THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY
From the origins of the Order (ca. 1233) to its approval (1304)
From the origins of the Order (ca. 1233) to its approval (1304)
The approval of the Order. In the year 1233... Florence in the first half of the thirteenth century. The beginnings at Cafaggio and the retreat to Monte Senario. From Monte Senario into the world. The generalate of St. Philip Benizi. Servite life in the Florentine priory of St. Mary of Cafaggio in the years 1286 to 1289.
The approval of the Order
On 11 February 1304, the Dominican Pope Benedict XI, then in the first year of his pontificate, sent a bull, beginning with the words Dum levamus, from his palace of the Lateran in Rome to the prior general and all priors and friars of the Order of the Servants of Saint Mary. With this, he gave approval to the Rule and Constitutions they professed, and thus to the Order of the Servants of Saint Mary which had originated in Florence some seventy years previously.
For the Servants of Saint Mary a long period of waiting had come to an end, and a new era of development began for the young religious institute which had come to take its place among the existing religious orders.
The bull, or pontifical letter, of Pope Benedict XI does not say anything about the origins of the Order; it merely recognizes that Servites follow the Rule of St. Augustine and legislation common to other orders embracing the same Rule. It mentions the title of "Servants" proper to the brothers of the Order as a proof of their consecration and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. It also lists the reasons for the approval of the Order; these were already to be found frequently in the "opinions" of the curial lawyers.
At the time of the definitive approval of the Order by ecclesiastical authorities, the Servants of Mary numbered at least 250 friars living in twenty-seven priories in Italy and four in Germany. These priories (see maps) were divided into five religious provinces, four in Italy (the provinces of Tuscany, Patrimony of St. Peter, Romagna and Lombardy), and on Germany (the province of Germany).
How did this new religious order originate and what were the stages in its formation? It was similar, from the very outset to other orders of an evangelical-apostolic lifestyle such as Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and Carmelites, all known as mendicants.
In the year 1233...
In Lombardy, Emilia, Venice ,and the Kingdom of Sicily, as practically everywhere else in Italy, various initiatives were undertaken, sometimes with a political overtone to them as well, to combat heresy and reinstate Christian attitudes in everyday life and social behaviour. Contemporary and later chroniclers named it "the year of the great alleluia" because the preachers of the time finished their sermons or prayer meetings with a triple Alleluia.
A long-established tradition makes 1233 the year of the foundation of the Order of the Servants of Mary. Within the Order, this tradition has been reinforced by the fact that one of its greatest saints, Philip Benizi (d. 1285), was born in Florence that same year.
Available documents suggest the period 1233-1240 as the time when the Order began, born out of a vocation shared by seven adult men in Florence. This would be the first - and, until our times, the only - example of a religious order founded in the Catholic Church, not by one or two people, but by a whole group, the "Seven Founders" canonized together by Leo XIII in 1888.
The origin of the Order was described at length in a narrative written about eighty years later (1317-1318) called the Legenda de origine Ordinis fratrum Servorum Virginis Mariae (The Legend of the origin of the Order of the Friars Servants of the Virgin Mary). It must be made clear at once that the term legend has nothing to do with a work of fiction but rather denotes a piece of writing considered suitable reading matter for spiritual edification.
It is necessary, however, to complement the Legenda de origine with other earlier documents in order to obtain a satisfactory account of the principal stages in the spiritual journey of the Seven Founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary and thus have some idea of the origin of the Order itself.
To start with, we shall present a brief sketch of the political, economic and religious situation in Florence in the, first half of the thirteenth century.
Florence in the first half of the thirteenth century
One of the main characteristics of the history of Florence in the period 1200 to 1250 was the doubling of its population, from forty to eighty thousand inhabitants.
A second city wall was built, and the four districts of the city were reorganized into six. Florence struck its own coinage, first a silver piece and later the fine, 24-carat gold florin which rapidly became the international unit of currency in the commercial world.
Wars with Siena and Pisa, excommunications launched by the pope against the emperor and whoever supported him and the struggle against heresy did not prevent the city of the lily from carrying on a flourishing commercial activity.
The guilds and official corporations were more than twenty in number. First there were the major guilds: judges and notaries, bankers and cloth merchants, money-changers and dealers in wool and in silk (Por Santa Maria), doctors and herbalists, and furriers. Then there were the middle-class corporations: second hand merchants, smiths, butchers, shoemakers and stonemasons. Last, there were the lower guilds: vintners, oil merchants, innkeepers, dealers in salt and cheese, tanners, coachbuilders and arms dealers, bronze and metal workers, timber merchants, bakers and pastry cooks.
Competition was fierce between related guilds, and often gave rise to monopolistic tendencies, as well as the firm refusal to share premises with others.
The major guilds, especially the bankers and wool merchants, were wholehearted supporters of the independence of Florence, and even more so of their own. They generally supported the Guelf or papal cause.
Florence was, without doubt, full of life and vigour in the first half of the thirteenth century; the conflict between pope and emperor did not directly damage the interests of the city and, reading between the lines of history, it is clear that Florence, or at least its leading citizens, knew how to draw maximum profit from the vicissitudes of both sides in the struggle.
The wisest and shrewdest, while being on the side of the pope, took care not to arouse the hostility of the emperor. When a choice could not be avoided, they could take advantage of the fact that both contenders were far away from Florence itself.
If the prosperity of Florence is not given its proper weight, it is not easy to understand why the many types of religious ferment found there in this period all have the same characteristic of a vigorous appeal for poverty. Both the heretical movements, against whom excommunications were frequently launched, and those that stayed faithful to the teaching of the Church all preached a call to poverty and penance.
The Waldenses, the Cathari, the Patarines and the Humiliati (these last, before their reconciliation with the hierarchical Church) claimed the right to collective as well as individual poverty. Within the ambit of orthodox Christianity, the following are significant dates: in 1206, Dominic of Caleruega, founder of the Dominicans, was preaching in the south of France; in 1208, Durandus of Huesca, founder of the Poor Catholics, was reconciled with the Church; in 1209, Francis of Assisi began his itinerant preaching, taking up the idea of poverty that, as Dante was to write, "had been set aside for a thousand years, until he came to espouse its cause." In 1221, Francis was in Florence. In the years that followed, lay groups characterized above all by their poverty began to be established.
At the time of the founding of the Order of Servants of Mary, religious movements in Florence were many and dynamic. "A land of monks, it enjoyed the presence of foreign and native-born religious for many years; they were exponents of reform and an austere type of eremitical life. The Camaldolese and the monks of Vallombrosa and of Cluny settled in the city itself, and the Cistercians arrived in the Badia suburb on 17 June 1236. Of the new movements, the Humiliati came to San Donato a Torri in 1239; the Franciscans, after first entering the city in 1209, settled at Santa Croce in 1228, having lived first at the San Gallo hospital from 1218; the Dominicans arrived in 1219, and were given the little church of Santa Maria Novella in 1221; the Poor Clares were at Monticelli from 1218 onwards, and the Dominican nuns at San lacopo a Ripoli from 1229. The group of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance in Florence was one of the most important in Italy. These movements formed a counterweight to the large Patarine or Albigensian community, which, under the leadership of its own bishop, was carrying out propagandist activities throughout the whole of central Italy; their Opposition to the hierarchy of the Church and their devaluation of the role of the human nature of Christ in the work of salvation and of the divine motherhood of the Virgin Mary forced the orthodox lay groups in Florence to openly embrace these very aspects" (F.A. Dal Pino).
The beginnings at Cafaggio and the retreat to Monte Senario
The Legenda de origine has little to say about the family and business life of the seven Founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary, apart from noting those spiritual and moral qualities that presaged their decision to found an order. The date of 15 August 1233 is traditionally given as the moment when they decided to abandon their families and businesses to devote themselves to a life together of prayer, penance and poverty. The place to which they retired was Cafaggio, just outside the walls near the "Balla" gate; we are certain of this. One of the most important of the Order's priories, that of the Santissima Annunziata, stands today on that very site.
The Seven's retirement from public life and their decision to embrace the religious state aroused great amazement, so much so that well-wishers and the curious flocked to the new hermitage. We are sure of the names of only two of the Seven: Bonfilius and Alexis; those of the others are uncertain but are generally given as Amadeus, Bonajuncta, Manettus, Sostene and Hugh. Supported by Ardingo, the bishop of Florence, in their desire to reflect more deeply about their choice of life, they retired about eighteen kilometres outside Florence. It cannot be ruled out that the critical situation of the Guelfs in the city played some part in this decision. This transfer took place around 1245, at about the same time as the Dominican preacher, Saint Peter of Verona, an energetic defender of the prerogatives of the Pope, an admirer of the Seven and a man of sincere devotion to the Virgin, began his mission to the city of Florence.
From the time of the Seven Founders' retreat to Monte Senario, the priory there has remained a focal point for the Order, and even today Monte Senario is regarded as the symbol and a concrete reminder of the origins of the Order; the remains of the Seven Founders still rest there. Even though modern roads now provide much easier access, the austere surroundings of the place are a continual reminder of the need for constant fidelity to the origins.
From Monte Senario into the world
Some clear and unambiguous documents still extant from the years 1249-1251 give us some idea of the life of the Order in its early days. This is F.A. Dal Pino's concise summary: "The community to whom Ranieri Capocci, cardinal legate of the pope and titular of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, addressed the first recorded act (in 1249) appears already composed of a prior and friars stationed at a little church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin on Monte Senario; they were generally known as 'Servants of Saint Mary.' The cardinal placed the community under the protection of the Apostolic See, confirmed the permission they had received from Ardingo, the diocesan bishop, to observe the Rule of St. Augustine and its related legislation and allowed them to receive new members and keep those who had already joined them. He also stated that those who had professed vows could not leave except to embrace a more austere form of religious life and with the approval of the prior. On 18 February of the following year, Capocci's successor, Cardinal Peter, titular of San Giorgio in Velabro, gave permission for the prior and friars at Monte Senario who were priests to absolve from excommunication those laymen who wished to embrace their way of life but who had previously been adherents of the Emperor Frederick II. In another letter bearing the same date and addressed to Bonfiglio, bishop of Siena, the cardinal legate asked that the same Servants of Mary be presented with the first stone and authorized to built a new church on their own land outside Florence. The bishop carried out this mandate with a letter dated 17 March and addressed to 'Fra Bonfilius, prior of the aforesaid place, Monte Senario'. The purchase of the land for the church was carried out in Florence on 1 July, and the terms of the bill of sale indicate that Bonfilius and his companions intended to maintain a strict regime of community poverty. Other documents give evidence of this intention too, including the first act of a chapter that has come down to us. Drawn up on 7 October 1251, it lists, after Fra Figliolo (or Bonfilius), prior of Monte Senario, the names of nineteen other friars, the first of whom is Alexis.
This "act of poverty" is remarkable for its severity and demonstrates that the first community of the Order had a clear imprint of fraternal life and, judging from the location chosen, a leaning towards eremitical-contemplative, or monastic, life.
The indirect approval of the pope contained in the letters from the two cardinal legates mentioned above was made explicit by Pope Alexander IV on 23 March 1256 with the bull Deo grata.
It would seem clear that the favour shown the first Servites by the cardinal legates of Innocent IV was motivated by their complete orthodoxy in the fight against Frederick II and by their support of the Holy See in political matters. In other words, either for reasons of social class and political background or because of more contingent reasons, the first Servite community was of the Guelf tendency.
The priories in Siena, Citta’ di Castello and Sansepolcro, as well as that at Cafaggio near Florence and Monte Senario, all date from the period before 1256.
The generalate of St. Philip Benizi
In spite of a promising start and the support of Peter of Verona, the Servites were soon to encounter such difficulties that the very survival of the Order was placed in jeopardy.
The chief protagonist in this tempestuous period was St. Philip Benizi of Florence. He had entered the Order about twenty years after the original decision of the Seven, and was to die in 1285, probably before most of them.
In order to understand this period properly, two dates have to be kept in mind: 1215 and 1274. In 1215, during the pontificate of Pope Innocent III, the Fourth Council of the Lateran was held. In 1274, the Second Council of Lyons was celebrated in the reign of Pope Gregory X. Between these two dates the Dominicans and the Franciscans became established and flourished.
Apart from its principal concern, the fight against heresy, the important matters before the Fourth Lateran Council was how to put some order among the many religious movements that were springing up throughout the Church. The unifying policy of Pope Innocent III could not allow these to escape the control of the Roman Curia. Canon 13 of the Fourth Lateran Council stated in blunt terms that any individual or group who wanted to embrace religious life had to choose one of the existing forms approved by the Church authorities. If any individual or group really wanted to found a "new" form, they would have to adopt one the approved "Rules" - those of St. Benedict and St. Augustine for the West, and that of St. Basil for the East. This did not mean that a new foundation had to be subordinate to one of the existing orders in the Church, but it did make it rather difficult to found new orders because every individuating characteristic could be termed "new" and therefore a reason for the Church to withhold recognition.
Nevertheless, new religious movements did spring up after the Fourth Council of the Lateran, even though the majority of them took the precaution of adopting either the Rule of St. Benedict or that of St. Augustine.
As we have already seen, new religious orders did receive ecclesiastical approval from the local Church authorities and explicit protection from the Roman Curia. But, if the papacy itself is immutable, individual popes come and go.
The Second Council of Lyons decided to dust off the thirteenth canon of the Fourth Lateran Council. It stated that the Lateran Council's ruling had been so far disregarded that there was now an unbridled multiplication of new religious institutes. And so it, decreed, with even more severity, that the founding of new mendicant orders was now forbidden. Those established since 1215 were forbidden to receive new entrants, and were therefore condemned to eventual natural extinction. In the dispositions of the Council, this ruling was valid even for those institutes established after 1215 which had received approval from the Holy See but which professed total poverty and relied on the uncertain proceeds of begging for their support.
The Servants of Mary fell into this category; the act of poverty of 1251 had included the renunciation of all goods, property and possessions of any kind.
The situation was now more serious than after the Lateran Council. There were many exceptions to the Council of Lyons' ruling. The concept of "mendicants" as defined by the Council included both the Franciscans and the Dominicans, but these were explicitly exempted from the law. Since, moreover, the Council did not name all the orders concerned and some of them, even of quite recent origin, had powerful protectors at the Council, more than one, condemned on paper, in fact managed to escape.
Some chroniclers of the period included the Servants of Mary among the suppressed orders. The Servites, indeed, now entered into one of the most critical periods of their early history, and managed to save themselves from extinction, humanly speaking, though the energy, courage and ability of their prior general, St. Philip Benizi.
Philip was born in the Oltrarno district of Florence in 1233, the son of Giacomo Benizi and Albaverde. The Legenda de origine and the Legenda beati Philippi give ample space to the details of his life. The brief reconstruction given here is based chiefly on these two documents.
On Easter Thursday 1254, Philip received his mysterious but clear call to religious life while at prayer in the Servite church at Cafaggio. He entered the Order on 18 April of the same year. Tradition has it that, a few days after receiving the religious habit, Philip asked Fra Bonfilius if he could go to live at Monte Senario. "St. Philip’s Cave," on the eastern slope of the hill, is still pointed out to visitors today, along with the nearby spring known as "St. Philip’s Fount."
Hiding his education, Philip had asked to join the Order as a lay-brother. He was one for four years until an unexpected incident occurred, which forced him to reveal his learning. The story is told by the Legenda of St. Philip, which puts into the mouth of the saint one of the oldest and most touching descriptions of the nature and mission of the Servite Order. The episode reads like this: "It happened that Philip, out of obedience, went on a journey to Siena with a friar by the name of Victor. On the road were met by two religious of the Order of Preachers coming from Germany. These were puzzled at seeing our friars' habit. Their curiosity soon led to a conversation with Blessed Philip, and they inquired what kind of life they led and what Order's habit they were wearing. The man of God, Philip, in true humility but with marvelous wisdom, made the following reply: ‘ If Your question is about our place of origin, we are sons of this land. But if you wish to know our status, we are called Servants of the glorious Virgin, the habit of whose widowhood we wear. We live the life instituted by the holy Apostles, and follow the rule of the saintly doctor Augustine.' As they continued their conversation profound questions, to which the in wisdom and conviction, proving his adherence to true doctrine in every case and his ability to support it with numerous authorities and examples from the lives of the saints. When they had finished, each went his own way. Then Bless Philip's companion said to him, 'Brother, when you were received into the Order, why did you not make known the knowledge you possess, as we are so short of men of learning. Just now, you have shown great scholarship in debating with those two religious. I can tell you for a certainty that this very day the light of learning has begun to shine in our Order.' Then Blessed Philip begged him on his knees, for the love of God, not to reveal this to anyone. But as soon as they had both returned to Florence, Fra Victor began to speak and make known to all the others how Blessed Philip had dealt with those strangers. This caused much rejoicing among the friars. They promoted Philip to the clerical state and gradually advanced him to sacred orders."
Philip Benizi was ordained priest probably in 1258 or 1259, and a pious tradition tells of the celebration of his first Mass in the Chapel of the Apparition on Monte Senario. Nine years later, at only thirty-four years of age, he was elected prior general of the Order.
We shall omit the traditional story of how Philip Benizi refused the papacy. Afterwards, he is supposed to have gone to pray by himself on Monte Amiata, and the spring of mineral water produced by his prayers still flows today, at the place now called Bagni di San Filippo, near Castiglione d'Orcia in the province of Siena.
Philip Benizi was elected prior general in 1267. Seven years later, he was confronted by the situation resulting from the decisions of the Council of Lyons. The Servants of Mary found themselves at a crossroads, for they had been founded well after 1215. F.A. Dal Pino describes the position thus: "Either they could recognize that they fell into the category of mendicant order described by the Council, and therefore resign themselves to gradual extinction like the Brothers of Penance of Jesus Christ and their namesakes, the Servants of Mary of Marseilles, or they could attempt to prove that juridically they were no longer a mendicant order as they had been at the time of their foundation. They could argue that they could be classed as one of the orders founded after the Fourth Council of the Lateran but which followed an accepted Rule and had the Holy See's approval, and hence they had the right to continue in existence."
Philip chose the latter path. Some have argued that this meant that he must have imposed a "historical turnaround" on the Order, but in fact, Philip was only continuing and consolidating a direction the Order had been following since at least the general chapter of 1257.
In support of the line that the Servites were a mendicant order there was the "act of poverty" of 1251; there were also the letters of Popes Innocent IV and Alexander IV recognizing that act, as well as deeds of purchase of property in which, in obedience to the act of poverty, they had stated that they were acquiring on behalf on the Holy Roman Church, not for themselves.
On the other hand, in support of the opposite position - and the only way for the Servites to survive - the prior general could argue that noteworthy exceptions had been made to the act of poverty, at least from 1257 when the general chapter had first requested this; these all received due permission from the Church authorities. Furthermore, the Order had, right from the start, followed the Rule of St. Augustine; its legislation (perhaps after a careful and quick revision) contained nothing that could be interpreted as a prohibition of property.
Providence decreed that a saint like Philip Benizi was needed to pursue such a course of action. It involved some compromises and manipulations along the way. Perhaps it is better that saints have to defend positions that may not be altogether sound, than that evil men should uphold justifiable causes.
Elected to an office he was reluctant to accept, Philip carried out his mandate with the integrity, coherence and lack of self-interest that are typical of saints.
