Carmelite Monastery - Atlas Obscura

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Carmelite Monastery

For almost 100 years, this site of peace and spirituality has existed on the California coast. 


The story of the Carmelite Monastery in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, actually begins about eight centuries before it was built.

The Carmelite Order is a Roman Catholic religious order for men and women. As far as scholars can determine, it was founded in the 12th-century at Mount Carmel in Israel. The order of Carmelite nuns was formalized in 1452.

In 1602, three Carmelite friars came with Don Sebastian Vizcaino’s expedition to central California. When they saw the area now known as Point Lobos, they were struck by its resemblance to Mount Carmel in Israel, and Vizcaino allowed them to name the region Carmel. 

In 1925, a Carmelite nun named Thérèse from Lisieux, France, was canonized in Rome by Pope Pius XI. Bishop Bernard MacGinley of the Monterey-Fresno diocese in central California was in Rome for the canonization and he petitioned the pope for permission to found a Carmelite Monastery in Carmel in honor of the newly canonized Saint Thérèse. Five nuns from the Santa Clara Carmelite Monastery volunteered and a temporary home was built for them in Carmel.

The present-day monastery building was designed by the architectural firm Maginnis and Walsh of Boston, the same firm that designed the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Construction of the Carmel Monastery began in March of 1931 and was completed in October of that year.

Among the other architectural details, the chapel is situated so that on the evening of the summer solstice the sun shines through the window over the entrance and illuminates the tabernacle on the altar. Upon MacGinley’s death in 1969, his remains were interred below a small shrine at the back of the chapel.

Visitors are welcome in the chapel and grounds every day, and a public mass is held every morning except on Thursdays.

Know Before You Go

From the intersection of Highway 1 and Rio Road in Carmel, take Highway 1 south approximately 1.3 miles (2.1 kilometers). The monastery is on the left at 27601 Highway 1. The turnoff is flanked on either side by stone walls. (Do not confuse the monastery's turnoff with the wider one to the right of it; that one leads to the private convent of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.)

Public Mass is held in the monastery's chapel daily at 8:00 am, and Sundays at 9:00 am. There is no Mass on Thursdays. The chapel and exterior grounds are open to visitors every day until 4:30 pm. No tours, weddings or retreats are allowed. Please observe a code of silence when visiting the chapel.

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July 9, 2021

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