Promoting the Holy Scapular in the Netherlands

English translation of fragments of

‘De verspreiding van het H. Scapulier in Nederland’

by Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos


Promoting the Holy Scapular in the Netherlands



Over time, few devotions have been so extensively promoted as the devotion to the Holy Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

It is so intimately connected with the life of the Catholic, that it provokes more attention when particular Catholics do not practice it, than when it is visibly part of their life.

This popular expansion does not in the least mean, however, that one finds it mentioned in many texts and books, on the contrary. In many regions it is simply so self-evident that it makes no sense for someone to mention that he is covered with the garment of Our Lady.

Therefore, one does not attach great value to the absence of many testimonials.

Let us give a simple example here of how careful one needs to be to conclude that the lack of citations about the Scapular in a particular time or in a particular country, means that people at that time were not familiar with the Scapular in that place.

In the works of Saint Teresa, which at present are published in seven parts, one finds not a single word or reference to the Holy Scapular, except perhaps in one place, and from this people have concluded that in the time of the Saint, this devotion must have been practised very little.

In 1595, however, Mag. Joseph Falcone published a work on the history of the Order, in which as a contemporary he declared that this devotion blossomed, especially in Spain, and that there was no house where people did not wear the garment of Carmel, indeed, through the common wearing of that garment, the whole of Spain and Portugal could be said to be one great cloister of Carmelites.

For a long time, people believed that when it came to the Netherlands, any indication that the Scapular was also worn here was missed.

Admittedly, not many traces of this devotion have remained but, all the same, they do tell us that the Netherlands did not trail behind other countries.

Herewith, it should be borne in mind that when, in 1251 on 16 July, the Holy Virgin gifted the Holy Scapular to the Order as the pledge of her special protection and as a sign that the Carmelites were her Brothers, the Netherlands already had a cloister for two years in Haarlem, founded by the Holy Simon Stock himself. Together with a few cloisters in Germany and the cloister in Brussels, this belonged to the German province, which originally included all cloisters in the German Empire, in addition to the cloisters in the Netherlands and a great part of Belgium. In 1318, this province was split into those of Upper-and-Lower Germany. This separation was again rescinded in 1327 but was once again renewed in 1348 and remains to this day. The Dutch cloisters belonged at that time and continued to belong to the German-Dutch Province, the Belgian, in so far as it fell under this, remained a part of it until 1597. It was a large province of the Order which during the 13th century expanded into fifteen cloisters, with a further nine cloisters being added to this in the fourteenth century, whilst at the end of the fifteenth century it was made up of thirty-three cloisters. We cite the main ones in Germany as: Cologne, Frankfurt, Trier, Mainz, Kassel, Worms, Strasbourg, and Aachen, and in Belgium: Brussels, Liège Mechelen, Thienen, and Antwerp. Within the borders of present day Netherlands the province was made up of the cloisters of Haarlem, Schoonhoven, Woudsend, IJlst, Appingedam, Oudorp nearby Alkmaar, and Utrecht, whilst small settlements, as a post for [Carmelite] Fathers who preached and heard confessions, could be found in Dordrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Amersfoort, Zierikzee, Bergen op Zoom, Walcheren, and Zuid-Beveland, Amsterdam, Monnikendam, Delft, The Hague, Breda, Roermond, Venlo, Doesburg, Zutphen, Zwolle, probably in some other places. There was also a cloister in Vlissingen which however, together with the Belgian cloisters of Bruges, Ghent, Aalst, Valenciennes, and Ypres belonged to the French Province.

This provincial connection of the cloisters justifies that when a [Carmelite] Father in Germany speaks of the Province, this also applies to the Netherlands. In that situation we would have no right to exclude the Dutch cloisters. For that the interrelationship and the exchange of people was too extensive.

This can be seen very clearly in Father Joannes of Oudewater, Carmelite from the cloister of Mechelen who, from the cloister in Aachen, dedicated a work to the Prior of Frankfurt whilst the book was printed in Mainz and the writer was a subprior from the cloister in Kassel. Moreover, in relation to his work, which discussed the history of the Order, he corresponded continuously with Arnoldus de Bost in the cloister of Ghent. The latter also wrote a work about the history of the Order, which was again copied, possibly not without some additions, by the famous Prior of the cloister in Haarlem, Joannes a Leydis.