. Philip's plan of action to counteract the Council's injunctions about the suppression of religious orders founded in the last sixty years was based on the sensible idea of one small step at a time. He understood that time was on the side of the Servites, and that it is the interplay of unexpected events that often determines the course of history.
The first of these unexpected events was the rapid succession of popes in the years immediately following the Council of Lyons. Gregory X, who had wanted the Council and had every intention of carrying out its dictates, died at the beginning of January 1276, before even getting back to Rome from the Council. Innocent V was then elected but reigned for only six months, to be succeeded by Adrian V, who died before his coronation. Next there was John XXI, who reigned but a year. There followed Nicholas III, whose pontificate lasted three years, Martin IV, who held office for four years, Honorius IV with a reign of two years, and Nicholas IV, who ruled for four years. He was succeeded by Celestine V, who only held office for a few short months, to be followed by Boniface VIII, who reigned nine years. Finally, Benedict XI came to the papacy; his pontificate too was quite brief, but during it the Servites finally obtained their definitive approval, in 1304.
A sixteenth-century Servite historian described how Philip, before deciding which course of action to take in the complicated affair of the approval of the Order, secretly called together all the priors and leading figures of the Order at Monte Senario, there to plan a united campaign. It was during this meeting that they decided on the recitation of a series of prayers to the Blessed Virgin, to be offered daily by the friars for the welfare and survival of the Order. This "Vigil of the Blessed Virgin" is still recited by the Order; it is generally known by its opening words: Benedicta Tu (Blessed are you).
Since it was a juridical problem, Philip was constrained to have recourse to the leading lawyers of the time, and did not hesitate to beg the money necessary to pay these curial experts' fees from the priories of the Order. The communities, for their part, made it their business to look for bequests and offerings, and all this also helped demonstrate that they were not in fact "mendicants." The pope himself, in the person of John XXI, ratified a big donation of land made by Count Henry of Regenstein in April 1277 to the Servite priory of St. Mary of Paradise in the German diocese of Halberstadt.
Sincere friends of the Order were not lacking among the cardinals; a good example is Ottobono Fieschi, who became Pope Adrian V although death overtook him before his coronation.
According to the Legenda de origine and other authoritative sources, Philip's activities to secure the survival of the Order also included some of an indirect nature. He was a peacemaker in Florence and Forlì, and this helped to gain the respect of the papal legates, who were unlikely to forget his services to their cause.
His mission to Forlì had one remarkable side-effect. He arrived at the Servite priory in the city in the period, when the city had been placed under interdict by Pope Martin IV (26 March 1282 - 1 September 1283). His mandate was to preach to the populace and urge them to return to obedience to the pope.
Not all of them heeded his words, and a group of hotheads seized and manhandled him out of the city. Among them was the young Peregrine Laziosi, who quickly repented of his part in it and asked to join the Order. Later, he was to be proclaimed the patron saint of the city; the priory there now bears his name and contains his tomb and many important relics of his life.
The uncertainties about the Order's future were slow to resolve themselves, and Philip had to undertake frequent journeys to Rome. On one of these, while staying at the poor and insignificant priory in Todi for a brief period of rest, he died, at the age of fifty-two, on Wednesday 22 August 1285.
In order to defend the Order's case for survival, Philip had been forced to accentuate, or at least to give prominence to, the reversal of the original commitment to poverty that had been gradually taking place in the Order. He came to die in the very poorest Servite priory.
Many portraits of Philip Benizi depict him with a book in his hand, a not uncommon symbol and capable of different interpretations. A pious tradition that came to light in the sixteenth century recounts that, on his deathbed, Philip repeatedly asked for "his" book, the crucifix.
The seed sown by Philip to save the Order from the death sentence pronounced by the Second Council of Lyons bore fruit under his successor, Lotaringo of Florence. Indeed, scarcely a year after his death, another series of favourable "opinions" from the lawyers at the Roman Curia helped unblock the situation once and for all; the Order's position was now more secure, and the way was open towards definitive approval by the Holy See.
This long and laborious business had its price. As has been seen, the "act of poverty" of 1251 had been incorporated in the bull Alexander IV granted the Order in 1256. In the documents of recognition obtained from the Holy See in the period from 1274 to 1304, there is not a single mention of that act. This enforced silence, as Aristide M. Serra has pointed out in his biography of St. Philip, leads us to suppose that "Philip had arranged for modifications to be made to the sections on poverty in the original Constitutions of the Order."
Careful research in some of the oldest priories of the Order confirms that, even in the period between the Second Council of Lyons and 1304, Servite communities continued to live in poverty, though not all of them in the same way. Some latent contradictions were to come to light when the Order, after its approval, began to give its attention to the continuing questions of its development and updating to meet the needs of the times while striving to remain faithful to its origins. One of the Founders of the Order, Alexis Falconieri, was indeed still alive in 1304. He is believed to have died in 1310.
The Order underwent multiple and sometimes contrasting experiences in little more than fifty years; these were perhaps inevitable in its growth towards an organized religious institute.
One can now ask: How did Servite communities actually live in the thirteenth century? In most cases, the question cannot be answered, for the documents have not come down to us, but a look at one of the most important of them can give us some general indications of how a typical community of the Order arranged its life.
Servite life in the Florentine priory of St. Mary of Cafaggio in the years 1286 to 1289
In 1966 Eugenio M. Casalini OSM published a book on the life of the friars at St. Mary of Cafaggio in the three years 1286-1289. This was based on an analysis of the financial register of the priory, and here is a page of his book:
"St. Mary of Cafaggio Priory in Florence was home for about thirty religious in the years 1286-1289... Their living space must have been rather cramped for in this very period stonemasons and car enters, helped by at least ten labourers were at work on another dormitory, referred to as 'the new house' or 'the dormitory house.' That space was limited in the old priory is also seen from the fact that they were having installed thirty new choir stalls of inlaid wood, which the master carpenter William of Calabria had agreed to build for the sum of fifty gold florins... In these buildings there were a refectory and kitchen, an infirmary and some sort of schoolroom, since they had a 'grammar school' at Cafaggio, entrusted to the care of two lay masters.
"Along with the thirty or so friars, there were five or six servants to do the heavy manual work of the priory…
"We can see too that the whole community was under the orders of the prior, who was elected annually at the general chapter... There were other officers of a certain importance. Chief among these was the procurator, who took care of the more important tasks: the finances, business negotiations with outsiders and suppliers, dealings with the diocesan curia and the city council. The subprior looked after the internal running of the priory; he was not a vicar prior, as in other orders, but rather a person in charge, perhaps what we would call a majordomo...
“It is not possible to establish with certainty how many of the thirty friars were priests. We do know that some important offices, such as that of procurator, could be held by lay brothers. This can be seen in the registers for 1286-1289 where Fra Ruggeri is referred to as the lay procurator to distinguish him from Ruggeri the priest, another member of the same community."
Casalini goes on to note that the apostolic activities of the friars were quite restricted because of the uncertainty about their survival after the Council of Lyons. He concludes his study with these words: "The Order of Servants of Mary was in full growth in the years 1286-1289 in spite of the threats to its survival which had been hanging over it for fifteen years... Religious life was, however, lived in a way that was more adapted to coping with the adversities of the times than the austere eremitical regime of the founding days of the Order. Based on the Rule of St. Augustine, the Constitutions reflected the same organizational structures as other mendicant orders. However, the flow of people, dignitaries and religious confraternities to the church at the Balla gate on the feasts of the Blessed Virgin [the Purification, the Assumption, the Nativity and, most solemn of all, the Annunciation] demonstrates quite clearly that the friars at Cafaggio were professing and spreading a Marian spirituality that corresponded to their name, Servants of Mary. We cannot therefore passively accept the idea advanced by some that this was a common feature of all thirteenth century piety, which was permeated with devotion to Mary. Within the walls of Florence, other orders and many churches could and did satisfy the demands of this devotion to the Mother of God. We cannot believe that bishops such as Andrea de' Mozzi would get involved or that special feasts would be proclaimed and handsome offerings of gold and candles made, without some good reason which attracted crowds of people to these events. It is obvious from our study that there was no other particular apostolic activity or special religious finality that distinguished the Servites, apart from this honouring of the Blessed Virgin, their Lady."
Dates to Remember
1233 The "Year of the Great Alleluia," considered to be
the year of birth of the Order.
St. Philip is born in Florence.
1245 ca. The retreat of the Seven Founders to Monte Senario.
1247 Death of Ardingo, bishop of Florence.
1249 Letter with which the papal legate in Tuscany,
Cardinal Ranieri, takes the Servants of Mary of
Monte Senario under the protection of the Holy See.
1250 The cardinal legate, Peter, allows the prior of Monte
Senario, then Fra Bonfilius, and his friars to build
a church outside Florence (at Cafaggio, the Santissi-
ma Annunziata of today ).
1251 "Act of poverty" of the Servants of Mary meeting
in the priory of Cafaggio.
Foundation of the priory in Citta’ di Castello, the
first in Umbria.
1254 Philip Benizi enters the Order.
Two letters from Innocent IV in favour of the friars
1256 Alexander IV, with the bull Deo grata, takes the
prior and friars of Monte Senario under his protec-
tion (as Innocent IV seems to have done in
1257 General chapter in Florence (the first of which we
have precise records).
1261 Coppo di Marcovaldo's "Madonna in majesty,"
painted for the Servite priory in Siena (founded in
1250); he painted another, ca. 1268, for the Orvieto
1263 Urban IV's letter Inducunt nos which allows the
prior and friars of the Servants of Mary to hold a
general chapter and elect at it a prior general who
is to be confirmed in office by the pope.
1265 First evidence of Servites in Bologna, the oldest
priory north of the Apennines.
Henry of Baldovino offers himself and his goods
(act of oblation) to the priory of Cafaggio, into the
hands of the prior general, Fra Manettus of Florence.
1267 Philip Benizi is elected prior general after the resig-
nation of Fra Manettus.
1272 ca. Blessed Joachim of Siena is received into the Order
by St. Philip.
1273 The Order is given the parish church in Foligno.
The name of a prior provincial appears for the first
time, for the province of the Patrimony of St. Peter.
1274 The Second Council of Lyons (the fourteenth ecu-
1275 The Servites are in Forli.
1276 The priories in Romagna have their own prior
1277 A concession of Pope John XXI in favour of the
priory of St. Mary in the diocese of Halberstadt,
founded a few years previously.
The "opinion" of certain lawyers at the Roman
Curia: the Servites are not included in the list of
religious orders to be suppressed in accordance
with the regulations of the Second Council of Lyons.
1282-1283 St. Philip Benizi is in Forli, then under interdict. The conversion of Peregrine Laziosi.
1285-1300 The generalate of Fra Lotaringo of Florence. By this time, the legislation of the Order had been codified in a text which came to be called the Constitutiones antiquae; other decrees promulgated by various general chapters were added to these, and these additions, made after 1295, came to be known as the Constitutiones novae.
1286-1287 Various "opinions" from the lawyers in favour of the continued existence of the Order.
1287 Letters of Pope Honorius IV in favour of various Servite priories in Italy.
1288 Blessed Francis enters the Order in Siena.
1288-1292 The pontificate of Nicholas IV with many letters addressed to Servite priories.
1290 ca. Peregrine Laziosi enters the Order in Siena.
1294-1295 Foundation of the priories at Asti and Alessandria; they are placed under the jurisdiction of the prior provincial of Lombardy.
1297-1302 Numerous letters in favour of the Servites from Boniface VIII (one of which, in 1299, is for the province of Germany).
1304 11 February: Benedict XI gives definitive approval to the Order with the bull Dum levamus.
THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY
From the generalate of Fra Peter of Todi (1314-1344) to that of Fra Andrea of Faenza (1374-1396)
A still largely unknown century. The period following the papal approval of the Order. The difficult generalate of Fra Peter of Todi. Some saintly figures. The Legendae of the fourteenth century. The papal bull Regimini universalis ecclesiae. The plague of 1348. Monte Senario in the fourteenth century. From the plague of 1348 to the revival during the generalate of Fra Andrea of Faenza. The priories of the Order a hundred years later.
A still largely unknown century
It is not an easy task to present an overall picture of the history of the Servite Order in the fourteenth century. While for the period of the origins we have the lengthy and welldocumented study of F.A. Dal Pino (I frati Servi di S. Maria dalle origini all'approvazione, 1233 ca. - 1304: the friar Servants of St. Mary from the origins to approval, 1233 ca. - 1304), the fourteenth century still remains a rather shadowy period. Apart from a few studies of particular aspects published in the review Studi Storici dell'Ordine dei Servi di Maria, the only modern work which gives an overview of the period is the volume of the Acts of the Third Week of Servite History and Spirituality, 8-13 September 1980; this has been published by the Monte Senario community in the series Quaderni di Monte Senario, under the title: I Servi nel Trecento. Squarci di storia e documenti di spiritualita’ (The Servants in the fourteenth century: extracts from history and documents of spirituality).
The greatest difficulty in studying the history of the Servite Order in the fourteenth century is the fact that most of the archival material for the period either has been completely lost or remains still to be discovered and studied. The registers of the priors general and of the priories have, for the most part, disappeared, and there has been no attempt so far to collect the papal documents concerning the Order into one volume.
There is also another reason why this period is a difficult one to study: the history of the Church itself is very complex. Suffice it here just to mention the transfer of the papacy to Avignon in France in 1305, which made communications with the papal curia more difficult. There was also the trauma caused in Christendom by the Great Schism, with two popes claiming the right to rule at the same time (and eventually, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, three popes all at once). The Servites too were to suffer the consequences of this state of affairs.
The period following the papal approval of the Order
As has been seen, the Servite Order received definitive approval from the Holy See in 1304. The prior general at the time was Fra Andrea Balducci of Sansepolcro; he had been elected four years previously, although his predecessor, Fra Lotaringo of Florence, was still alive and apparently enjoyed a certain authority in the Order. It would appear that Lotaringo died sometime in 1304; Balducci was re-elected prior general the following year, at a general chapter called for that purpose, but not without opposition from some parts of the Order. His confirmation in office by the pope was therefore considerably delayed; this was an advance warning of what was to happen during the generalate of Fra Peter of Todi.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Servite Order consisted of four provinces in Italy (Tuscany, the Patrimoni of St. Peter, Romagna and Lombardy) and one in Germany. There were thirty-one priories and some two hundred and fifty friars.
In 1304 one of the Founders, Alexis Falconieri, was still alive; he died in 1310.
The prior general, Fra Andrea Balducci of Sansepolcro, remained in office until his death in Viterbo in 1314, twelve days before the normal general chapter was due to convene. A new chapter was convened for the Octave of the Assumption, at the newly-opened priory in Rimini; at this, Fra Peter of Todi was elected prior general. It is not conceivable, as some have claimed, that he was appointed by the pope. Clement V died in France the very next day after Balducci; his successor, John XXII, was elected in August of 1316. Fra Peter of Todi was already exercising the rights and duties of a prior general by that time, as can be seen from contemporary documents, for example, those concerning the foundation of the priory in Venice.
The difficult generalate of Fra Peter of Todi
The long generalate of Fra Peter of Todi, 1314-1344, the second longest in the entire history of the Order after that of Fra Niccolò of Perugia, 1427-1461, was an important one for the history of the Servite Order. Among other things, it was Peter of Todi who was responsible for the final edition of the Legenda de origine, the only narrative source we possess for the period of the founding of the Order.
Peter was born in Todi sometime between 1270 and 1280; his family name is variously reported as Lotto, Lotti or dei Lotti. .He entered the Order in 1295; that has to be the true date, if the Legenda de origine is to be ascribed to him.
Fra Peter's early years in the Order were spent under the generalate of Fra Lotaringo of Florence. We find him holding office as prior provincial in Romagna in 1306; in 1307 he was elected prior provincial of Lombardy. He was elected prior general at the general chapter held at Rimini on 22 August 1314.
An analysis of the section of the Constitutiones novae which comprises the decisions of the general chapters held during his term of office shows that Peter of Todi was a promoter of regular observance and of devotion to the Order's saints. Indeed, since he was the first to write about the saints of the Order, it may be said that he was the founder of Servite hagiography.
In 1317 Peter of Todi saw to the translation of the mortal remains of St. Philip Benizi. This was not a mere transfer from one place to another, but the glorification of the saint whose body was exhumed and then placed under the most prestigious altar of the Servite church in Todi. This was carried out with unusual solemnity and drew a wide response throughout the
Order, giving rise to interest in the lives of the Order's saints and a series of writings on St. Philip.
It is certain that this emphasis on the figure of St. Philip was part of Peter of Todi's strategy for the spiritual direction of the Order.
A man of action and strong character, Peter of Todi did not have an easy life as prior general. The expansion of the Order during his term of office testifies to his zest for action, with the opening of another province in 1326, that of Venice, and more than twenty new priories.
Some signs of tensions within the Order began to appear in the 1320s. For example, at the general chapter celebrated in Siena in 1328 Peter of Todi had to defend himself against charges that he sided with the Emperor Louis the Bavarian against the papacy. But on the other hand, the affairs of the Order seem to have continued as before, for there were also letters from the cardinal legates Giovanni Orsini and Bertrando del Poggetto.
The crisis for Peter of Todi erupted in 1334 when an attempt to have him excommunicated was launched by some superiors of the Order, headed by the priory of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. There were two accusations against him: he had let regular observance and discipline slip, and he was governing in a partial and authoritarian manner.
On 25 March 1334, Peter of Todi and his loyal supporter, Fra Christopher of Parma, were publicly excommunicated in the cathedral of Florence.
Fr. Davide M. Montagna OSM has attempted to reconstruct the sequence of events from contemporary documents (see Studi Storici OSM, 30 (1980), 230-237). "The instrument of excommunication was undoubtedly drawn up in Florence, not Avignon where the pope then was, in the chancery of a certain Ponzio, a papal legate who had close ties with the friars at the priory of Santissima Annunziata. The document was drawn up during Lent, 1334, and was made public on 25 March, a popular feast at Santissima Annunziata, because the day after a sworn messenger of Ponzio was given his pay by the friars of Santissima Annunziata for having delivered the document around the city. ... In Florence it was made public both at the bishop's palace and in the cathedral of Santa Reparata. The papers were then sent to the papal curia in Avignon, where two friars, Clement of Florence (d. 1343) and Francis of Borgo Sansepolcro, had already taken up residence and for whom the priory had obtained cash advances from wealthy friends, friars and banks ... Notification of the excommunication was sent to the bishops of Pistoia and Perugia in early spring, probably during March or April. A Fra Grimaldo travelled to Perugia with a companion, and would seem to have been one of the chief protagonists of the whole affair. The publication of the excommunication had a very limited effect in the Order, since the accused appealed to the papal curia and accepted a sort of compromise with the friars at Santissima Annunziata, which was to be agreed to in the presence of the bishop of Florence." A general chapter was called by Peter of Todi in Faenza on 1 October. The case remained suspended. On December 1334, Pope John XXII died, and throughout the pontificate of Benedict XII (1334-1342) nothing further happened. A papal letter of 31 December 1341 reiterated the accusations e against Peter of Todi, and announced the deposition from office of four vicars appointed by him. Nevertheless, this did not affect the situation in any great way. Peter of Todi died in 1344, probably in Avignon. The solemn commemoration of his death in the chronicle of the priory in Venice confirms that he died in office as prior general.
