Sunday, August 07, 2011

Saint Albert of Trapani, Carmelite

  Feast:  August 7

Born in Trapani, Sicily, during the 13th century, Albert was distinguished for his dedication to preaching and by his reputation for working miracles.In 1280 and 1289, he was in Trapani and afterwards in Messina. In 1296 he was appointed Provincial of the Carmelite Province of Sicily. He was known especially for his great desire to lead a holy life and for prayer. He died in Messina, probably in 1307. He was the first saint whose cult spread throughout the Order and, as a result, he is considered its patron and protector or "father", a title he shared with the other saint of his time, Angelus of Sicily. In the 16th century it was decided that every Carmelite church should have an altar dedicated to him. Among the many with a devotion to this saint were Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi.

Curious History of a Painting
At the International Center of St. Albert (CISA) in Rome, there is a painting of one of the most venerated of the Carmelite saints—St. Albert degli Abati (also known as "Albert of Trapani" after the city where he was born). Dying probably in 1307, the Saint was a distinguished preacher and was the first in the Order to have a devotion to in the Order, that considered him as "Father," a title shared with his contemporary saint, the martyr, Angelo of Sicily.
In the lower part of the painting there is a scroll with the Latin inscription "Studiorum mecenati divo Alberto theologiae bacconicae candidate tabulam inaugurarunt 1704." It tells of the dedication by the students in the studium generale of Traspontina to their patron. The origin of the picture is connected to an odd bit of history.
In the course of the second half of the 17th century, the curriculum for the Order's students was rather haphazard in both content, in the requirements for enrolling in courses, in the organization of the houses of the students in such things as the orarium, length of the school day, and length of vacations.
The sections of the 1625 Constitutions dealing with norms for the students and their curriculum were modified by subsequent General Chapters and above all by the Prior General, Giovanni Feijó de Villalobos. In 1692 he issued a series of quite demanding decrees regulating studies within the Order. The program of Feijó, reflecting the Spanish customs, were seen as unrealistic for the rest of the Order, especially Italy. There were a number of protests.
When, in April 1700, the next Prior General, Carlo Filiberto Barbieri, insisted the students be in conformity with the rules, the students of the studium generale in Traspontina (Rome), which was at the time the most prestigious in the Order, took the matter to the Vatican Congregation in order to obtain a dispensation and to continue the assigning of grades as well as their days of school and periods of vacation has had been practiced for over 100 years at Traspontina. On September 9, 1701, they obtained a decree in their favor and confirmed by a letter of Clemente XI with the same date. The Prior General Barberi was in agreement with the decision as he had already announced his support of the students of Traspontina.
There were, however, some "zealots" (among whom was a member of the Order’s Curia),  who were opposed to such a concession. At that point, there was a new appeal to the same Vatican Congregation and, by means not very clear, the "zealots" obtain a suspension of the papal letter. The students went on the offense and started a process at the Holy See against the "zealots" who called themselves "The Carmelite Religion" without ever revealing their true name.
The case was dealt with by the Congregation over several months, with some hearings and an examination of the motives of both sides, and of the drawbacks and observations identifies by defenders of both sides of the question. In the end, on November 10, 1702, the decision was handed down with nothing given in favor of the "zelots" and full agreement given to the students of Traspontina, confirming all that they had received from the Pope in his letter.
When the General Chapter of 1704, updated the part of the Constitutions dealing with studies, those sections put in by Villalobos in 1692 were simply done away with. The students celebrated the event which one more time confirmed their "rights" and offered to the Prior General the painting of St. Albert, by an unknown painter, as a sign of their respect.
Emanuele Boaga, O. Carm.
General Archivist of the Order


  1. Interesting information, new to me. So, did that happen? Do all the Carmelite churches have such an altar?

  2. The historical account of churches built in honor of St. Albert was based in the 16th century where his cult was widespread. I would not have a doubt that it was historically true given the reputation of the historian, Fr. Emmanuel Boaga, who is well respected in the Order. I would not say that this is still true at present. Not all Carmelite churches has St. Albert's shrine. Our Community doesn't have an altar but he is in one of our stained glass windows. Many of our Carmelite House of Studies are named after him though.