Saint of the Day – 16 May – St Simon Stock (1165-1265) Religious Monk, Visionary, Mystic, Marian devotee, early prior general of the Carmelite religious order. Born c 1165 in Aylesford, County Kent, England – died on 16 May 1265 in the Carmelite monastery at Bordeaux, France of natural causes while on a visit. Patronage – Bordeaux, France.
Simon was born in Aylesford, England, to one of the most well-known and respected Christian families in the County of Kent. While still an infant, he was chosen by the Blessed Mother for her own, with his parents and others hearing him recite the Angelic Salutation of the Archangel Gabriel, long before he had learned to speak. Prodigious as a child, he learned and memorised the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin before he was able to read, reciting it on a daily basis. He was observed to read the Holy Scripture, kneeling in his room, by the age of six.
At the age of twelve, Simon left home, living as a hermit in the hollowed trunk of a large oak tree, earning him the name Simon “Stock.” There he triumphed over the demon, as he would later tell his religious, only by the assistance of the Most Holy Virgin. While living as a hermit, he drank only water and ate only herbs, roots and wild apples. Eventually, after eight years of solitude, Simon felt called back to communion with others and joined the Carmelite Order. He finished his studies at Oxford and later (in 1215) was appointed Vicar General of the Order.
Saint Simon worked tirelessly to spread the Carmelite Order throughout Europe, founding many communities in university towns such as Cambridge, Oxford, Paris and Bologna. He was responsible for the revision of the Rules of the Order, leading the community from lives as hermits to those of mendicant friars. Known for his deep devotion to Our Blessed mother, as well as for the spiritual gifts of miracles and prophecy, Simon was elected as the sixth Superior General of the Carmelites at age 82. He continued to govern the order for twenty years, demonstrating holiness, vision and prudence.
During his tenure as Superior General, Simon was graced with a visitation from the Blessed Mother, to whom he was so devoted. Radiantly surrounded by a multitude of Angels, Our Lady of Mount Carmel appeared to him as he knelt in prayer at Aylesford, England. Presenting to him the Carmelite Brown Scapular, she made Her Promise of unparalleled generosity to him, his spiritual children and to all those who wished to consecrate themselves to her by this special sign: Her words were:
“Receive, my beloved son, this scapular of your Order. It is the special sign of my favour, which I have obtained for you and for your children of Mount Carmel. He who dies clothed with this habit shall be preserved from eternal fire. It is the badge of salvation, a shield in time of danger and a pledge of special peace and protection.”
The scapular (from the Latin, scapular, meaning “shoulder blade”) consists of two pieces of cloth, one worn on the chest and the other on the back, which were connected by straps or strings passing over the shoulders. In certain Orders, monks and nuns wear scapulars that reach from the shoulders almost to the ground as outer garments. Lay persons usually wear scapulars underneath their clothing, consisting of two pieces of material only a few inches square. Although the scapular may be worn by any Catholic, even an infant, proper investiture must be done by a priest. Subsequently, the scapular must be worn in the proper manner, the individual forfeiting its holy benefits if neglectful or careless.
Saint Simon Stock died on 16 May 1265, at the age of 100 and was buried in the cathedral of Bordeaux, where he was visiting at the time of his death. The Saint’s bones are still preserved in a cathedral in Bordeaux; a tibia was brought to England in the 1860s for the Carmelite church in Kensington, a part of the skull was enshrined at Aylesford in 1950. St Simon was never formally Canonised but he has been venerated by the Carmelites since at least 1564 and the Vatican has approved the Carmelite celebration of his feast.
Devotion to the Brown Scapular remains widespread and recommended by the Catholic Church. The Carmelites continue to find meaning in the traditional story and iconography of Saint Simon Stock receiving the scapular, particularly as reflecting their filial relationship with Mary. When St Pope John Paul II addressed the Carmelite family in 2001 on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the bestowal of the Scapular, he said:
“Over time, this rich Marian heritage of Carmel, has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church. By its simplicity, its anthropological value and its relationship to Mary’s role, in regard to the Church and humanity, this devotion was so deeply and widely accepted, by the People of God, that it came to be expressed, in the memorial of 16 July on the liturgical calendar, of the universal Church, “the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.”