There is no evidence to support the tradition that Peter of Todi went into exile as prior general in the priory of Sant'Ansano in the Apennine mountains near Bologna.
The shadow of the excommunication continued to hang over Peter of Todi in much subsequent Servite historical writing, and it is only in recent times that modern authors have attempted to rehabilitate the figure of this prior general, under whom the Order made such considerable progress, both in terms of numbers of friars and quality of spiritual life.
The late Fr. Raffaello M. Taucci OSM (d. 1971) proposed, the thesis, in a work published in 1964, that the basic motive for the attempt to have Peter of Todi excommunicated was political and concerned the interests of different factions. Moreover, the two accusations made against him, repeated three centuries later by Fra Arcangelo Giani, the writer of the Annals of the Order, appear to contradict each other. The merits attributed to this prior general, at least during the first half of his term of office, by the very people who later launched the accusations against him, seem to coincide with the reasons behind the opposition to him. He was accused of being authoritarian and of having let regular observance go slack. In fact, comprehension towards all, which is always necessary when one is attempting to heal the divisions within an institution, can seem like authoritarianism to some and weakness to others. It is a frequently recurring pattern throughout the history of the Church itself.
Some saintly figures
Space does not permit us to speak at length of all the Servites from the first half of the fourteenth century who were distinguished for their holiness. Apart from Alexis Falconieri, the last of the Seven Founders, who died in 1310, worthy of mention are Blessed Joachim and Blessed Francis of Siena, Saint Peregrine Laziosi and Saint Juliana Falconieri. Others will be noted in the list of Dates to remember at the end of the chapter.
Joachim and Francis died in 1305 and 1328 respectively, both in Siena. Peregrine of Forli died in 1345, and Juliana Falconieri in 1341. Peregrine was canonized in 1726, Juliana in 1737.
For Joachim and Francis we possess two lives (called Legendae in those days, texts for reading); they are fresh and clear accounts; more will be said about these further on.
We know, indirectly, that Peregrine of Forlì was one of St. Philip Benizi's vocations. Philip was in Forlì during the papal interdict on the city (1282-1283) to preach reconciliation with the pope. He was assaulted, on the outskirts of the city, by a group of hotheads, among whom was Peregrine, the son of Berengario Laziosi and Flora degli Aspini (according to a later, seventeenth-century tradition). Philip's prayers for his attackers resulted in the conversion of the young Peregrine, who begged forgiveness from the saint and, a few years later, entered the same Order. He made his novitiate in the priory at Siena, at that time an exemplary community with many religious of great holiness. Peregrine knew both Blessed Joachim and Blessed Francis of Siena.
From Siena, Peregrine went back to his native city, Forlì. He was a non-ordained friar. In the latter years of his life he died at over eighty years of age - he suffered great pain from a wound on his right leg, for which surgery was required. The day before he was due to undergo the operation, he was miraculously cured.
His remains are preserved in the basilica, which now bears his name in Forlì. Recent restoration work on the church and priory have turned the sanctuary into a veritable repository of Servite history and traditions, one of the most noteworthy that exist. Leo XIII declared St. Peregrine Laziosi principal patron of the city and diocese of Forlì in 1880. The saint is nowadays invoked widely throughout the world by sufferers from cancer.
St. Juliana Falconieri is the first and most important woman saint in the Servite religious family. She was beatified in 1678 and canonized in 1737.
Fr. Emilio M. Bedont OSM writes that Servite hagiographical tradition provides the following information about the saint: She made her act of oblation at the age of about fifteen into the hands of St. Philip, from whom she received the habit of a Servite oblate; this would date her birth somewhere around 1270. She lived at home until her parents died, and then gathered around her a group of companions to found a community of consecrated virgins. This was achieved on 3 July 1332. She died on 19 June 1341, and many miracles began to occur at her tomb in the church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence. According to the fifteenth-century preacher and historian, Fra Paolo Attavanti, St. Juliana was the illustrious foundress of the enclosed nuns and the sisters of the Servite family. A particular devotion to the Blessed Eucharist was an important part of her saintliness.
The Legendae of the fourteenth century
Here we must mention the Legendae, writings of a mainly spiritual nature, that were composed in this period. They put forward models of holiness that were in line with the characteristics that the Order had by now acquired. In the words of F.A. Dal Pino:
"In the Legenda de origine Ordinis, an anonymous author, probably Fra Peter of Todi, around 1318, gives us a narrative, based on an earlier writing probably dating from before 1274, of the beginnings of the Order and its early development. In this, the elements of contemplation and poverty that characterized the spiritual journey of the founding fathers are put into a wider, Marian framework, dominated by the figure of St. Philip Benizi, whose remains had been solemnly trasferred in 1317 ... Then there are two Legendae from the first half of the fourteenth century concerning St. Philip, of which one is of Florentine origin and clearly based on the Legenda de origine ... and the other was written in Umbria. This is known as the Perugia Legenda and is more episodic in tone. The first is the more authoritative.
"Two other hagiographical writings concern the two beatified Servites from Siena: one is the Vita ac legenda of Blessed Joachim (ca. 1258-1305), written between 1325 and 1335 by a friar who had lived with him; the other is the Legenda of Blessed Francis of Siena (1266-1328), written by his friend Fra Christopher of Parma, the secretary of Fra Peter of Todi, sometime around 1350 or shortly afterwards."
Fr. Aristide M. Serra OSM offers a description of the particular kind of holiness shown by these Servite saints in his article in the book II cammino dei Servi di Maria (The Servite Journey) edited by Fr. Luigi M. De Candido OSM and published in 1983.
The papal bull Regimini universalis ecclesiae
As regards its legislative and organizational structure, the Servite Order had brought the Constitutiones antiquae up to date by means of various later decrees, known collectively as the Constitutiones novae. The Order was not to have a completely new edition of its Constitutions until the time of the Council of Trent; until then, it continued with the structures established by the Constitutiones antiquae as modified by the Constitutiones novae.
The bull of Clement VI, Regimini universalis ecclesiae, constituted an innovation in the history of the Order's legislation, particularly in the area of its organization. The bull was promulgated on 23 March 1346, and was included in the Constitutiones novae because of the changes it contained.
The bull must have been the outcome of the controversies in the Order that had arisen during the generalate of Fra Peter of Todi. Furthermore, the norms it contained were in line with the strategy of Benedict XII and Clement VI, which aimed at a reform of the religious orders. In 1346, at the time of the promulgation of the bull, the prior general was Fra Matteo of Città della Pieve.
The norms regarding general and provincial chapters are interesting.
In the first place, it was stated that general chapters would henceforth be celebrated every three years instead of annually. The prior general, who up to then had usually been elected for life, was to resign of his own accord on the occasion of the triennial general chapter; if he refused, he was nevertheless deposed from office. He could, however, be re-elected. Letters of confirmation from the pope were no longer necessary.
Other legislation in the bull concerned provincial chapters, which were to be held annually. A prior provincial could not hold-office in the same province for more than three years. The papal bull also authorized priories with at least twelve friars to elect their own prior, who was then confirmed in office by the prior provincial. The norms regarding the general chapter remained in force in the Order until 1619, after which general chapters were held only every six years.
The papal bull, while being part of a wider plan of reform for religious orders, had been made inevitable by the conflicts and legal difficulties during the latter years of the generalate of Peter of Todi.
His successor in the leadership of the Order, Fra Matteo of Città della Pieve, was appointed by Pope Clement VI; he died four years later, during the Great Plague of 1348, an event that not only shook the whole of Europe, but also sorely tried the Servite Order.
The plague of 1348
The "Black Death" (bubonic plague), also known as the "Great Plague" and described by Boccaccio in the Decameron, struck Europe in the years 1347-1350. The year 1348 was particularly disastrous in Italy: Venice was decimated (100,000 deaths), and so too were Naples (60,000), Genoa (40,000), and Florence, where, "in the course of a few months, the population fell from some 80,000 or 85,000 to around 40,000 or 45,000" (C.M. Cipolla, II fiorino e il quattrino). Shortly afterwards, the plague spread to France (2,000 deaths in Avignon) and the rest of Europe.
In Rome, without the presence of the pope and on the morrow of Cola di Rienzo's experiment in government, 1348 also witnessed the depredations of Guarnieri of Urslingen and on 9-10 September 1349 there were major earthquakes which caused much destruction.
In order to estimate the effects of the plague on the Order, it is necessary to look at its situation on the eve of the disaster.
In the period from 1304 to 1348, the Order had doubled in size. In Italy, during last ten years of the generalate of Fra Andrea Balducci of Sansepolcro (d. 1314), five houses were opened, all in Emilia-Romagna: Parma and San Giuseppe in Bologna (1306), Rimini, Faenza and Reggio Emilia (1313). In the thirty years that Peter of Todi held office (1314-1344), another twenty or so priories were founded. The first was in Venice (1316) and is indicative of the expansion of the Order in this period towards the north (especially the region of Veneto) and other areas not previously represented. Then there were Santa Margherita di Barbiano, near Bologna (1318), Vicenza (ca. 1321), Modena (1322, but only for a short time), Monteriggioni in the countryside near Siena (shortly before 1323), Verona (1324), Imola (before 1325), Piacenza (1325?), Genoa, the first and for the time being the only house in Liguria (1327), Casole d'Elsa in the province of Siena (ca. 1327) and Sant'Eusterio in Rome (1331). It is to be noted that up to this time the Order had not expanded any farther south than Viterbo. Then were founded: Fabriano in the Marches (before 1335), Prato (1336), Ferrara (1339), Santa Maria, later San Giacomo, in the Giudecca quarter of Venice (1343) and Scrofiano near Siena (1344?). Many ancient lists of priories report the foundation of other houses in the first half of the fourteenth century, but these are not always reliable sources. Some do seem fairly certain: Pisa (before 1317), Massa (before 1326) and others of brief duration, such as Isola d'Istria and Chioggia (said to have been founded some ten years after the priory in Venice).
The brief generalate of Fra Matteo of Città della Pieve (1344-1348) saw the opening of priories in Treviso (1346) and Gubbio (before 1348), the first new foundation in Umbria in almost a hundred years.
In Germany, seven new priories were established in little more than forty years, although research into them is complicated and difficult. They were: Bernburg, in Saxony (before 1308); Erfurt, the only foundation.in a large city in this period (1309); Radeburg (before 1318) and Grossenhain (1318), both north of Dresden in Saxony; Altlandsberg, in the 'Brandenburg Mark to the east of Berlin (1335); Schornsheim, in the Rhineland (before 1339), Mariengart, near Vacha, where, shortly afterwards, another priory was opened, in the area between Hesse and Thuringia in what was then the principality of Fulda (1339 or shortly before); this last is the only one for which a modern documented study is available.
There were therefore some thirty-four new foundations made, although the exact number is not certain; these were besides the thirty priories already in existence in 1304. There was also a general house of studies for Servite students at the University of Paris.
Another province was also established, that of Venice (from at least 1326); on the eve of the Great Plague, it comprised eight priories.
We can estimate that the total number of Servites must have been more than five or six hundred.
The effects of the Great Plague on the growth of the Order were not, it would seem, immediately evident. Shortly afterwards, there were foundations in Mestre (1349), Como (1352) and Pavia (1354), all of them on the line of expansion towards the north of Italy. In the following twenty-five years, however, there were only three priories opened, and perhaps some of them were not completely new foundations: Prague, in Bohemia (1360), Vacha, in Germany, where a transfer took place from the nearby Mariengart priory, although this latter was not completely abandoned (1368), and San Marcello in Rome, which was a new foundation, since the house at Sant'Eusterio by now no longer existed (1369). The foundation of the priory of San Marcello in Rome took place during the short stay of Urban V in Italy, which was a prelude to the definitive return of the papacy.
The fact that the expansion of the Order, so noteworthy in the first half of the century, recommenced only during the generalate of Fra Andrea of Faenza (1374-1396) indicates that the effects of the plague, although not immediately apparent, must have been considerable, and a whole generation was needed to recover from the losses inflicted by this immense disaster.
Monte Senario in the fourteenth century
One of the mysteries still intriguing the historians of the Order is the scarsity of information about Monte Senario in the fourteenth century. Much is known about its revival at the beginning of the fifteenth century, but it is not easy to explain how a priory so sacred to the Order throughout its history is not mentioned once in the registers of the priors general St. Philip Benizi and Fra Lotaringo' of Florence (1285-1300), or in that of Fra Andrea Balducci (1305-1306), or even in the "fragments" of a register still existing from the time of Fra Peter of Todi (1323?). Even stranger is the silence about Monte Senario in the registers of Santissima Annunziata priory in Florence, starting from the one for 1286-1289. Other registers for the years
1317-1338, now preserved in the State Archives in Florence, do not mention Monte Senario either.
Some light has been cast on this state of affairs by recent study, and here is a summary of what we do know about Monte Senario in this period.
Three testaments (1303, 1319 and 1321) mention the "hermits" of Monte Senario. The Perugia Legenda of St. Philip and the Legenda de origine Ordinis, both written in the first half of the fourteenth century, contain many references to the priory.
To compensate for the silence of the Servite sources, there are some references in works of literature. The most famous of these is in the Decameron of Boccaccio, written between 1349 and 1353. The novella non intera (unfinished story) which is the prelude to the Fourth Day tells of a certain Filippo Balducci, who "went up to Monte Asinaio [Senario] and there settled down in a little cell, with his young son..."
The importance of Boccaccio for the Servites is not just that he immortalized Monte Senario, but that also, in passing and of course without realizing its significance, he has left us with a description of the Servite habit in the fourteenth century. A miniature illustrating a codex of the Decameron from the fourteenth century, now in the National Library in Paris, shows Filippo Balducci and his son coming back down to Florence dressed in the Servite habit.
Some time ago, Fr. Giuseppe M. Besutti OSM found another citation in literature, in the Ricordi of Giovanni di Pagolo Morelli, a Florentine merchant who was born in 1371. The book describes the profound impression made on the author by the "hermits" of Monte Senario.
Lastly, there is also the Paradiso degli Alberti attributed to Giovanni Gherardi of Prato (1367-1446), which mentions the holy place of Monte Senario and the "little brothers" (fraticelli) who lived there.
It may therefore be said that Monte Senario, probably in the second half of the thirteenth century, ceased to be a regular priory of the Order like all the others. It was not completely abandoned, however, for a few hermits continued to live there. We do not know what their relationship was to the rest of the Order, and it seems unlikely that Monte Senario was just an out-station of Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
The fact that, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, Monte Senario came back into the centre of the Order's history confirms that this priory, so important in the founding period, had not been completely forgotten in the fourteenth century. We do not as yet have sufficient evidence at our disposal, but this does not mean that other documents have been lost completely; as has been said, this is one of the least studied periods in the Order's history. It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that not much is known about Monte Senario either.
The prior general, Fra Matteo of Città della Pieve, died at the height of the plague, and Clement VI appointed Fra Vitale of Bologna to succeed him on 3 December 1348. This was done in spite of the dispositions of the bull Regimini universalis ecclesiae, perhaps because it was of too recent origin to have come fully into effect.
Fra Vitale of Bologna fulfilled various mandates on behalf of the Holy See; at the end of 1362 he was named bishop of Ascoli and was transferred to the see of Chieti the following year. The normal general chapter had already been held in June 1362 in Genoa. The Order therefore proceeded to arrange another chapter, to be celebrated in Florence on 1 May 1363. Too late! On 20 February 1363 Pope Urban V nominated Fra Niccolò of Venice prior general; he came from the newest part of the Order. The general chapter had to acquiesce and, after naming the other superiors of the Order, the capitulars went home.
Fra Niccolò of Venice died in office on 26 August 1370. There was no time even to summon another general chapter (the normal triennial chapter having been held in Venice in 1368). The pope intervened again, and appointed Fra Matteo of Bologna in September 1370. He did not hold office for very long, and in fact died in 1371. A general chapter was immediately summoned to elect his successor, but, yet again, while the chapter was actually meeting in Faenza, word was brought that Gregory XI had already created Fra Antonio Manucci of Florence prior general.
The comment found in the Constitutiones novae is brief but telling : "So the chapter was dissolved. Nevertheless, the 9 friars did obey the said Fra Antonio."
These events have no obvious explanation although there is evidence that some friars had designs on the office of prior general and there were plots going on. Doubtless, some were out for revenge. It seems the election of Fra Andrea of Faenza can be explained along these lines.
A general chapter was summoned in Pisa in 1374, in accordance with the norms contained in the bull Regimini universalis ecclesiae, without waiting for the prior general to finish his term of office or die. Fra Antonio Manucci had been in office for only three years.
The Constitutiones novae report: "The definitors at the general chapter deposed Master Antonio of Florence from the office of prior general without any resistance on his part or on the part of anyone else in his defense. The vote was held and, with the approval of all the friars, and none against, Fra Andrea of Faenza was elected prior general."
Fra Andrea governed the Order for twenty-two years. Studies about him have nearly all been of his activities as an artist, since he was an architect and during his term of office had various churches and priories built, rebuilt or decorated, so much so that it was written of him "mores et muros ubique refecit" (everywhere he rebuilt both conduct and walls). As an architect he is better known under the name of Andrea Manfredi: he is mentioned in guidebooks as the architect of the basilicas of San Petronio and Santa Maria dei Servi in Bologna.
In his Manuale di storia dell'Ordine dei Servi di Maria (Manual of History of the Order of Servants of Mary), Fr. Alessio M. Rossi OSM writes that Fra Andrea of Faenza was "zealous for regular observance, encouraged devotion to the saints of the Order, especially St. Philip Benizi, and ordered that all material available on him should be collected to further his cause for canonization. It is also said that he did much to favour the expansion of the Order in Spain." He was made an honorary citizen of Bologna by the city senate and he was also awarded a solemn public funeral. He was buried in the Servite church in Bologna, in a tomb bearing a life-like sculpture of him.
After Fra Andrea, the next prior general was Fra Giovanni Saragozza of Bologna, who remained in office until the beginning of the fifteenth century.
New priories were founded in Italy during the generalate of Fra Andrea of Faenza, presumably because there was a slow but steady revival after the plague and greater stability after the return of the papacy from Avignon.
By 1380, if not before, the priories of Pergola in the Marches, Verrucchio in Romagna and Castelnuovo Scrivia in Piedmont were founded; around 1382, the Servites were at Passignano near Lake Trasimeno; later foundations were in Modena (1382), Castelfranco Veneto (ca. 1390), Mantua (1392) and Padua (1393). The priory at Racconigi dates back to 1399, Galliate in Piedmont to 1402. There do not appear to have been any other foundations in Germany, however, during the latter part of the fourteenth century.
The houses of study of the Order deserve a mention. Up to the Great Schism of the West, it would appear that the Order had a preference for the University of Paris, and it is not difficult to draw up a list of Servites who studied there. We also know the norms that successive general chapters implemented to govern everyday life there.
Later, other student houses were established in the Order, especially in the principal cities of Italy.