From Arnoldus de Bost, who wrote in 1479, and from Joannes van Oudewater, whose book was completed in 1495 and printed in 1497, we actually have the first more direct references that also in the Netherlands the garment of the Order was worn by people outside the Order. Already, in the oldest story about the appearance of Mary, written by Petrus Swanington, the Secretary to the Holy Simon Stock, it is said that this occurred both in, as well as outside of England, but the reference is too vague for us to claim that this applies to the Netherlands.

At the beginning of the fourteenth-century, the Prior General of the Order, Master Joannes Grossi writes that in England, very shortly after the miraculous incident, many people wore the garment of the Order in secret, that is to say, under their ordinary clothing, but he does not speak about other countries. All the more this deserves attention because, apparently, on the basis of Grossi’s writing, Arnoldus de Bost, in his Latin work about the protection of the Order by Mary, imparts how kings and noblemen have adopted the garment of the order, but adds at the end that this not only takes place in England but over the whole world. ‘Right up to the present day’, he writes, ‘this is done with devotion by many in different parts of the world’.

This is confirmed in the already cited work by Father Joannes van Oudewater. However, also in this case, a small deviation is worthy of note. After stating that many rulers and noblemen from several countries wore the armour and shield of the Queen of Heaven and thus aligned themselves with the Order, he goes on to say the following: ‘and many others with them in the different provinces of the Order’.

In the light of this entry, do we not have the right, especially if we consider it in connection with that of Father de Bost, to understand it as referring to the German-Dutch province and therefore also to the Netherlands.

Finally, we also possess a poem by a lay person, from the end of the fifteenth-century, which sings the praises of the Scapular.

Around 1470, Master Gerardus van Edam, born in Haarlem, wrote a poem to mark the reform of the Carmelite cloister in that place by the Blessed Joannes Soreth. The verse was only copied some years after the composition in 1484, by Father Joannes van Oudewater —whose brother was Prior in Haarlem— for the cloister in Mechelen and brought together with other documents in one volume, from which in 1680 Father Daniel a Virgine Maria copied it into his Speculum Carmelitarum. In one of the strophes he sings the praises of how Holy Simon Stock received the Scapular from Mary and was graced to hear the words from her that all who die wearing it shall be saved.

Where in that time it was known that this garment was also gifted to people outside the order and that consequently these were blessed with the privileges of this Holy Garment, the assumption is not unfounded, indeed, one may well conclude with certainty that Master Gerard van Edam not only composed these words to the Holy Scapular, but also at the same time wore it.

That the Scapular was actually worn on a large scale before the Reformation in these areas by people outside the Order, is made most clear to us by Master Joseph Falcone, cited in the opening lines of this article. In the already cited work, he enumerates various countries where, in particular, the devotion to the Holy Scapular was in the ascendency and promoted. We have already noted what he said about Spain and Portugal. Then, he praises Italy, especially Sicily, Naples and Lombardy. He tells of Piacenza, the place where he lived for years, how more than ten thousand are registered there, men, women, laity and religious from other Orders, secular priests and religious sisters. Then he speaks about Germany. He says that in both Upper and Lower Germany there was an untold number who were registered in the Brotherhood of the Scapular, but many defected because of those accursed heretics. Finally, he speaks of France which in the whole Order was the jewel in the crown, but nowadays is oppressed by the enemies of the Holy Sacraments.

Thus, it is made very clear to us that also in the Lower German Province an untold number wore the garment of the Order. Sadly, he is obliged to add here that the Reformation caused many to fall away and the number of members of the Brotherhood to shrink.

Let us see in the final article how the devotion did not actually die, was very quickly revitalised and nowadays is once again common practice.

We close this first short article with the reproduction of six lines from the oldest edition in which the story of the Holy Scapular appears, be it in brief words, a Latin Table or Tabulare of the History of the Order by Father Petrus de Bruyne, printed in 1474 in Aalst and kept, for instance, in the Royal Library in The Hague.

The translation of this text reads as follows:

We see the Carmelites clothed with Scapulars who – from the hands of the Holy Simon Stock when he, as a foretaste of the reward for his devotion to the Holy Virgin Mary, having been graced to contemplate her, Mary, with this garment in her virginal hands— have accepted the cited Scapular with incredible zeal as their garment.


