The first Carmelites came as pilgrims to Mount Carmel to live a life of prayer and penance. The first of these members were the last of the Crusaders who wanted to live out their lives in Palestine. They adopted a solitary life-style on Mount Carmel near a spring called Elijah's Fountain. These early hermits were mostly laity that lived an unofficial religious life of the Gospel in poverty, penance and prayer as a way of following Christ. They lived "after the example of that Holy man and solitary, the Prophet Elijah" (as a contemporary wrote) on Mount Carmel in Palestine in the early days of the thirteenth century (cf. I Kings 18).
Between 1206 and 1214, these monks approached the Patriarch of Jerusalem, St. Albert, to write for them their Rule of Life, which is followed to this day. Saint Albert provided them a structure of living their lives in communion, and to elect one of their members as prior and to build a chapel so that the Eucharist could be celebrated daily. They were known as Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1562, a Spanish Carmelite nun, St. Teresa of Avila-later assisted by another great Carmelite, St. John of the Cross-established what was to become a completely new branch of the Carmelite Order, the Discalced Carmelites. ("Discalced" comes from a Latin word meaning "barefooted." They were so called because the most distinctive thing about their appearance was the fact that, in token of their more austere way of life, they wore the rope sandals of the poor in place of leather shoes.) The Discalced Carmelites, both nuns and friars, aimed at a more contemplative form of life, in keeping with the spirit of the original thirteenth century rule.Thus there are two branches of the Carmelite family the Ancient Observance (O.Carm.) and the Discalced (OCD). Each branch has its own Secular Order.