The University of Bologna, where a faculty of theology was founded in 1362, was particularly favoured by Servite students from the whole of Italy and from Germany. The general chapter of 1402, recognizing a situation that presumably had endured for some years, decreed that "every province may send one or more students to the student house in Bologna." This is a fitting note on which to end an overview of the fourteenth century, which opened with one of the Founders, St. Alexis Falconieri begging as an old man in the streets of Florence and lending money of his own (earned through his work) for the upkeep of the young students at the University of Paris; this is a well-documented historical fact.
Tuscany 7 12 ? 12
Patrimony of St. Peter 10 13 15
Romagna 6 11 13
Lombardy 3 7 12
Venice 8 ? 9
Germany 4 11 13
The table shows how the Order, in less than fifty years (1304-1348), doubled its size. The question marks indicate approximate figures where no more precise information is yet available. The effect of the plague can be clearly seen: after another fifty years (1348-1404) there were still six provinces with seventy-four houses.
Monte Senario has not been included for the reasons detailed above; its history begins again in 1404, as will be seen in the following chapter.
Dates to Remember
1304 Blessed James of Città della Pieve is assassinated.
1305 Death of Blessed Joachim of Siena.
1306 Fra Bonaventure of Pistoia receives the vows of St.
Agnes of Montepulciano and her companions, and confirms her in office as first abbess of her convent.
1309 The French pope, Clement V (1305-1314), transfers the papacy to Avignon: the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, which lasts until 1377.
1310 Death of St. Alexis Falconieri, the last of the Founders of the Order.
1314-1344 Generalate of Fra Peter of Todi.
1315 ca. Death of Blessed Ubald of Sansepolcro, at Monte Senario, and of Blessed Bonaventure of Pistoia, at Orvieto.
1315 Death of Blessed Andrew of Sansepolcro.
1316 Foundation of the first Servite priory in Venice.
1317 Solemn translation of the body of St. Philip Benizi in Todi.
1318 ca. Final edition, probably by Fra Peter of Todi, of the Legenda de origine.
1349-1353 The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio, in one of whose stories mention is made of Monte Senario.
1360 Foundation of the priory in Prague, Bohemia.
1362 The prior general, Fra Vitale of Bologna, is elected bishop of Ascoli, and transferred to Chieti in 1363.
1374-1396 The generalate of Fra Andrea Manfredi of Faenza.
1374 Pope Gregory XI allows the Order to establish priories in Spain and Portugal.
1378 Beginning of the "Great Schism" (two popes elected, in Rome and Avignon).
1402 The general chapter of Florence allows each province to send one or more students to the university in Bologna.
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY
From the rebirth of Monte Senario (1404) to the death of Fra Antonio Alabanti (1495)
A century of many facets. The rebirth of Monte Senario. The Servite Congregation of the Observance. liveliness and vigour of the Order in the mid-fifteenth century. The generalate of Fra Antonio Alabanti of Bologna (1485-1495) and the papal bull known as Mare magnum. The Order at the close of the fifteenth century.
A century of many facets
The Week of Servite History and Spirituality held at Monte Senario in August 1981 dealt specifically with the life of the Order in the fifteenth century. The general title given the entire period was: "The Age of Reforms." First of all, in the fifteenth century the whole Order was involved in the material and spiritual rebuilding of Monte Senario. Then, in 1430, the movement usually known as the "Observance" began; it led eventually to the birth of independent Servite priories, distinguished from the traditional houses, not juridically, but by their style of religious life.
This phenomenon, the Observance, was not exclusive to the Servites; it occurred in other religious orders, and in some cases led to the establishment of new orders completely separate from those that had given them birth.
Shortly after the middle of the century, other attempts at reform were made in the Order alongside the Observance, which, however, continued until well after the Council of Trent. It was finally suppressed and its members reabsorbed into the mainstream of the Order in 1570.
It is therefore correct to speak of the fifteenth century as an age of "reforms" for the Servite Order. It was, however, a particularly rich and complex period in the Order's history, and it is difficult to sum it up under one, superficial title. This is also true because "the loss of archival material and the difficulty of undertaking the necessary detailed local research prevent us from drawing up a really exact picture of the Order, even in its bare outlines" (Fr. Davide M. Montagna OSM).
The Servite Order was by now widely spread in northern and central Italy and well established in Germany. It too felt the impact of social, religious and cultural changes in this period.
As regards economic and social life, the fifteenth century was an age of expansion: there was a big increase in the amount of land under cultivation; there was a growth of large and small urban centres; the arts made them more beautiful and also assisted the social advancement of more and more sections of the community. In the field of religion, the century opened with the Western Schism, with popes and antipopes until the pontificate of Martin V (1417). The effects of the Schism were felt even until, and after, the Council of Basel, Ferrara, Florence and Rome (1431-1445). In culture, the fifteenth century was the age of literary humanism and the renaissance of the arts, which implied a reversal of, or at least a marked improvement upon, medieval concepts. The political life of Italy during this period is divided into two parts by the Peace of Lodi (1454), which marked a gradual end to the exhausting struggles of the first fifty years of the century and the start of a period of relative peace, which was to survive until the invasion of Charles VIII in 1494.
As will be seen, Servites took an active part in the social and religious life of the times, and played a part in politics and culture. Attempts to define the life of the Order in a few words would not do adequate justice to all the aspects of the picture, It is better to follow closely what happened in the Order and emphasize the salient points which illustrate its situation in the context of events in the Church and society at large. Attention will also be given to the intellectual and spiritual achievements, which made this century a particularly rich one in the history of the Order.
A few words about the size of the Order at the beginning of the century: When the Order celebrated its general chapter in Ferrara in 1404 in order to decide, as shall be seen shortly, the future of Monte Senario, there were six provinces, with about seventy priories in all. It is not easy to calculate the exact number of friars, but it must have been still far short of a thousand. There were enough, however, for the Order to have a greater impact in Church affairs; the first Servite bishops date from this period, although it is impossible to list them all with precision.
The rebirth of Monte Senario
The priory at Monte Senario, which had been the headquarters of the nascent Order of "the Servants of the Virgin Mary" in the years 1249 to 1256, disappeared almost entirely from the pages of history after 1257, when the prior general established his residence in the priory outside the walls of Florence.
This account of the subsequent history of Monte Senario is based on F.A. Dal Pino's article Monte Senario, in the Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione (Dictionary of Institutes of Perfection).
The writer of the final version of the Legenda de origins, in all probability Fra Peter of Todi, noted that, at the time of writing (1317-1318), Monte Senario was a strong reminder of the origins of the Order yet was in a state of abandonment and neglect. At that time, "hermits" or "little brothers" lived there; their common name, fraticelli, and one of Boccaccio's stories
attest to the poverty of their way of life, conducted with "fasts and prayers."
It was not until 1404, however, that other significant information is found about the ancient priory. In that year, which was during the Western Schism and in the generalate of Fra Antonio of Bologna, the general chapter held in Ferrara planned the spiritual and material restoration of Monte Senario. This was done at the suggestion of the prior from Florence, Fra Pietro Silvestri. The same year, Fra Antonio of Siena and an unnamed hermit, who perhaps was already living there, took up residence. In the two following years, a further six friars, and possibly two more as well, all from Tuscany, went to Monte Senario.
The life of the community was based explicitly on the exact observance of the Rule of St. Augustine. In 1405, perpetual abstinence from meat was added. In 1412, the first novices were received. Restoration work on the priory had progressed well, thanks to generous donations from the noble family of Della Stufa, who had their family coat of arms placed over the door of the church. The church, however, was not consecrated until a later date.
In the general chapter held in Pisa in 1413, when Fra Stefano of Sansepolcro was prior general and the Order gave allegiance to the Pisan pope, John XXIII, the friars at Monte Senario obtained their own special statutes, designed to allow the priory to proceed without outside interference in its particular way of life. The priory was placed under the immediate jurisdiction of the prior general; the Tuscan provincial was permitted to make canonical visitation there, but could not assign or remove friars from the community. Because of its poverty, the community was dispensed from the regular taxes of the Order and the Tuscan province for the time being. The prior was to be elected every two years by the community itself and confirmed in office by the prior general, who would also determine the limits of the prior's powers.
Although they encountered difficulties later, these privileges were confirmed by the general chapter of Cesena (1434), at the request of the "vicar general" and prior, Fra Bartolomeo of Florence, and in 1436, by Pope Eugene IV, a staunch supporter of Observance movements; he also extended them to the dependent foundations of the priory. The prior general of the time, Fra Niccolò of Perugia, was in fact overseeing the foundation of the first "observant" priories in the north of Italy.
The Servite Congregation of the Observance
Perhaps a word of clarification is in order here about the different reform movements in the history of the Order: first of all, there is the first rebirth of Monte Senario, begun in 1404; then there is the story of the Congregation of the Observance, which lasts from 1430 to 1570; there is also a Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario, with a history spanning two centuries (1593-1778); lastly, there is the Germanic Observance, begun in 1613 and lasting until 1909.
Since friars from Monte Senario were instrumental in the foundation of both the Congregation of the Observance and the Germanic Observance, some confusion, especially terminological, is inevitable. The Congregation of the Observance is also sometimes referred to as the Lombard-Veneto Observance, or even, occasionally, the Mantuan Observance.
Fra Niccolò of Perugia served longer than any other prior general of the Order up to the present day. He held office from 1427 to 1461. The rise and expansion of the Congregation of the Observance is closely connected to this general's first actions in office. The reforming spirit, which accompanied the material and spiritual restoration on Monte Senario grew stronger in the Order during the first three years of his term as prior general, and recent historians ascribe the idea of the Observance directly to him.
No information is available as to the motives or circumstances, which prompted the prior general to send friars to found a priory in Brescia in 1430. It is possible that their arrival was connected to the renewal of religious life in the city; this had become more vigorous after the Republic of Venice annexed Brescia in 1426.
In June 1430 the prior general sent some friars to take up residence in the priory of Sant'Alessandro in Brescia; this priory was at the time in the care of the sole surviving member of the community of Canons Regular of St. Augustine. The names of at least two members of this founding group of the Observance are known: Fra Francesco of Florence and Fra Antonio of the Kingdom of Naples or of Bitetto. It is certain that the first came from the Monte Senario community. The Brescia priory was to be the first foundation of the Observance, to be followed by Santa Maria di Monte Berico in the city of Vicenza (1435) and San Cataldo in Cremona (1439).
By 1435 the prior general had already named a vicar general for the "observant" priories. Pope Eugene IV issued a bull, Viris sanctae religionis, on 27 June 1440, which crowned the progress made in the preceding decade and gave free and irreversible rein to the new body of the Observance.
The outstanding character who came to the forefront as the movement concluded its initial phase was Fra Antonio of Bitetto; he continued to play a leading role until the middle of the century.
The bull mentioned above exempted the friars "of the regular observance" in Brescia, Monte Berico and Cremona from all authorities in the Order except the prior general, who alone could exercise the right of visitation in their priories. It also allowed them to elect their own vicar of the prior general, to be confirmed in office by the general himself. The prior general could not assign other friars to their houses or move any of them without the consent of the vicar and the communities. This was an extension of the exemptions already granted by the Order to the priory of Monte Senario in 1413 and confirmed by the same pope in 1436.
In the period immediately following this bull, the cardinal protector of the Order, Giuliano Cesarini, a leading figure at the ecumenical council of Florence (1439-1442), appeared to press for the subjection of the whole Order, by force if necessary, to the Observance, thus uniting the two movements. The cardinal was influential with Eugene IV and obtained a letter from him, dated 10 August 1441, ordering the most important house of the Order, the priory in Florence, to be handed over to the Observance by 12 August of the same year. The reason given was the laxity of the religious life of the priory. Fra Antonio of Bitetto was appointed prior there and friars reluctant to fall into line were replaced by others. The Observance held its first annual general chapters in Florence, perhaps in 1441 but certainly in the two following years. Fra Antonio of Bitetto himself was elected vicar general. In 1442 Monte Senario was added to the Congregation against the wishes of the community there.
After the deaths of Cardinal Cesarini (1444) and Eugene IV (1447), the priory in Florence, aided by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of the city, was permitted to return to the Order on 30 June 1447. Monte Senario, on the other hand, given the similarities between its lifestyle and that of the Observance in Brescia, had to wait until 1473 to regain its independence.
The main area of growth of the Observance was north of the Apennines, in Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy and Veneto. Important priories of the Order were sometimes incorporated into it: in 1463, the priory of Forli, containing the remains of St. Peregrine Laziosi; in 1476, with the support of the doge, Santa Maria dei Servi in Venice.
The Observance also reached Rome, obtaining the churches of San Nicola in Arcione (1461-147,8) and Santa Maria in Via (1512), both of which were also parishes.
By 1493, twenty-six priories were listed as belonging to the movement; in 1506 there were about fifty. By the time of its suppression in 1570 there were just over sixty. There were also about fifteen convents of sisters connected with the Observance.
Among the saintly figures of the Order in the fifteenth century, Blessed Elizabeth Picenardi of Mantua (ca. 1428-1468) was in contact with the nearby Observant church of San Barnaba, and Blessed Bonaventure of Forli (d. 1491), an austere preacher of penance, was made vicar of the Congregation in 1488.
As regards the legislative texts, that is, the Constitutions of the Observance, Fr. Davide M. Montagna OSM states, "Until the time of the Council of Trent, the Observance kept to the line of the earliest legislative traditions of the Order, the Constitutiones antiquae (drawn up in the period 1295-1304), plus a few Constitutiones novae promulgated by Servite general chapters in the fourteenth century. It may legimately be supposed that the friars of the Observance were faithful to the texts as they appeared in the copies then being made for circulation in the priories of the Order at the start of the fifteenth century and during the long generalate of Fra Niccolò of Perugia (1427-1461). In some cases these were used in community liturgies (professions, chapter readings, at table) just as they were, without being transcribed elsewhere ... This fidelity to the Constitutiones antiquae of the Order did not stop them from adding other articles (Constitutiones novae) during their annual general chapters ... The first version to appear with modifications of the Constitutiones antiquae was printed in Venice in 1516... By this legislation of 1515/1516, the Congregation of the Observance established its pretridentine legislative text far earlier than the rest of the Order, and moreover, in a great number of identical copies."
In the last decades of the fifteenth century, a long period of crisis began for the Congregation of the Observance, only partially resolved by attempts at a revival in the early years of the following century. Opposition between the Observance and the Order increased, as the latter founded its own priories of "primitive observance" in Italy and Germany and encouraged attempts at eremitical and contemplative life. The Order and the Observance thus grew less dissimilar, thereby creating the basis for the reunification of the Order, which came about in 1570.
The Observance presented, especially in the first decades of its existence, a reminder for the whole Order to be faithful to its origins. It might indeed be said that for an Order founded by a group rather than one individual, the priority of unity, even of structures, should have been evident. Unlike other religious orders whose "observant" movements broke away to form separate institutes, the Servite Observance remained with the Order.
A pictorial representation of this is the fresco of Our Lady of Mercy (Mater misericordiae) that was discovered in the priory of Santissima Annunziata in Florence in 1964. Painted in the second half of the fifteenth century, it shows the Blessed Virgin gathering two groups of Servite friars under her mantle, seven on her right and six on her left. The symbolism reveals the date of its origin: the two groups represent the "conventuals," tracing their origin back to the Seven Founders of the Order, and the friars of the Observance who, according to Fra Paolo Attavanti, a Florentine writer, originated from a group of six.
Liveliness and vigour of the Order in the mid-fifteenth century
After the long generalate of Fra Niccolò of Perugia (1427-1461), there was another one also of considerable length. The general chapter held in Treviso in 1461, with some four hundred capitulars present, elected Fra Cristoforo of Giustinopoli (or Capodistria) to the office of prior general, and he governed until 1485.
Fra Cristoforo was held in respect by the friars of the Observance as well as the Order, and his name is connected with a series of reforms that the general chapters of 1461 and 1473 initiated, as well as with the expansion of the Order and its involvement in the world of culture and of the Church at large.
A certain continuity between Fra Cristoforo and his predecessor would appear to be one of the reasons behind the liveliness of the Order in this period; together they held office for almost sixty years. Signs of this vigour are the growth of movements of Servite women, the sanctity of the friars and their participation in the affairs of the Church and the world of culture.
Some of the more important aspects of these three fields are given here.
Fr. Davide M. Montagna OSM, who has studied in detail the origins of various movements of Servite women, comments: "Neither the earliest lives of Servite saints ... nor the oldest lists of the Order's saints and blessed give a prominent place to women connected with Servite churches or priories. It is only in the mid-fifteenth century (shortly after the bull of Martin V in 1424 concerning the organization of the Third Order) that names of women blessed begin to appear. The earliest listing would appear to date from the generalates of Niccolò of Perugia and Cristoforo of Giustinopoli." Included are Joanna of Cremona, Elizabeth Picenardi of Mantua, Maria of Genoa, another Elizabeth (Recordati) of Mantua, Bionda of Verucchio, etc.
The enclosed convents of Santa Maria delle Povere in Perugia, Santa Caterina in Portaria near Acquasparta, Sant'Eufemia in Rimini, Santa Maria delle Grazie in Sant'Angelo in Vado, San Concordio (later Santissima Trinità) in Spoleto, Santa Maria della Pace in Brescia and Santa Maria della Misericordia in Mantua all date from this period.
Mention must also be made of the vernacular rule for groups of women in the Veneto region; this had been translated and adapted by the noted Servite theologian and preacher, Fra Ambrogio Spiera of Treviso (d. 1455).
As regards saintly figures in the fifteenth century, the Order's liturgy celebrates a number of blessed: Benincasa of Montepulciano, who died in 1426; Elizabeth Picenardi of Mantua (d. 1468); Jerome of Sant'Angelo in Vado, who died around the same time; and James Philip Bertoni of Faenza, who died in 1483 at the age of twenty-nine. After a short period of time, there were Blessed Bonaventure of Forlì (d. 1491) and Blessed John Angelo Porro of Milan who died in 1505.
A characteristic common to all these, possibly the dominant one, was an austere and solitary life, lived either in their own home (Blessed Elizabeth), the priory (Blessed Jerome and Blessed James Philip Bertoni) or a hermitage. In 1483, while Blessed Bonaventure of Forli was prior at San Marcello in Rome, he obtained permission from Pope Sixtus IV to retire to a place apart, along with six companions, so as to lead a life of solitude in a place belonging to the Order and under the direct jurisdiction of the prior general.
This type of life did not prevent them from holding offices or carrying on active apostolates. This was case of Blessed Jerome, and even more so of Blessed Bonaventure of Forlì and Blessed John Angelo Porro. Porro died at the start of the sixteenth century, having become distinguished during the latter half of the fifteenth century for his pioneering apostolic activities in Milan, especially in the field of the religious instruction of children; he also organized and led a rigorous form of religious life at Monte Senario and was a hermit for a time in the house in the Chianti valley which was founded during this period. He attempted reform within the Order without going over to the Observance.
Blessed Jerome of Sant'Angelo in Vado, probably a member of the Ranuzzi (or Ranucci) family, was a priest; he held a bachelor's degree. He was vicar of the Roman province, then known as the province of the Patrimony of St. Peter, and the founder of a group of enclosed nuns (perhaps, at the beginning, a group of ternaries) of whom the enclosed Servite nuns at Sant'Angelo in Vado are the direct descendants. Duke Federico III of Urbino made him one of his councillors. CLIOS, the International Servite Liturgical Commission, published a biography of him in 1982 with historical notes by Rosella Barbieri ossm.