In our first article, we referred at the end to the beautiful statement of Father Falcone, that also in these regions an untold number of people wore the Scapular, but that the Reformation had caused a noticeable number to give it up.

We find this same complaint, but without mentioning the time before the Reformation, in a small ancient booklet ‘Den Schat des Heilighen Scapuliers’ by Father Judocus van Assche, published in Antwerp in 1620.

After having pointed to the testimony of Father Franciscus Potel, for some time the Prior Provincial of the Netherlands, that the Prior of San Martino in Rome had imposed the Holy Scapular on three thousand people in a very short time, he recounts, in the authority of the same [Carmelite] Father, that it is generally well known that the most eminent persons of the Court in Brussels, both men and women, wear the Holy Scapular both day and night. And speaking of Arras, where the cited Father Patel was living, he reports that on the day the Brotherhood was founded, this [Carmelite] Father imposed the Holy Scapular on more than one hundred people, whilst since that time this number has increased in the most extraordinary way, as the books of the Brotherhood prove. And then he declares: Oh, if only this could be said about the whole of the Netherlands. If only I had been permitted to rejoice in the Lord over such a delightful circumstance, but alas, the hearts have cooled and grown cold.

What he writes here only partially applies to the Netherlands, there where the faith was preserved in the Southern provinces. Yet, even in the Northern Provinces the devotion had not been completely obliterated. The cloister archives in Boxmeer still preserve the copy of a letter in which Father Franciscus Bonae Spei (Crespin), at that time Prior Provincial of the Belgium Province asks the Pope, around 1676, for the same privileges which the other Mendicant orders possess, because as he explicitly writes: ‘Our [Carmelite] Fathers in Holland are repeatedly asked for the devotion which the people have for the Scapular’. His successor even writes to the Prior General about a letter in which some eminent inhabitants of Amsterdam make a request for a Priest from the Order. We might deduce from this that, especially in Amsterdam, the devotion to the Holy Scapular was still very much alive. Where the Prior Provincial cites the devotion to the Holy Scapular as one of the reasons why requests were made for Priests, their presence in all those places must also have led to new growth in that devotion.

From that, we have among others an acknowledgment in a report made by the [Carmelite] Fathers Nicolaas van Mullum and Caspar van Alleplas about their work activities in Ossenisse, Hontenisse and Hengstdijk, in which they explain clearly in writing that the devotion to the Scapular increases daily. This report is also preserved in the cloister archives in Boxmeer.


During the 17th century we also see the number of Scapular brotherhoods once again increasing. Kronenburg registers among others those in Veghel, founded in 1700, in Heumen in 1710, in Bergen and in Schin op Geul, where they existed before 1722. The ongoing propagation which the Order of Carmel experienced in the Netherlands certainly offers some explanation for this, although perhaps the opposite might be said, that the more the devotion to the Holy Scapular blossomed, the more the Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel experienced growth, just like before the Reformation the devotion of people to Mary at various times was the inspiration, if not source, of the Order’s expansion. In addition to the Carmelites, various secular priests also worked hard to promote this beautiful devotion during this period. In the ‘Godsdienstvriend’ Vol. XL. page 147, we read about Father Joannes Sengers van Balgoy, who died in 1838: ‘He was a man after God’s heart and a friend of Mary; to love and honour her was his cherished occupation; he prayed daily with a special devotion, The Little Office of Our Lady, and made the most of every opportunity to urge the faithful to place themselves under her powerful protection, to appeal to her powerful intercession and to let themselves to be accepted into the ancient brotherhood of the Holy Scapular’.


Religious from other Orders also applied themselves to encouraging the devotion to the Scapular. (…). We are reluctant to cite these religious on the authority of the quoted individuals and exclude others. We can say frankly that in our country all priests could be said to be promoters of this beautiful devotion and, thanks to the piety of their priests, nearly all Catholics in the Netherlands have received the garment of the Lady of Mount Carmel. What Falcone said of Spain at the end of the 16th century may surely be said of the Netherlands today: There is no house where, to be blessed with the countless indulgences and privileges of the Carmelite Order, one does not wear the garment of Carmel.


  1. Part 1 and fragments from Part 2, of the two part article De verspreiding van het H. Scapulier in Nederland. See also: comment by Peter Nissen.

Translation: Susan Verkerk-Wheatley / Anne-Marie Bos

© Titus Brandsma Instituut 2019