirituality as Margaret Dornan, Robert Morneau, and Patrick Ahern. For those who are publishing books, designing web pages, or otherwise advancing Carmelitana through various publications media, the collection has in its possession several hundred electronic files containing photographs of Carmelite art and architecture by the late Father Riccardo Palazzi, O.Carm. Video editions of popular and critically acclaimed films such as Au Revoir les Enfants, Teresa de Jesus, and Therese, as well as video-taped conferences by various scholars such as Kevin Culligan, O.C.D., Constance FitzGerald, O.C.D., and John Russell, O.Carm. can be viewed in the library’s media center.
The Collection holds rare materials on the late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Discalced Carmelite theologians of the University of Salamanca, as well as a copy of the Order’s 1737 Bullarium and the 1507 and 1680 Specula. The post-Trent liturgical books are represented in the collection, while microfilms give users access to medieval manuscripts and archival materials held in European collections. The Collection also maintains a large assembly of periodicals published by various branches of the Carmelite family around the world.
In 2007 the Carmelitana Collection acquired its most precious treasure—a fifteenth century Book of Hours. This magnificent book, hand-lettered with exquisite capitals and decoration in colored inks, was produced in France sometime in the second half of the fifteenth century. The book requires much study and evaluation by experts for while Art historians can tell us its probably dating and French provenance, the content indicates that it was actually produced for a German reader. Even more curious is that it is distinctly Carmelite in the feasts it commemorates, but Carmelites themselves would not have use for a Book of Hours as those who were literate would have depended on the breviary for the recitation of the Divine Office. Books of Hours that follow the liturgical year of the Carmelite Order are quite rare. The book itself is kept off site, but visitors to the library are welcome to peruse the digitalized copy. Arrangements can be made for art historians to see the actual book