Blessed Elizabeth died on 19 February 1468; she had not yet reached the age of forty. Half of her short life was spent within her own home, vested in the habit of a Servite "mantellate." After the deaths of first her mother and then her father, she spent her last three years at the house of her sister, who had married into a wealthy Mantuan family. She prayed in the nearby Servite church of San Barnaba, where she frequently, even daily, went to confession and received communion. She also recited the Divine Office that the friars chanted in choir. After her death, she was found to be wearing instruments of penance. Her father had been a Cremonese nobleman in the service of the Gonzagas of Mantua. Elizabeth was therefore a "mantellate" sister living in the world, and a Servite tertiary.
Alongside the various saintly Servites who have received official recognition by the Church in the liturgy, many others could be cited, men and women, all outstanding for the holiness of their lives. The tradition of sixty-four Servites martyred in Prague in 1420, however, is without solid historical foundation.
The participation of Servite friars in the life of the Church and of society in the fifteenth century is attested by the number of them appointed to bishoprics. For Italy these included: Fra Alberto Boncristiani of Florence, bishop of Forlì (1413) and later of Comacchio (1418), Fra Matteo and Fra Mariano of Florence, both bishops of Cortona (in 1426 and 1455 respectively) and Fra Deodato of Genoa, bishop of Ajaccio in Corsica (1457).
Interesting too are the appointments of Servites to dioceses in the Near and Far East, where the Order had no established communities. In the second half of the fourteenth century, three Servites had been appointed bishops of Cardica in Greece, Sebaste of the Armenians in Turkey and Zaitum, or Ch'uan-Chou, a suffragan see of Peking in China. In the fifteenth century, there were: Fra Gioacchino Torcelli of Genoa, bishop of Famagusta on the island of Cyprus (1414), Fra Stefano Birello, archbishop of Durazzo in Albania (1458) and Fra Francesco of Siena, archbishop of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) in Yugoslavia (1460).
By this time, some of the Order's churches were true parishes. Servite preachers were active in their own churches and also in cities where there were no Servite priories: But the Order followed other religious institutes into the missionary lands only at a much later date.
Few studies have thus far examined the Order's involvement in the fields of culture and politics in this period. More attention given to learning and the presence of the Order in the principal cities of Italy are signs, however, of a high level of culture in some priories.
In the fifteenth century, the important centres of learning in Italy were Florence, Bologna, Padua, Pisa, Rome and Naples. Priories such as Santissima Annunziata in Florence or Santa Maria dei Servi di Bologna became important centres of study for the Order, and many friars did studies on the university level. Some became well known outside the circle of the Order as well. The golden era for Servites was the sixteenth century and later, but already in this period there were signs of what was to become general later on. One indicator of this is the number of works by Servite authors that were printed immediately after the invention of the printing press. In the period before 1485, there were Fra Paolo Attavanti of Florence, who had twelve editions of seven different books; Fra Galvano of Padua and Fra Iacopo Soldi of Florence, each of whom published a book; and Fra Ambrogio Spiera of Treviso, whose Quadragesimale (Lenten sermons) printed in Venice in 1476, the first incunabulum of the Order, saw two other editions in 1481 and 1485.
Fra Antonio Alabanti of Bologna, who succeeded Fra Cristoforo of Giustinopoli as prior general in 1485, about whom more will be said shortly, was another outstanding friar in the world of culture.
As is well known, Pico della Mirandola (1463-1495) went to Rome in 1486 to organize a great "disputation" of nine hundred theses; it was to be held in the period after Epiphany of the following year. It never took place, however, because Pope Innocent VIII stopped it and appointed an investigatory commission of sixteen members. One of these was Fra Antonio Alabanti, the Servite prior general. The commission finished its work on 13 March 1487; some members, including Alabanti, refused to sign its final report condemning the famous humanist. It is not known if his friendship with the Medici family was the reason for this, but it is interesting to see him involved in the world of learning of this period.
The generalate of Fra Antonio Alabanti of Bologna (1485-1495) and the papal bull known as Mare magnum (1487)
The ten years that Fra Antonio Alabanti was prior general of the Order was a period of intense work on his part for the good of the Order on all levels.
As soon as he was elected, Fra Antonio Alabanti of Bologna went to work on the implementation of one of the decisions of the general chapter of 1485, which bad been held at Vetralla in the residence of the cardinal protector of the Order. That decision was to encourage the return to the priories of the considerable number of friars who were living outside the cloister for a variety of reasons, For this purpose Fra Antonio employed respected men of experience, such as Fra Paolo Attavanti, the well known writer and preacher, Blessed Bonaventure of Forli and Blessed John Angelo Porro of Milan.
One of Alabanti's other long-term plans was the expansion of the Order beyond the frontiers of Italy. He started work on the recovery of the priories that the Order had lost in France and Spain during the Western Schism, but his work remained without much success.
In 1486, the prior general decided to go in person to all the provincial chapters. He also tried to attend the annual general chapter of the Observance in Brescia, but was refused admittance. This unfortunate incident served to increase tension between the "observants" and the "conventuals" (as Servites not belonging to the Observance were then known). Alabanti was also the first prior general, it would seem, to visit the Servite priories in Germany, that is, unless the tradition about St. Philip's journey to Germany is accepted as true. He presided at the 1486 provincial chapter in Germany, at which strict decrees for the reform of religious life were introduced. Before returning to Italy, Alabanti set up a sort of "observance" in three priories that dated back to the thirteenth century; these were placed under the jurisdiction of his vicar general in Germany.
Among the important achievements of Alabanti was the concession of the so-called Mare magnum, that is the bull Apostolicae sedis intuitus, on the part of Innocent VIII on 27 May 1487. This is sometimes called the Mare magnum omnium privilegiorum (a collection of all the privileges) since it was "the renewal and extended official declaration of the many privileges obtained by the Order from the popes up to that time." There are sixteen documents confirmed and written out in their entirety in the bull, including the one from Martin V, Sedis apostolicae providentia (1424) which is the foundation document of the Servite Third Order, whose Rule is also attached.
At the end of this intense period of three years, a general chapter was held in Bologna in 1488. This was to become the most famous in the history of the Order for size and grandeur. Over nine hundred friars attended and, given Alabanti's concern for communities of Servite women, about a hundred tertiary sisters from different Italian towns also participated, Local chroniclers recorded the event; the Diario Bolognese of Gaspare Nadi (1418-1505) mentions the presence of 1,302 friars. There were processions through the streets of the city, songs, music, disputations and sermons. The vicar general of the Observance, Blessed Bonaventure of Forli, also attended.
One of the most significant decisions taken at the chapter was the reopening of the cause for canonization of Philip Benizi. A new province of the Order, that of Genoa, was erected; it comprised the regions of Piedmont and Liguria. The whole Order was to work for the return of the Servites to the Iberian peninsula, and to pay for the printing of books by outstanding Servite authors, such as the sermons of Fra Ambrogio Spiera and Fra Paolo Attavanti's Lenten sermons.
The next general chapter was held at Verona in 1491. It was the first whose entire acts have come down to us, in a version containing a detailed account of each day's business.
As Fr. Davide M. Montagna OSM has noted: "The chapters of 1488 and 1491 were two exceptional events, organized surely by Alabanti in person. Afterwards, in the wake of Charles VIII's invasion of Italy (1494) and the precarious political situation throughout the whole of the next century, the institution of the general chapter underwent a gradual reformation, in conformity with Innocent VIII's brief of April 1491."
In this bull, the pope, citing the bull Regimini universalis ecclesiae promulgated by Clement VI in 1346, limited participation at general and provincial chapters to "capitulars," that is, superiors (including local ones) and representatives (called "discreti") from the priories, plus professors of theology in the Order. The numbers present at the Verona general chapter (1494) thus went down to three hundred friars.
From June 1494 to the end of 1495, Alabanti seems never to have ventured outside the city of Bologna, which was not involved in the political events of the times. As a friend of the Medici in Florence, in his latter years he was closely involved with Piero, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who succeeded his father in 1492 and maintained contact with him even after the expulsion of the Medici from Florence on 9 November 1494. It is also said that it was Alabanti who saved Piero's two children, Lorenzo and Clarice. It is known that he received envoys from the Signoria of Florence at the priory in Bologna in June 1494.
The priory became a meeting place for political discussion at the highest level. Alabanti also served as an informant of Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, with whom he soon entered into direct contact. At the beginning of December 1495 he left Bologna for an unknown destination and for unknown reasons. On 8 December he unexpectedly died at Vigevano in the province of Milan, where Ludovico was also present. The story that he was poisoned by enemies of the Medici would not appear to have any serious basis in fact.
Fra Arcangelo Giani, a Servite annalist who wrote at the beginning of the seventeeth century, stated that towards the end of his life, Alabanti was seriously considering sending Servite friars to take part in the evangelization of the New World recently discovered by Christopher Columbus.
The Order at the close of the fifteenth century
The following picture of the size and geographical extension of the Order at the end of the fifteenth century is based on the reliable information contained in the acts of the general chapters of 1491 and 1494.
All the sources available are unanimous about the first six provinces, which are always named in the same order: Tuscany, the Patrimony of St. Peter, Romagna, Lombardy (or the Province of Milan, which seems to be the title current at that time), Genoa (established in 1488 by hiving off a dozen priories, some of them quite old, from the Province of Lombardy) and the March of Treviso (a title which had supplanted the previous title of Province of Venice). During the generalate of Alabanti, their growth seems to have been quiet but steady. In seventh place was the relatively young Province of Istria, which bad been created in 1482.
The 1494 general chapter put the Province of Germany in eighth place (see map). At the close of the century it consisted of eighteen priories, sixteen in what is now called Germany and one each in modern Swizerland and Czechoslovakia, and some 250 friars. It was the biggest foundation outside Italy.
A new province, named for the first time by the 1491 general chapter was that of the March of Ancona, set up either that same year or shortly before. It included the priories of the Order in the Marches, the oldest of which were at Pergola and Fabbriano, formerly under the Province of the Patrimony.
Information about the provinces of Spain, Greece, the Naples area and Corsica is less clear. Given the small number of friars in these regions, they were probably indicated as provinces more to stimulate interest in making new foundations there than as a recognition of an established reality.
The Congregation of the Observance seems to have made considerable progress towards the end of the fifteenth century and the start of the sixteenth. As we have already seen, it comprised twenty-six priories in 1493; in an official list of 1506, some fifty priories are mentioned.
We do not know precisely how many priories belonged to the Order in this period; nor do we know exactly the number of friars. A fair estimate would be to say that in 1495 there were about 170 priories and roughly 1,200 friars.
The end of the generalate of Alabanti marks the close of a well-delineated period in the Order's history. The following decades open a new phase with very different characteristics.
1404 General chapter of Ferrara in which the material and spiritual restoration of Monte Senario is decided.
1410-1424 Generalate of Fra Stefano of Sansepolcro.
1413 General chapter at Pisa; special juridical norms for Monte Senario.
1414-1418 The Order participates in a general council of the Church for the first time, as the prior general attends
1417 Election of Pope Martin V and the end of the Western Schism.
1424 Bull Sedis apostolicae providentia of Martin V approves the Rule of the Servite Third Order.
1426 Death of Blessed Benincasa of Montepulciano.
1427-1461 Generalate of Fra Niccolò of Perugia.
1430 The prior general, Fra Niccol6 of Perugia, sends a group of friars to make a foundation in Brescia. Thus is born the Servite Observance, whose first priories are Brescia,(1435), Monte Berico in Vicenza (1435) and Cremona (1439).
1440 Bull Viris sanctae religions of Eugene IV gives full approval to the Congregation of the Observance.
1441-1447 The priory of Santissima Annunziata in Florence is part of the Congregation of the Observance.
1442-1473 Monte Senario belongs to the Congregation of the Observance.
1453-1462 Foundation of a convent for nuns at Sant'Angelo in Vado, the oldest of those which still exist today.
1461-1485 Generalate of Fra Cristoforo of Giustinopoli.
1468 Death of Blessed Elizabeth Picenardi.
1468 ca. Death of Blessed Jerome of Sant'Angelo in Vado.
1476 The Quadragesimale of Fra Ambrogio Spiera of Treviso (d. 1455) is printed, the first printed book
in the Order.
1479 Foundation of the first priory in Corsica, in the north of the island at Centuri.
1480 Foundation of the priory at Sieti (Salerno), the first of the future province of Naples.
1483 Death of Blessed James Philip Bertoni of Faenza. Foundation of the priory of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
in France, the first of the future province of Provence (or Narbonne).
1485-1495 Generalate of Fra Antonio Alabanti of Bologna.
1487 The papal bull called Mare magnum.
1488 General chapter of Bologna, the largest in Servite history. Erection of the province of Genoa.
1489 ca. Foundation of the convent of enclosed Servite nuns at Sagunto (formerly Murviedro) in Spain.
1491 Death of Blessed Bonaventure of Forli in Udine.
1497 Foundation of the priory at Las -Cuevas (Aragon)
THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
From Blessed John Angelo Porro (d. 1505) to Angelo Maria Montorsoli (d. 1600)
A complex and troubled century. The religious situation at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Servants of Mary from the death of Blessed John Angelo Porro (1505) to the eve of the Council of Trent. The generalate of Fra Agostino Bonucci (1542-1553). The end of the Congregation of the Observance and the effects of the Tridentine reform in the Order. The Constitutions of the Servants of Mary in the sixteenth century. Priories and friars of the Order in 1581. The origins of the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario. The example of Fra Angelo Maria Montorsoli.
A complex and troubled century
It is more difficult to place Servite history within the chronological limits of the sixteenth century than of other centuries. The difficulty rises from the complex series of events which influenced the life of the Order in the sixteenth century and from the possibility of using other dates as points of reference (for example, the beginning of the Lutheran reform, 1517; the generalate of Fra Agostino Bonucci, 1542-1553; the Council of Trent, 1545-1563; the end of the Servite Observance, 1570; the restoration of the eremitic life at Monte Senario, 1593; the events surrounding Paolo Sarpi, 1552-1623, etc.). Therefore, it will not be possible to describe all aspects of Servite life during this century in the brief space that is available. In this difficult period the Order reflected the complex events affecting the entire Church. A simple illustration is the following: while in the fifteenth century the Order was guided by six priors general, in the period from the death of Alabanti (1495) to the death of Fra Angelo Maria Montorsoli (1600), the Order had twenty priors general, about half of whom were personally named by the pope. Furthermore, in the early decades of the century, the Observance, already in decline, was seriously divided from the rest of the Order; by the end of the century, however, the Servants were fully reunited. The writing of Servite history began in the sixteenth century with such Servites as Giacomo Filippo called Androfilo, Filippo Maria Sgamaita of Bologna, Cosimo Favilla, Filippo Albrizzi, Raffaello Maffei, Ippolito Massarini and, above all, with the Chronicon of Michele Poccianti "who had a decisive influence on the historiography of the Servants for several centuries" (F.A. Dal Pino). Poccianti was then followed by the Florentine Arcangelo Giani, the first annalist of the Order.
The numerous works of Servite writers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have been presented in studies by the Servants of Mary, Giuseppe M. Besutti and Pacifico M. Branchesi. The contribution of Odir J. Dias is important for the chronology of the priors general in the early sixteenth century. The theologians of the Order at the Council of Trent have been studied by Marco M. Aldrovandi (Fra Agostino Bonucci) and Luigi M. De Candido (Fra Lorenzo Mazzocchio). The celebration in 1978 of the second centennial of the suppression of the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario provided an opportunity for detailed study of the Congregation's origins (1593).
Nevertheless, the many lacunae in our knowledge of this period of Servite history necessarily affect this synthesis.
After a preliminary presentation of the religious situation at the beginning of the sixteenth century, we will describe: the life of the Order from the death of Blessed John Angelo Porro until the eve of the Council of Trent; the generalate of Fra Agostino Bonucci; the end of the Observance and the effects of the Tridentine reform in the Order; the Servite Constitutions in the sixteenth century; the origins of the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario; and the example of Angelo Maria Montorsoli. We will speak of Fra Paolo Sarpi in the following chapter.
The religious situation at the beginning of the sixteenth century
It has been said that the "religious history of sixteenth century Italy begins with the burning of Girolamo Savonarola at Florence on 23 May 1498" (V. De Caprariis). The austere Dominican whom Philip Neri considered a saint was not the last vestige of the Middle Ages as F. De Sanctis and Carducci held. Probably not far from the truth is the statement of Roberto Ridolfi in his monumental biography of Savonarola: "If his voice had been heard perhaps Luther would not have gained prominence or accomplish what he did; the reform desired by every Christian would have come from the Church of Rome itself."
Lively agitation for change within the Church did not succeed in finding a unified expression. Political concerns dominated the papacy; corruption threatened church institutions and took all credibility away from any theoretical defense of orthodoxy. The pontificates of Alexander VI (1492-1503), Julius II (1503-1513) and Leo X (1513-1521) were reigns of princes rather than pastors and very often the enemies of an ambiguous supremacy were singled out as enemies of the faith. In Florence, while Savonarola and the Domincan community of San Marco were directing the reform chorus of their supporters, their confreres at Santa Maria Novella were actively assisting a group opposed to Savonarola. When the stake did not resolve controversies, poison often did. The history of the Servite Order reflects the situation. There is a tradition that Prior General Antonio Alabanti died of poison in 1495 because of his ties to the Medici family. In 1503, the cardinal protector of the Order of Servants, Giovanni Michiel, was poisoned; his tomb is in the church of San Marcello, Rome. Luther himself was an Augustinian friar and demonstrates that the attack on the Church did not come from outside but from within. The unending resistance of Pope Paul III to the convocation of the Council cannot be explained by references to the inefficacy of the Lateran Council IV (1512-1517), but only as an inability to read the signs of the times.
The Servants of Mary from the death of Blessed John Angelo Porro (1505) to the eve of the Council of Trent
Fra Antonio Alabanti died at Vigevano in December of 1495 and a few months later, on 18 March 1496, Pope Alexander VI named an apostolic vicar general, Fra Andrea of Perugia. The general chapter a year later elected him prior general. From this date until 1542, the year in which Fra Agostino Bonucci was elected to guide the Order, no prior general was freely elected by a general chapter. The seven priors general who held the highest office in the Order during this period were imposed by the Holy See, by being named apostolic vicars general before the convocation of the general chapter. These were Andrea of Perugia, Taddeo Tancredi of Bologna, Ciriaco of Foligno, Clemente of Mantua, Girolamo Foschi of Faenza, Angelo of Arezzo, Girolamo Amidei of Lucca, and Dionisio Laurerio of Benevento.
During this period, certain events and persons deserve attention: the last
years of Blessed John Angelo; the weak efforts at renewal by the "Sons of the Observance of the Prior General"; the appeal in 1533 for the material and spiritual reconstruction of Monte Senario; the person and work of Fra Dionisio Laurerio, prior general and cardinal; other illustrious personalities.
Blessed John Angelo Porro died in 1505 at Milan where he had spent the last years of his life. Before his final return to the principal city of Lombardy, however, and after having been at Florence, the hermitage of Chianti and Monte Senario, it seems that the Blessed stayed at the small priory of Croara near Piacenza. Here he tried to initiate a reform of religious life in the communities of Servants as promoted by Prior General Alabanti apart from the Observance movement. This attempt took definite form under the generalate of Fra Taddeo Tancredi who approved the establishment of the "Sons of the Observance of the Prior General" in 1506. This new "observant branch" was closely tied to the Order but had little success, perhaps because
the priors general guiding the Order during this period were imposed by the Holy See rather than elected by the friars.
The example and initiative of Blessed John Angelo, however, left a lasting mark on both the Order and the church of Milan where the Blessed's catechetical work with children prepared the way for the pastoral innovations later introduced by Saint Charles Borromeo.
Confirmation of his fame for sanctity is found in the veneration which began soon after his death in the church of San Carlo in Milan where he is buried.
An event not without importance occurred during the generalate of Fra Girolamo Amidei of Lucca who governed the Order for twelve years (1523-1535). He had previously spent some time in Germany where he became known as an able opponent of Lutheran doctrines.
During the general chapter of Siena in 1533, Fra Girolamo made a moving presentation to the capitulars on the state of neglect and decay of Monte Senario. He insisted on the necessity of doing something before it was too late. The priory itself had been damaged shortly before by a serious earthquake; discipline had lapsed for a number of reasons, especially after the community had withdrawn from the Congregation of the Observance in 1473.
The appeal of the prior general, written in Latin, has come down to us in its entirety. Some passages of the talk seem to reflect a concern that goes beyond the situation of Monte Senario and extends to the entire Order.
Fra Girolamo Amidei first recalled that the Order was born on Monte Senario and many saints had lived there; he then added with bitterness: "For some time, however, perhaps through our own fault, we see Senario mortally wounded and its foundations almost destroyed; we can say with tears that the crown has fallen from our head." Recognizing the urgency of repairs, the prior general admitted two obstacles: the lack of available resources and the excessive divisions existing within the Order which made every community think only of itself and have little concern for the others. He added immediately: "Can any of you imagine that Monte Senario is not his own? if, in fact, there have been moments of rebirth in the Order who would dare deny that they began at Monte Senario? Who would have the courage to deny that Senario is the common home of all who desire to live a religious life of solitude, prayer and sanctity… I refuse to believe that anyone is opposed to my exhortation; otherwise, I would have to think that that person wishes harm to the entire family of our Order."
The invitation, unfortunately, was not accepted and Monte Senario was to remain almost abandoned for another sixty years.
The last of the priors general of this period to be nominated directly by the pope was Fra Dionisio Laurerio, a native of southern Italy. He entered the Order at a very young age and soon distinguished himself as an able theologian. In 1530, Henry VIII of England chose him as his representative in the Roman Curia. He was a close friend of Paul III who not only named him prior general of the Order in 1535, but in 1539 made him a cardinal and, the following year, bishop of Urbino. The pope gave him numerous responsibilities which very often took him away from the direction of the Order. He was already prior general when he was named visitor and reformer of the Congregation of the Observance. The annalist of the Order, however, noted that his actions bore little fruit. Especially after becoming a cardinal, he governed the Order through vicars general. Laurerio died at the age of forty-five, shortly after the general chapter that elected Agostino Bonucci prior general.
A few intersting personalities of the early sixteenth century deserve to be remembered: Blessed Cedonio of Monza or Bologna, Fra Girolamo Foschi of Faenza, Blessed Lucia of Bagolino, Blessed Peter of the Cross.
Fra Cedonio, a native of Monza (ca. 1420) but said to be of Bologna because of his long residence there, could be called a Saint Alexis of the sixteenth century. Little is known of him, but during his life he was famous for his great simplicity, poverty and availability to those most in need. For many years he chose as his daily dwelling a cell constructed next to the bell tower of the church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Bologna. He was over one hundred years old when he died (1526) and was immediately included in the lists of the blessed of the Order.
Fra Girolamo Foschi (c. 1445-c. 1532) was truly unusual. History substantially confirms the extraordinary facts of a Latin epigraph dictated by Girolamo himself: "Fra Girolamo Foschi of the Servants of Mary, who travelled in Asia, Europe and Africa, arriving even in the Antilles, preaching the word of God throughout the world in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German..." Erudite, versatile, famous, and esteemed by Julius II, in 1511 he was named vicar general of the Order with the certain prospect of becoming prior general. Instead, because of his close ties to Cardinal Bernardino Carvajal, protector of the Order, he gave his allegiance to the Council of Pisa-Milan which was to become known as the "Conciliabulum." The pope immediately deposed him as vicar general and he would have ended up in prison had he not left the country in time. He soon repented of his rebellion and obtained pardon from a new pontiff, ending up in the shadows and solitude of the priory of Pietralunga near Faenza which he himself had founded in 1507. Before his death, however, the prior general entrusted him with important responsibilities.
The first edition of the Annals of the Order (1622) by Fra Arcangelo Giani speaks of a Blessed Lucia, foundress of the cloistered convent of Servants of Mary at Bagolino near Brescia who died around 1524 (Giani has 1520). Davide M. Montagna OSM recently published an important article about this holy nun who, within a few years of her death, was listed among the blessed of the Order. She should be remembered because very little documentation is available about the Servite nuns before Trent. The convent of Bagolino was founded in the territory of the Servite Observance thanks to the support of the vicar general of the Observance Fra Deodato Capirola of Brescia. The convent of Bagolino later returned in Servite history because of other cloistered saints faithful to the renewal begun by their foundress.
Blessed Peter of the Cross, a hermit from Germany, became ill at Viterbo during a local epidemic while making a pilgrimage to Rome. Still ailing, he asked for and received the habit of the Servants of Mary. He died in 1522 at the age of thirty-six. His body was venerated at Viterbo in the church of Santa Maria della Verità until its suppression at the end of the nineteenth century and then in the convent of Santa Maria della Pace of the cloistered Servants of Mary (founded in 1502 and closed in 1911). The sanctity of Blessed Peter of the Cross is recorded in Fra Michele Poccianti's Chronicon (1567). The historical archives of the Order in Rome contain a letter written to Blessed Peter in 1519 by King Charles I of Spain (later Emperor Charles V).
The generalate of Agostino Bonucci (1542-1553)
Together with Fra Angelo M. Montorsoli and Fra Lorenzo Mazzocchio, Fra Agostino Bonucci is one of the most Noteworthy figures of the Servite sixteenth century. Prior general of the Order and at the same time one of the general superiors of the mendicant orders present as "Fathers" at the Council of Trent, Bonucci carried out within the Order an effective programme of renewal necessary for its slow but certain revival.
Though also called Fra Agostino of Arezzo, he was probably born near Monte San Savino to a family related to Pope Julius III (1550-1555). There was no relationship, however, with Fra Stefano Bonucci from the same town, who was to be Fra Agostino's efficient collaborator and later would become prior genera1 (1570-1573), bishop and cardinal, and whose name would be linked to the suppression of the Congregation of the Observance.
Fra Agostino Bonucci was elected prior general at the chapter held at Faenza in 1542. For the first time since the ginning of the century the friars were left free to choose the general themselves. But as often happens, the same persons who complain about a lack of freedom, do not know how to use it when they have it. At Faenza, the friars of the Congregation of the Observance used a pretext of procedure to oppose and then contest the election of Bonucci as prior general. The episode risked creating a break between the Order and its Observant branch. Precisely in these circumstances Bonucci demonstrated his leadership qualities and with firmness and patience managed to resolve the conflict and restore harmony with the friars of the Observance.
Although involved in the work of the Council of Trent where he demonstrated his doctrinal preparation, impartiality and thorough knowledge of both Catholic and Protestant positions, Bonucci laboured intensely for the renewal of the life of the Order. He was intransigent in defending the rights of his friars, even threatening the pope to resign as prior general if certain rights of the priory of Perugia were not recognized. He was no less rigorous in his attempts at reform. Marco M. Aldrovandi OSM notes: "Bonucci's experiences during canonical visitations and his effort to restore religious spirit led to the publication of the Constitutions that bear his name. The fundamental themes of this text are the strengthening of authority, the reform of religious practice, the dignity of worship and the seriousness of studies. Tradition has given the title 'Constitutions' both to an established legislative text and to decrees at general chapters. The Constitutions of Bonucci were formulated in the general chapter of Budrio in 1548 and published the same year at Bologna. Rather than a legislative reform, these were a restatement of norms fallen into disuse, with some new directives suggested by changed circumstances ..." In his reforming efforts, Bonucci was concerned with reestablishing the authority of superiors while harmonizing it with the community spirit which regulated the life of the Order. To give community life a more profound spiritual dimension, he reawakened interest in worship by limiting exemptions and renewing the obligation of choral prayer, conventual Mass and the devotions of the Order. In reforming religious practice he insisted on the vow of chastity in the face of the relaxed spirit of the times and also on the vow of poverty by abolishing established privileges. For studies he introduced strict norms for the selection of students and professors. From the time of their entrance into the Order young friars had to have two masters: one of the spirit and one of
Knowing that the ideas and writings of Lutheranism were spreading in some houses of the Order, he did not rail against those taken in by these teachings but provided severe norms for the future, using the Council as a guide.
With the Constitutions approved and published, Bonucci personally involved himself in putting them into effect. The election of Pope Julius III gave even greater impetus to the activities of the general. During the jubilee Year of 1550, he went to great lengths so that the nuns of the Order could acquire the indulgence in their own convents. A papal brief charged him with the reform of the priory of Santa Maria dei Servi in Bologna. This was a considerable task since the priory was the largest in the city and an important centre of studies accused of sympathy for Protestant ideas.
Always concerned with safeguarding the unity of the Order, Bonucci in 1551 agreed with the vicar general of the Observance on common reform activities. Together, they asked the pope for authorization to correct abuses and for appropriate authority over those opposed to their actions. At the general chapter of Rimini in the same year Bonucci was reconfirmed as prior general; death was to cut him down at the age of forty-seven before the end of his term. His tomb, with a bust, is in the Servite church of San Pier Piccolo in Arezzo. The monument, attributed to Montorsoli, is actually by an unknown sculptor. Bonucci's friend and associate, Fra Stefano Bonucci brought the body of Agostino Bonucci from Rome to the city of their birth.
Alongside Fra Agostino Bonucci, Fra Lorenzo Mazzocchio of Castelfranco (ca. 1490-1560) who was prior general from 1554 to 1557 was among the Servite theologians who distinguished themselves at the Council of Trent. In his history of the Council of Trent, H. Jedin calls him a "perspicacious theologian." Having a vast cultural preparation, he was also a poet. Unlike Bonucci, who even in doctrine showed himself to be conciliatory, Mazzocchio was a theologian with a nominalist tendency but not to the point of presenting himself as one "of the school." During the conciliar debate on justification, the Secretary of the Council, Massarelli, said that Mazzocchio gave everyone the impression that he had contradicted the opinions of almost all the speakers who preceded him and they were not few in number.
His somewhat eccentric personality seems to have contributed to the agitated circumstances of his election as prior general and the rapid decline of his prestige. He resigned at the end of his three year term and was made prior of San Marcello in Rome. He became the object of serious false accusations and was for a time imprisoned. In the bitter solitude of the conventual prison, he wrote Latin and Italian rhymes which reflected a peaceful spirit. Freed because of failing health, he was made prior of the community of Santa Caterina in Treviso where he died in September of 1560 at the age of seventy.
The end of the Congregation of the Observance and the effects of the Tridentine reform in the Order
What Fra Agostino Bonucci had sought to begin in attempting a renewal of both the "conventuals" and the "observants bore fruit in the end of the Observance or better, in its full reunion with the Order. The operation, if such it can be called, was neither easy nor painless, but it proved to be positive. For an Order like that of the Servants, limited in numbers, the increasing autonomy of the Observance branch had ended in transforming it from an innovative "movement" into a separate body, thus multiplying the causes of friction. The decades following the end of the Observance show that its termination did not lead to a weakening of the vitality of the Order but to a general revival. At the same time, the "spirit" of the Council of Trent tended to impede internal divisions in religious institutes as is seen in the very serious difficulties encountered in the same period by Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross in their promotion of a reform of Carmel which led to the formation of the independent Order of Discalced Carmelites.
The bull of Pope Pius V which suppressed the Congregation of the Observance was read at the conclusion of the general chapter celebrated at Cesena in May of 1570. The prior general who had requested the papal document, Fra Zaccaria Faldossi, had died shortly after convoking the chapter. It was the task of his successor Fra Stefano Bonucci to face this delicate moment. In fact, the friars of the Observance present at the chapter reacted negatively and tried to have the pontifical decision revoked, but to no avail. With the wisdom and tact of the earlier Bonucci, Fra Stefano healed the divisions and the rapid return to full union within the Order occurred without leaving serious scars. In 1574 the houses of the suppressed Congregation formed two provinces: Mantua and Venice.
The most difficult problem, however, remained that of a true spiritual reform of the Order.
Confronted with the new demands created by the birth of Protestantism and the beginning of the Catholic Tridentine reform, the older mendicant orders felt the need for updating, as we might say today. So much the more because within the context of the Council of Trent new "modern" religious congregations and orders were being formed: Theatines (1524), Capuchins (1525), Barnabites (1530), Somaschi (1534), Hospitallers of St. John of God (1537), Jesuits (1540), Oratorians (1575), Camillians (1582), etc. Eugenio M. Casalini OSM observes: "When the older orders compared their ideals with those of the new orders, they thought they could rejuvenate themselves by adopting some of the new styles. What they did not understand was that fraternity at all levels, authority as service, prayer in common and common dedication to the people of God could be very modern, understandable and pastorally effective if presented with the renewed spirit which was the real heart of the success of the modern congregations."
At the end of the century, two eminent Servants of Mary were working for the reform of the Order in different ways. They were Fra Lelio Baglioni and Fra Angelo Maria Montorsoli. Both were priors general: the first from 1590 to 1597, the second from 1597 to 1600. Both were Florentines and nephews of famous artists. Baglioni was the nephew of the architect Baccio d'Agnolo who had worked at Santissima Annunziata of Florence. Montorsoli was the nephew of the sculptor Giovannangelo Montorsoli (1507-1563), a disciple of Michelangelo and a Servite friar, well known for the fountains of Messina, the marble main altar of Santa Maria dei Servi in Bologna and noteworthy works of art in Genoa.
Fra Lelio Baglioni is credited with reforming the Order "from the top," by a series of concrete directives and by beginning the Congregation of Hermits at Monte Senario. To Fra Angelo Maria Montorsoli is attributed a more interior activity not opposed to that of Baglioni, but complementary. We will treat of him shortly.
The Constitutions of the Servants of Mary in the sixteenth century
Inspired by the reform promoted by the Council of Trent, the Order set about reviewing and updating its Constitutions. We have already spoken of the "Constitutions" of Bonucci promulgated by the general chapter of Budrio in 1548. The first entirely revised constitutional text was printed in, Rome in 1556 during the generalate of Mazzocchio. In 1569 another new text was printed in Florence under Fra Zaccaria Faldossi.
The general chapter celebrated at Parma in 1579 reelected Fra Giacomo Tavanati (1576-1582) as prior general for a second three-year term and mandated a constitutional revision. One who worked on this text was the prior provincial of Venice, the twenty-seven year old Fra Paolo Sarpi. The text, with notable differences from preceding ones, was printed at Venice in 1580. These Constitutions remained substantially in force until the Second Vatican Council.
We present here a translation of a passage from Fra Giacomo Tavanti's Latin introduction to the Constitutions of 1580. For the sake of clarity, the translation is rather free.
"The Constitutions presented here for the observance of all, even if they can be called new in a certain sense, are not new at all. Everything, in fact, that pertains to the original piety of the Order and our holy Fathers, charity and the constant goal of eternal life is maintained in these Constitutions from the very beginning: that is to say, the commitment to serve God under the protection of the Mother of God, to abandon the world and its goods, to love one another, to pray to God at the altar of Christ for all; in them, therefore, no novelty will be encountered, and the ancient remains holy and unchanged. However, because of the changed conditions of our times, circumstances, locations and persons, something new will also be found. We are certain, in fact, that whoever, after our first fathers, sought to suppress something or introduce new norms, did so with the same constructive spirit for the purpose of serving God, obeying the Catholic church and teaching us the way of God..."
In the preceding chapter we spoke briefly of the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Observance. A new revision of this text went into effect in 1570, shortly before the suppression of the Observance.
Priories and friars of the Order in 1581
Tuscany 23 143 32 35 32 242
Rome 30 127 37 27 31 222
Romagna 18 123 41 27 23 214
Lombardy 38 124 38 14 57 233
March of Treviso 26 73 20 19 22 134
Veneto 24 128 39 19 53 239
Mantua 37 155 60 27 65 307
Genoa 19 62 16 8 23 109
Naples 12 42 17 7 14 80
Provence 8 20
Corsica and Sardinia 4 10
Spain 1 8
The first nine provinces (also called "greater") are those which, according to the Constitutions of 1580, could each send three representatives to the general chapter; the other two (Narbonne or Provence; Corsica and Sardinia together) were each represented by one friar only. Spain was not yet a true province for there was only the recently founded priory of Barcelona. This priory and those of Provence in France were the only non-Italian houses in this period. At that time, Italy geographically included Corsica (with three priories), Istria (four priories of the province of the March of Treviso) and the southern part of the Canton of Ticino (where the province of Lombardy had two priories). The German province, still flourishing at the end of the fifteenth century, had ceased to exist because of the new political-religious situation created by the Protestant reform (a prior provincial is mentioned in 1522 and a few houses managed to survive until the middle of the century).
The province of Veneto (or Venice) and that of Mantua were created in 1574 by dividing into two geographical areas the priories formerly belonging to the Congregation of the Observance. Together, these two provinces represented more than a fourth of the Order in numbers of priories and friars.
Under the Roman Province, Tavanti also records seventy four "cloistered nuns under the care of the Order" in the two Umbrian convents of Portaria and Spoleto (facts not included in the table).
The origins of the Congregation of the Hermits of Monte Senario
We possess extensive documentation on the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario which existed for nearly two centuries. It is possible to reconstruct, almost year by year, life at Monte Senario and other hermitages from 1593 until 1778, the year in which the eremitic phase of the Congregation formally ended and the cradle of the Order returned to the cenobitic community life which continues down to the present day. To be precise, the eremitic life ended at Monte Senario and San Giorgio in Lunigiana in 1778; at Cibona and Monterano in 1780.
On 24 August 1593 the Order decided not only to reconstruct the crumbling building of Monte Senario but also to restore an eremitic community of rigorous observance directly dependent on the prior general and the prior provincial of Tuscany, and affiliated to the Florentine community of Santissima Annunziata.
The friars chosen to begin the eremitic life arrived at Monte Senario on 22 May 1594; they were led by Fra Bernardino Ricciolini who had previously lived for two years at Camaldoli. The diaries of the hermitage call him the vicar.
The first decades of the eremitic life were years of great rigour and zeal. Much of the work centred on the buildings themselves: restoration of the church and the construction of the main well. These projects were carried to completion slowly, but without interruption. The forest was replanted with pines brought from Vallombrosa, Camaldoli and other places.
For those who desired, a completely solitary life was possible. A number of hermitages were built, on the side of the mountain; two of them can still be seen today.
The prior general was a frequent visitor to Monte Senario. The friars of the hermitage wore habits of coarse material and sandals, fasted at least three times a week and rose during the night for the night "hours" of the Divine Office. The seriously ill were taken to the infirmary (or "hospice" of the hermits) of Santissima Annunziata at Florence. If a hermit did not die at the hermitage, arrangements were made to return his body to Monte Senario for burial in the community's cemetery.
Constitutions for the eremitic community were drawn up in Italian and published at Florence in 1613. In small groups, the hermits from Monte Senario established other hermitages in Tuscany and Lazio: San Giorgio in Lunigiana, Montevirginio, Cibona and Monterano. They were instrumental in the birth of the Order in Austria at the beginning of the seventeenth century; this will be discussed later.
It is interesting to note that during the period of greatest vitality in the life of the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario, friars from other communities of the Order often visited there and remained for some time. They were taking advantage of the generous and fraternal hospitality which is still today practised as a cherished characteristic of the community of Monte Senario.
Proof of how closely the rebirth of the Order's original spirit on Monte Senario responded to the Council of Trent’s call to renewal is found in the encouragement and support given o the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario not only by he priors general of the Order but also by the Holy See. Pacifico Branchesi OSM notes that eleven papal documents written between 1593 and 1612 confirm this support.
Especially in its early period, the eremitic Congregation was respected within the Order. Proof is found in the hermitage diaries which record that more than six hundred friars of the Order contributed to the initial restoration of Monte Senario with money or supplies. For its part, the Congregation offered outstanding examples of sanctity and represented a stimulus and a point of reference for the entire Order.
The example of Fra Angelo Maria Montorsoli
We quote here the description of Montorsoli presented by Eugenio M. Casalini OSM during the Week of Spirituality held at Monte Senario in 1978 to record the second centennial of the end of the Congregation of Hermits.
"Fra Angelo Montorsoli ... without scorning decrees of reform and while continuing to sincerely esteem the hermits of Senario (among whom he counted some of his own disciples), had his own ideas about renewal. After receiving his doctorate in theology from the University of Florence, he was named a Teacher in the priory of Santissima Annunziata. In 1579, he printed the first results of his teaching years: the first volume of Commentarii in librum I Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi (Commentary on the First Book of Sentences of Peter Lombard); five other volumes followed during the next six years that he continued to teach. Montorsoli spent the time not given to teaching or study in preaching and hearing confessions.
"In 1588, the year in which his companion Lelio Baglioni was elected procurator general of the Order, Montorsoli requested his superiors for permission to live for the rest of his life as a recluse in a room of the priory of Santissima Annunziata ... Certainly, this type of eremitical life was rather unusual. It reflected a protest against the current life style, but not flight or withdrawal. It was characterized by asceticism, but not a denial of learning. It offered a rich contemplative life which was then communicated to others through letters and personal counsel and encouragement; during this period of eremitic experience, Montorsoli wrote five volumes of reflections on the Scriptures, two books of spiritual exercises modelled on those of St. Ignatius Loyola and other shorter ascetical works. For us what is important is the Spiritual Letter sent to the friars of the Florentine community in 1596.
"The Letter excludes the idea that observance of the rule in itself, can become a means of religious perfection. Neither does the Letter reflect a conviction that the restoration or change of structures might renew the Order. The only possibility of reform, according to Montorsoli, lies in voluntary efforts at individual spiritual renewal according to the sequela Cbristi (following of Christ), the essence of which is contemplation in love".
Montorsoli's Spiritual Letter created some controversy. It did, however, favourably impress Pope Clement VIII who obliged Montorsoli to abandon his recluse life and then named him prior general of the Order in 1597.
Montorsoli accepted the office reluctantly, but dedicated himself to the renewal of religious life. He named Fra Bernardino Ricciolini initiator of the eremitical life on Monte Senario as prior of the important community of Santissima Annunziata. Among his primary concerns was the preparation of formation masters for the novices and professed students. For this purpose, he sent some friars to the Jesuits to begin the study and practice of the Ignatian spiritual exercises.
The historian of the Order, Fra Gregorio Alasia (1579-1626), carefully collected the letters of Montorsoli and noted that other letters, besides the Spiritual Letter, reflect his ideas on the renewal of religious life. Without a doubt, one of these is a letter to his teacher, the Prior General Fra Giacomo Tavanti, written in 1593 and published by F.A. Dal Pino in the 1958 volume of Studi storici dell'Ordine dei Servi di Maria.
Montorsoli describes his vision of the Order in another letter sent to the prior provincial of Romagna in January of 1597. He writes: "Our Order is small compared to the other mendicant Orders; with the diligent care of only a few persons united to God, it could easily become an impregnable fortress. But today it is practically an abandoned city and much must be done to
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. There is no necessity of letting it go to ruin; rather as a work of the most holy Mother of God, it must be restored and enlarged with particular care. Other orders have at their head a saint who may truly be outstanding, but infinitely greater and without equal is the most holy Virgin, our patroness whose favoured Servants we are called."
The sixteenth century ends with Fra Angelo Maria Montorsoli. The following century, so eventful for the life of the Order, brings the Order to the forefront of secular history in the person of Fra Paolo Sarpi, without a doubt the best known Friar Servant of Mary.
Dates to Remember
1505 Blessed John Angelo Porro dies at Milan.
1506 The "Sons of the Observance of the Prior General" are established.
1512-1517 Lateran Council V.
1515-1516 Fra Filippo Albrizzi of Mantua is vicar general of the Observance. Updating of the Constitutions of the Observance. Albrizzi writes a brief history of the Order, a history of the Congregation of the Observance and a life of Blessed Philip Benizi.
1517 Beginning of the Lutheran reform. After some years, the suppression of the houses of the Order in Germany begins.
1524ca. Death of Blessed Lucia, foundress of the convent of Bagolino.
1526 Blessed Cedonio dies at Bologna.
1533 Prior General Girolamo Amidei of Lucca issues an appeal for the reconstruction of Monte Senario.
1539 First Servite cardinal: Fra Dionisio Laurerio of Benevento (prior general from 1535 to 1542).
1542-1553 Generalate of Fra Agostino Bonucci.
1545-1563 Council of Trent.
1556 First constitutional revision of the Tridentine period, followed shortly by two others in 1569 and 1580.
1570 End of the Congregation of the Observance which is reunited to the Order.
1580 Foundation of a Spanish house at Barcelona.
1593 Beginning of the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario.
1596 Spiritual Letter of Fra Angelo M. Montorsoli.
1597-1600 Generalate of Fra Angelo M. Montorsoli.
THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
From the Germanic Observance (1613) to Fra Giulio Arrighetti (d. 1705). Monte Senario as Centre of Reform
The Order in the limelight. Fra Paolo Sarpi. Foundation and early development of the Germanic Observance. The Servants of Mary in 1650. The restructuring mandated by the Holy See in 1652. The rebirth of studies and the Ghent College in Rome. The Servite Family expands. The canonization of St. Philip Benizi. The generalate of Fra Giulio Arrighetti. Some eminent Servites of the seventeenth century.
The Order in the limelight
Conrad M. Borntrager OSM has noted: "A Servite historian who approaches a study of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries labors under yet another disadvantage. While the medievalist searches vainly for more documents, the historian of later centuries must sift through a mass of records; records, it must be noted, for which no guide yet exists." Even excluding the wealth of unexplored material to be found in present houses of the Order, public archives and other places, it is also true that most of the official documentation already available and organized has still to be examined. Moreover, most of the documents which Fra Arcangelo Giani and his successors used to write, the Annales of the Order of Servants of Mary must still be thoroughly studied.
These documents were gathered in view of the first edition of the Annales (1618-1622) and their continuation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
It must be added that the seventeenth century represents a particularly remarkable period in the history of the Order. Many of the priors general who governed the Order between 1600 and 1700 were men of exceptional spiritual and intellectual calibre. The spiritual renewal begun on Monte Senario bore significant fruit in the Germanic Observance and the foundation of new hermitages. The restructuring in Italy mandated by the Holy See probably contributed to a better organization of the Order.
Mention must also be made of the increased and lively interest in studies toward the middle of the century and the growth of the Order in France, Spain and the German-speaking countries.
A summary statement of the evolution of the Servants of Mary during the seventeenth century would simply be that the Order achieved a certain official recognition. Numerous priors general became bishops at the end of their terms of office and increasing numbers of Servite friars were teaching in the more important Italian universities. The German province was born in this period. What Chapter 40 of the present day Constitutions calls the Servite Family began to take shape: the number of nuns' convents increased and the Society of the Habit (later called the Confraternity of the Seven Sorrows) was consolidated.
This process of achieving widespread official recognition also included the publication of the Annales, the official history of the Order. The intensification of the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows in the Order and in its pastoral ministry deserves an entirely separate treatment. Pacifico M. Branchesi OSM has recently emphasized that this devotion "promoted by the friars and meant at first for the laity, met with so much success among the faithful and had such an influence within the Order itself, that it became one of the Order's prominent characteristics."
Clearly, then, it is difficult, if not impossible, to describe in only a few pages the history and vitality of the Servants of Mary during the seventeenth century. What is essential, however, can be summarized under the following headings: the figure of Fra Paolo Sarpi; the foundation and consolidation of the Germanic Observance; the restructuring mandated in 1652; the expansion of the Servite Family; the canonization of St. Philip Benizi; the generalate of Fra Giulio Arrighetti; some eminent figures of the seeventeenth century.
The popular image of Fra Paolo Sarpi has usually left two problems in the shadows: his personality as a friar and the Order's attitude regarding the position he took during the interdict of Venice in 1606.
Born in Venice in 1552, Sarpi entered the Servants of Mary in 1565, exchanging his baptismal name of Pietro for that of Fra Paolo. He was ordained a priest at Mantua in 1574. In the meantime, the Congregation of the Observance to which Sarpi's religious province belonged had been suppressed.
After a brief period in Milan where he knew and was consulted by St. Charles Borromeo, Sarpi returned to Venice. In 1578 he received a doctorate in theology at Padua. In 1579 he was elected prior provincial of the Venetian Province and was one of three friars on the commission entrusted with the revision of the Constitutions published in 1580. In 1585 he was elected procurator of the Order and moved to Rome where he stayed until the end of his three year term. In 1589 the cardinal protector of the Order sent him as visitator of the Servite province of Romagna.
A study by Pacifico M. Branchesi OSM describes the severity with which Sarpi worked for the restoration of religious life during that visitation. In 1598 he was theologian for the bishop of Ceneda (today's Vittorio Veneto). In 1599 Prior General Fra Angelo M. Montorsoli named him vicar general for the visitation of the houses of Venice. In 1606 he was elected consultor, theologian, canonist and legal consultant of the Venetian Republic. He accepted on condition that the Senate formally commit itself to always defend him. Fra Fulgenzio Micanzio, who remained loyal to Sarpi and became his first biographer, joined him in Venice. In May 1606, the threatened papal interdict of Venice went into effect because the government had presumed to judge and condemn certain clerics. A "war of ink" began over the question. In October of the same year Sarpi was summoned to Rome under pain of excommunication. He responded with a public statement that he did not believe he had to go to Rome; he would submit to an ecclesiastical court, but in a safe location. On 5 January 1607, he was excommunicated. On 5 October 1607, he was wounded in a mysterious attack; it seems he might have been forewarned by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine.
The controversy between Venice and the papacy was ended with a treaty; Sarpi retired from public life and continued his studies. Sarpi's intense activities as consultor of the Republic of Venice are well documented in Italian history. He died an edifying death on 14 January 1623. That same year two other friars mentioned in this history also died: Fra Bernardino Ricciolini who had begun the eremitical Congregation of Monte Senario in 1593 and Fra Arcangelo Giani, the first annalist of the Order.
There seems to be no doubt as to Fra Paolo Sarpi's irreproachable life as a Servant of Mary. The Order's attitude toward him during and after the interdict is still an open question. Certainly the interdict had something to do with placing Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent of 1619 on the Index of Forbidden Books. The situation was made even more complex by the fact that Fra Filippo Ferrari, a great friend of Sarpi, was prior general from 1604 until 1609 (he again led the Order as vicar apostolic from 1624 until 1625).
Boris Ulianich has studied the question of the relations between Sarpi and Prior General Ferrari and the Servite Order during the controversy between Venice and the papacy; he maintains, though with caution, that the hierarchy of the Order neither attacked the person of Sarpi nor directly censured him within the Order. He maintains this even though some representatives of the Order officially and openly defended the position of the Holy See in the Venetian affair during the period of the interdict and reaffirmed the total obedience of the Servants of Mary to the pope. In this regard the writings of Servites Angelo M. Sermarini, Agostino M. Vigiani and Lelio M. Baglioni, as well as a commission of six Servite theologians should be remembered.
Also worthy of note is the good name Sarpi left behind him in the Order. His confreres have periodically defended him: among others, it is sufficient to mention Fra Paolo Sarpi giustificato (Fra Paolo Sarpi justified) by Fra Giuseppe Giacinto M Bergatini (1691-1774) that was published under a pseudonym in 1752 and immediately placed on the Index. The symposium on Sarpi held at Venice in October 1983, together with an exhibit and catalogue prepared by Pacifico M. Branchesi OSM offered a further contribution to our knowledge of Sarpi the friar.
Foundation and early development of the Germanic Observance
The foundations of the Servants of Mary begun at Innsbruck (1613), spread to the rest of Austria, Bohemia, Germany and Hungary, and formed the Germanic Observance. From the beginning they were marked by the spirituality of the hermits of Monte Senario, some of whom were sent to Austria at times as superiors. But even before the hermits, the "foundress" of the Germanic Observance was the widow of Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrolese Austria (d. 1595): Anna Catherina Gonzaga. Born at Mantua in 1567, she was the daughter of Duke Guglielmo and, after 1582, the second wife of Ferdinand. In 1612, together with her daughter Maria (her other daughter, Anna, had married the future Emperor Matthias the previous year) Anna Catherina took the habit of the Servants of Mary in a convent of sisters she had founded at Innsbruck. From that day on, she was known as Sr. Anna Juliana and her daughter as Sr. Anna Catherina. Three years later in 1615, she invited some hermits from Monte Senario to establish regular observance in the friars' priory that she was having built in the same city. After the death of Sr. Anna Juliana in 1621, the hermits returned to Italy. But their absence was to last only a short time. In 1624 Pope Urban VIII responded to a direct request of Archduke Leopold and ordered the apostolic vicar general of the Servants of Mary to again send some Monte Senario hermits to Tyrol to restore religious observance.
The foundation and development of the Germanic observance have been thoroughly studied by Christopher Mooney and Luke M. Foster OSM.
The beginnings of this new experience are closely tied to Monte Senario. In 1627 Fra Arcangelo M. Benivieni, a hermit of Monte Senario, had already sketched the essential parts of the Statutes of the Germanic Observance. The Statutes were approved by the Order in 1634 and confirmed by Pope Clement IX in 1668. It should also be noted that Benivieni himself was superior of the houses of the Germanic Observance for thirty-three years.
The rule, for novices contains a categorical statement concerning the spirituality of the Servants of Mary belonging to the Germanic Observance. According to this text, the particular purpose of the Order was "meditation on the Passion of Christ and the sorrows suffered by the Blessed Virgin in the Passion of her Son and other events in the life of Christ." This description corresponds to the spirituality of the entire Order at that time, even if, according to C. Mooney, the reference to the sorrows of the Blessed Virgin is more Christocentric than are similar references by seventeenth-century Italian Servites.
During the entire seventeenth century, the development of the Germanic Observance was intimately linked to the priory of Innsbruck. Hugo M. Körbel OSM notes that 124 of the 480 novices who made profession in the Observance before 1700 were natives of Innsbruck.
The official end of the Germanic Observance came in 1909. The two provinces of Tyrol and Austria-Hungary had accepted "the decision of the Order" and "agreed to embrace the new text of the Constitutions" approved by the general chapter of 1905 and confirmed by the Holy See on 15 May 1907. And on 29 January 1909 the Congregation of Religious extended the constitutional text to the two Germanic provinces. Some "praiseworthy customs," however, were preserved. The Germanic Observance is survived by the present Tyrolese Province and the dying Province of Hungary.
The influence within the Order of the Germanic Observance was considerable and positive. This was so especially because of constant contact with Monte Senario and the desire to remain always faithful to its origins.
The Servants of Mary in 1650
The accompanying illustration lists the provinces of the Order in 1650 with the number of priories in each (for a total of 293); the geographical location of each house is marked on the map.
In Italy there were nine provinces with full rights (they could celebrate chapters and elect their own provincials), with a total of 261 houses. To these can be added Corsica (5 priories) and Sardinia (2 priories) that were governed by vicars general; today they would be called vicariates. These 268 houses represented 91.5% of the entire Servite Order. All were in what today is Italy with the exception of the five priories in present day France (Corsica), five in Yugoslavia (Istria) and two in Switzerland (Canton of Ticino). It must be remembered, however, that these figures include the small and semi-independent priories attached to larger nearby communities; this was evident in the survey to be discussed shortly - which was ordered by the pope in 1649 and resulted in the suppressions of 1652.
The other three provinces were Provence or Narbonne in France with seven priories, Spain or Catalonia with ten priories and Germany with eight priories. This last province had its communities spread over a vast geographical area where the Germanic Observance was developing and included present day Austria (six priories), West Germany (one priory) and Czechoslovakia (one priory). For the non-Italian provinces the illustration indicates those communities which in 1650 had priors elected by the provincial chapter.
The restructuring mandated by the Holy See in 1652
In conformity with precise directives of the Council of Trent, numerous popes had forbidden religious orders to accept new members in communities unable to support them or to make new foundations without the permission of the local ordinary. The various warnings were often disregarded by both the religious institutes and the local bishops, Pope Innocent X (1644-1655) decided it was necessary to take action. With the apostolic constitution Inter coetera of 1649 he ordered the religious orders to make a detailed census of the number of priories in Italy, the number of friars assigned to each of them, and the income of each community.
Having gathered and evaluated all the information, Innocent X passed from words to action with the constitution Instaurandae regularis disciplinae of 1652. Rather than insist on the number of houses that could not support their religious, the papal document emphazised the lamentable fact that the small number of friars in each community impeded the desired reform of religious orders and the renewal of regular observance.
Conrad M. Borntrager OSM has done a thorough study on the effects of the constitution on the Servants of Mary. Available archival material, especially two large volumes entitled Stati dei Conventi, 1650 (Status of the Priories, 1650), provides a detailed description of the situation of the Order in Italy when Instaurandae regularis disciplinae was promulgated.
Stated briefly, the application of the papal directive required the suppression of 102 of the Order’s 261 houses existing in Italy (excluding Corsica and Sardinia) in 1650.
Since the practical application of the papal directive could not take place overnight and permitted justified appeals, the number of priories actually suppressed was eighty-four, more than a third of those previously existing.
The Annals of the Order considered this entire affair to have been a disaster, but the history of the Order in succeeding decades belies that judgment.
A statistical comparison is indicative: while the Order's priories in Italy were reduced from 261 in 1650 to 177 in 1750, the number of friars increased from 1,745 to 1,950. The number of friars, then, tends to be inversely proportional to the number of houses, at least in Italy. It is necessary to remember, however, that the Order was still largely confined to the Italian peninsula.
The rebirth of studies and the Ghent College in Rome
Even before the mandated restructuring, the priors general had been concerned with an organized renewal of studies as is demonstrated by the following examples. In 1633, Prior General Dionisio Bussotti obtained permission from the Holy See to increase to twelve the number of friars who could be granted a degree of Master in Theology by the Order; this degree was considered equivalent to those granted by universities. Prior General Callisto Puccinelli received permission in 1659 from Alexander VII to grant this degree to two students in each province. One condition was that the degree be conferred during a provincial chapter or diet, or at least during the canonical visitation.
In 1666, Prior General Ludovico Giustiniani called the first students of the Order to a new college named for the medieval theologian Henry of Ghent and located in the new priory of San Marcello in Rome. The College was authorized to confer academic degrees in theology.
Pope Clement IX approved the statutes of the new house of studies with the brief Militantis Ecclesiae on 21 February 1669.
The Ghent College continued its activities without interruption until 1870. It reopened in 1895 with the name of St. Alexis Falconieri College. The direct descendent of the Ghent College within the Order is the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum established by Pius XII in 1950. Since 7 March 1965 the Marianum has been the only Catholic faculty which grants the doctorate in theology with a specialization in Mariology to clerical and religious students and, since 1971, to lay students as well.
The creation of the Ghent College at Rome fostered a rebirth of studies. In 1679, Prior General Giorgio Soggia promulgated a series of statutes (Leges studiorum et collegiorum Ordinis Servorum) which may be considered the first organized effort of its kind in the history of the Servants of Mary. Six years later, in 1685, Prior General Giulio Arrighetti opened a centre for philosophical studies at the priory of San Giuseppe in Bologna. One of the primary reasons for establishing this centre was to ensure adequate preparation for students destined for the Ghent College in Rome.
A separate problem is determining what particular philosophical and theological school the Order followed during this revival of studies. References to the medieval theologian Henry of Ghent (whom some historians of the Order mistakenly thought to have been a Servite) seem to reflect a fairly constant tendency in the tradition of the Order: a tendency not to give formal allegiance to any particular theological school. Among illustrious Servite theologians we find convinced Thomists and disciples of Duns Scotus as well as eclectics. This situation is at least partly due to the independence enjoyed by various groups within the Order which itself had never had a highly centralized organization. Proof of this is seen in the life of Fra Gerardo Capassi (1653-1737).
Fra Gerardo was a Florentine by birth and while still in his thirties was already teaching at the university of Pisa. Before that, he had taught at the Ghent College in Rome and the student community in Florence. He authored important philosophical and theological Conclusiones (as the manuals of philosophy, theology and law were then called) which were known even outside of Italy. His friends included some of the most learned churchmen of the time. In 1688 he was accused of heresy before the Inquisition in Florence. Copies of his works were seized and he was condemned to several months in prison even though he offered to correct any errors in his works.
Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, the future Benedict XIV, considered the Capassi case to be that of a man who was ahead of his times. Whatever the cardinal's opinion, the Conclusiones remained on the Index of Forbidden Books until 1900.
The Servite Family expands
Some important dates in the seventeenth century relate to the larger Servite Family. In 1628, Pope Urban VIII gave permission to the Servite prior general to erect in any church the Company of the Habit which after 1645 was called the Confraternity of the Seven Sorrows. In 1643 the Regola e Costituzioni da essere osservate dalle monache dell'Ordine de' Servi di Maria Vergine (Rule and Constitutions for the Enclosed Sisters of the Order of the Servants of Mary) was published at Bergamo; this was the first "modern" legislative text for Servite nuns. Sister Maria Benedetta Rossi, foundress of the convent of Burano (Venice) died in 1648. New cloistered convents were founded at Venice (Santa Maria del Pianto, 1657-1658) and at Arco (1689); both were inspired by the Monte Senario reform. Finally, in 1699, a short book about the Order for the use of Servite lay groups was published in Mexico City.
These and other facts brought to light in studies by Servites Emilio M. Bedont, Davide M. Montagna, Pacifico M. Branchesi, Damian M. Charboneau and others, demonstrate that during the seventeenth century there was significant growth in all branches of the Servite Family. This was true outside of Italy as well, as is seen in German-speaking lands.
The cloistered women's convents will be mentioned later in the discussion of eminent figures of this century. This section will treat of the Third Order and lay groups.
It is well known that from the beginning of the Order there were individuals (for example, Henry of Baldovino, who in 1265 bound himself as an "oblate" to the church St. Mary of Cafaggio in Florence) or groups who wanted to share as laypeople in the spirituality and life of the Servites.
The bull Sedi' apostolicae providentia (16 April 1424) of Pope Martin V formally initiated the Third Order of Servants of Mary; the annalist of the Order, Fra Arcangelo Giani, said as much in a book addressed to the Third Order. This group was also called the Consortium or Company of the Servants of Mary. On 9 February 1599, Prior General Angelo Maria Montorsoli granted participation in the spiritual benefits of the Order to "all those beloved men and women of whatever state or condition, anywhere in the world, now and in the future, who are or will be enrolled in the Company of our habit which gives itself heart and soul to the honour of the glorious Virgin Mary in memory of the sorrows she suffered at the death of her Son."
In 1607, the Holy See granted special spiritual privileges to the Companies (or Confraternities) of the habit; in following years these privileges were confirmed and extended. In 1645, the names of these various groups became "Confraternity of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin."
According to F.A. Dal Pino who published a book on lay groups for the community of Monte Senario in 1969 (ServiteThird Order or Lay Groups, Yesterday and Today), the confraternities are not to be confused with the Third Order. This latter group continued its own independent development, though greatly, influenced by the devotion to Our Lady of Seven Sorrows. The Third Order, however, was always "closer to the life and spirituality of the Order than would have been possible for a simple confraternity."
As lay expressions of the Order of Servants of Mary, the Third Order and the Confraternity of the Seven Sorrows have been nourished either by the spirit of the local community with which they were associated, or even independently. This is an important point. F.A. Dal Pino has written: "The Order of Servants of Mary has now given itself Constitutions (1968) which for the first time in its history are not merely an internal legislative code, but also an expression of the Order's human and Christian values and the commitment it consciously wants to make at both the individual and community levels." From this renewed expression of ideals flows the necessity of sharing the same goals with all branches of the Servite Family. This need has been felt in all periods of renewal: today as it was in the seventeenth century.
The canonization of Saint Philip Benizi
Philip Benizi of Florence was canonized by Clement X on 12 April 1671. The event was of great importance to the Order since Philip Benizi was its first member to be canonized and, together with Peregrine Laziosi, is still one of its most popular figures.
For a better appreciation of the importance of the canonization for the Order, here is a description of the long and difficult process written in 1972 by Aristide M. Serra OSM (Un santo nella Firenze del Duecento; A Florentine Saint of the Thirteenth Century). The quotation is long, but it is worth citing.
"The first expressions of devotion to St. Philip are very impressive. They arose in Todi where the miracles that occurred immediately after the saint's death were recorded by local notaries. An indication of the great respect felt for his memory is found in the register of the Servite General Lotaringo of Florence (1285-1300). In one entry in 1285, Philip is referred to as 'saint.' Veneration of Philip was spread quite naturally by the Servite Order which honoured him even more than the Seven Holy Founders themselves. Since at least the fifteenth century, even official documents of the Order refer to him as the 'first general' and outside the Order he was considered to be its actual founder. The Servants of Mary, in fact, have always looked to St. Philip as a light which Mary placed on the lampstand of the Order so that all the friars might learn to serve her through Philip's teaching and example. The Legenda de origine uses precisely these terms.
'It is easy to understand, then, the care which the Order showed for the physical remains of the saint during their various translations. The first took place on 10 June 1317 when the body was transferred from the original grave to the right hand wall of the St. Joseph chapel. The author of the Legenda de origine admits that it was the miracles he witnessed on that day which led him to begin his research for writing a life on the saint. The zeal of Prior General Giacomo Tavanti, who involved all the provinces of the Order, was responsible for the next translation of the relics from the St. Joseph chapel to the main altar on 16 August 1579. Twenty years later the Servites exchanged their original priory and church of San Marco for those of Santa Maria delle Grazie; on 12 September 1599 the saint's remains were solemnly taken to the new site where they are still venerated together with other relics of the saint (tunic, skull-cap, sandals and the cross he was said to have requested on his death bed). Many times since the fourteenth century priors general have worked actively to spread devotion to St. Philip and obtain his canonization. Andrea of Faenza (1374-1396) did much to make the saint known and commissioned a certain Fra Guglielmo of Alessandria to compose a liturgical office. In 1456, Fra Taddeo Garganelli of Bologna, assistant to the vicar general, called all the major superiors of the Order to Todi to request Philip's canonization from Callistus III. The Senate of Todi gave its approval to the request as did the Senate of Florence which sent a supporting letter to the pontiff on 16 April. The death of the pope, however, delayed the cause.
"Prior General Cristoforo Tornielli (1461-1485) was another tireless promoter of devotion to St. Philip. He commissioned experts to translate the earliest devotional accounts of the saint (in particular, the life or legends written about 1317) into classical humanistic Latin. The general chapter of 1470 decreed that in subsequent chapters there was to be a commemorative address given on the saint and his cause for canonization was to be discussed.
"Also worthy of note are the actions taken by Prior General Antonio Alabanti (1485-1495). During his visitation of the Getman province in 1486, he ordered that there be an image of the saint or an altar dedicated to him in every church. Two years later during the general chapter of Bologna it was decided to prepare and organize the process of canonization and also to renovate, at the Order's expense, the priory of Todi which was in a state of disrepair.
"When the Florentine Leo X became pope even more attention was given to the cause of St. Philip, especially during the general chapter of 1515. The Order's cardinal protector, Antonio dal Monte, interceded on its behalf. Although the pope could not take action on the canonization itself because of the very serious problems facing him at the time, he did permit the Order to continue its devotion to Philip without fear of censure and authorized the celebration of his feast, with a proper office, on 23 August (bull of 24 January 1516, which is preserved at Todi).
"Following these permissions of Leo X, efforts to obtain Philip's canonization were multiplied throughout the Order. At Budrio, during the chapter of 1594, Prior General Lelio Baglioni decreed the restoration or construction of chapels and altars dedicated to the saint. New liturgical offices were composed by the friars at the urging of priors general Zaccaria Faldossi (1564-1570) and Angelo Montorsoli (1597-1600).
"Montorsoli, in particular, is remembered for his tireless zeal in bringing the process to a conclusion. He contacted the Council of Todi, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and various other Italian princes asking their mediation in Rome. He ordered the collection of funds and documentation; he himself did some of the research. He commissioned the annalist Fra Arcangelo Giani to prepare the classic Historia del b. Filippo Benizii (History of Bl. Philip Benizi), published in Florence in 1604, which summarized everything known about the saint up to that time. According to a decree of the general chapter of 1603, every priory had to have a copy of this book. Montorsoli prescribed prayers for the success of the process throughout the Order. Unfortunately, death did not allow him to complete his efforts.
"After Montorsoli, the work was taken up again by Fra Baldassare Bolognetti, prior general from 1614 to 1624, assisted by Fra Aurelio Raffaelli, the procurator general in Rome. Thanks to Raffaelli's efforts, in 1619 the Holy See named auditors from the Rota to prepare the process on heroic virtue and miracles. The Florentine process was concluded in 1621 thanks to the efforts of Giani. Fra Angelo Berardi was actively involved in the process at Todi.
"The official request of the Order was accompanied by that of Ferdinand II who in 1625 recommended to the pope that he expedite the conclusion of the cause. Further obstacles, however, were continuously encountered. There were further requests from Ferdinand III to Urban VIII (22 February 1641) and to Innocent X (26 April 1645). Emperor Leopold I appealed to Clement IX on 24 December 1668 with even greater insistence. The efforts of this sovereign, repeated two years later, together with those of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the entire Order, finally achieved the goal so desired for more than three centuries. With the last difficulties overcome, the saint was canonized by Clement X on 12 April 1671."
As has been seen, the cause of canonization was long and difficult. The great commitment of the Order was seen especially in the years immediately preceding and following the canonization. The Bibliografia dell'Ordine dei Servi (1601-1700), edited by Pacifico M. Branchesi OSM lists and describes the many works published on St. Philip.
A recent study (1979) by Vittorio Casale records the celebrations of the canonization: "To appreciate these celebrations, it is sufficient to read the list of expenses for the canonization of St. Philip Benizi: twelve artists were hired for twenty-three original works (including banners and miniatures) and ten copies. St. Philip Benizi was canonized by Clement X together with four other saints; to have a general idea of the number of artistic creations for these five saints, one must multiply the figures for St. Philip by five... The magnificence of the celebrations becomes clearer as we learn more about them. They appear to have constituted one of the greatest of baroque festivities. Geographically, to speak only of Italy, they extended from Venice to Messina. In Rome alone there were five celebrations which involved the city from April until October 1671 in five different churches: St. Peter's, Sant'Andrea della Valle, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, San Marcello al Corso and the Gesù. The various celebrations overlapped with four religious orders striving to promote their saints: the Theatines, St. Cajetan Thiene; the Jesuits, St. Francis Borgia; the Servants of Mary, St. Philip Benizi; the Dominicans, Sts. Louis Bertran and Rose of Lima. Artistic efforts involved more or less well-known artists: Carlo Maratti, Niccolò Berrettoni, Lazzaro Baldi, Alessandro Vasselli, Francesco Rioli and Luigi Garzi."
The generalate of Fra Giulio Arrighetti
The influence of Monte Senario on the life of the Order continued during the eight years of leadership of the Ven. Giulio Arrighetti who was prior general of the Servants from 1682 until 1690.
Born in 1622 at San Piero a Sieve, just a short distance from Monte Senario, he led a very active life until the age of sixty. As a young man he taught at Sansepolcro, then at Mantua, Vicenza, Florence and Pisa; he was also a talented speaker.
In 1659, when he went to Germany as companion to Prior General Callisto Puccinelli, he distinguished himself in theological debate. He was elected prior provincial of Tuscany in 1677 but before finishing his term he went to live with the hermits of Monte Senario in 1680. There he changed his name from Giulio to Alexis after one of the Seven Holy Founders. Two years later he had to leave the hermitage to accept his appointment as vicar general, and then prior general, from Pope Innocent XI. When he finished his term in 1690 he did everything in his power to return to Monte Senario, but permission was not granted. Only in 1695 was he allowed to retire to the hermit's cell at Santissima Annunziata where he remained until his death in 1705. He lived in that spiritual prison as had Angelo Maria Montorsoli a century before.
A serious and inspirational biography of Arrighetti was written by his successor as prior general, Fra Giovanni Francesco Maria Poggi who remained in office until 1702 and was later bishop of San Miniato (Pisa) from 1703 until 1719. Poggi described the generalate of Arrighetti in these terms:
"Many believed that he issued many demanding decrees to correct abuses. They were wrong, however, for he published only one and that was most effective: his own exemplary life. He had one sacred norm and that was not to multiply decrees but to observe carefully the already established rules ... There is nothing more harmful to physical health, he would say, than changing remedies every hour; wounds never heal when different medications are applied."
The seventeenth century opened and closed with Monte Senario. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the most moving pages of Poggi's biography of Arrighetti presents a mystical interpretation of the pine forest of Monte Senario.
Some eminent Servites of the seventeenth century
Limited space permits only brief remarks here. The three annalists who began and completed the Annales all lived in the seventeenth century: Arcangelo Giani (d. 1623), Luigi M. Garbi (d. 1722) and Placido M. Bonfrizieri (d. 1732). Along with Sarpi, distinguished men of learning were: Fra Cherubino M. Ranzani (d. 1675) of Reggio Emilia who built a "perpetual clock" programmed to the year 2000 which is still admired in the sacristy of the basilica of Our Lady of the Ghiara; Giovanni Battista Drusiani (d. 1656) who was a genius in many fields; Fra Giovanni Angelo Lottini (d. 1629), a poet and dramatist; Arsenio Mascagni (d. 1637) who painted the frescoes of the castle and cathedral of Salzburg; and Giovanni Battista Stefaneschi (d. 1659), a painter and friend of Galileo Galilei. Some of these friars (Bonfrizieri, Mascagni, Stefaneschi) were hermits on Monte Senario at least for a time.
Something more should be said about three other persons who shed particular light on the Servite seventeenth century: Sr. Maria Benedetta Rossi (d. 1648) and Sr. Maria Arcangela Biondini (d. 1712) were cloistered nuns and Pierre Paul Perrier Dupré was a lay brother who, after serving as a colonel in the French army, became the "holy doorkeeper" (as the people called him) at the priory of Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
Elisabetta Rossi was born in 1586 at Venice where she later received the habit of the Third Order of Servants of Mary and took the name of Sr. Adriana. In 1612 she entered the Augustinian convent of San Girolamo. She wanted to found a reformed convent and her dream became reality in 1619 when the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie was opened on the island of Burano in what was an abandoned priory of the Congregation of the Observance. Formal enclosure was begun in 1626 when Elisabetta again changed her name to Sr. Maria Benedetta. Already during her life this sister was known for her mystical experiences and exemplary life. She died in 1648 when she was about to begin a second foundation, the convent of Santa Maria del Pianto in Venice which was, in fact, begun in 1658.
Arcangela Biondini was born on Corfù in 1641 and baptized Giovanna Antonia. In 1655 she joined the cloistered Servants of Mary of Burano who were also called Capuchines because of their style of habit. After a long period in this convent where she also served as prioress for more than ten years, she went to Arco where she founded a new convent in 1689; the Constitutions of this community were approved ten years later by Innocent XII. The French invasion of 1703 temporarily disbanded the nuns, but they managed to return to Arco after a few months Sr. Arcangela died in 1712, leaving a considerable number of written works which describe her mystical experiences. This material, yet to be edited, is preserved by the nuns at the Arco convent.
Pierre Paul Perrier Dupré was born of a noble family in Lyons, France, in 1643. He enlisted in the French army as a very young man and quickly rose in rank; he was a colonel at thirty years of age. He soon left the army and went to Italy where he served the Venetian ambassador to the Holy See, first in Venice then in Rome. A serious indiscretion forced him to flee from Rome and take refuge in Mantua. There he entered the Servite community of San Bamaba as a lay brother. After only ten months of novitiate, he left religious life and returned to his previous way of life. Seven years later he returned to Mantua and again asked to enter the community; he was refused. Returning to Rome, he went directly to the prior general of the Servants of Mary. After repeated requests, Prior General Giovanni Francesco Maria Poggi accepted him into the Order in 1694. After his novitiate at San Marcello in Rome, he was assigned to the Florentine priory of Santissima Annunziata in 1695. He died there five years later in 1700. During those five years of humble service at the priory door, Pierre Paul Perrier Dupré became so famous for his goodness that the people called him "the holy doorkeeper." The annalist of the Order, Placido M. Bonfrizieri, who had known Dupré personally, collected his writings and published his biography at Lucca in 1713. The collection of his writings, however, has been lost.
A modem biography of this unique friar, II portinaio santo (The Holy Doorkeeper), has been published by the community of Monte Senario.
Dates to Remember
1603 The priories of Spain become a province.
1606 Papal interdict of Venice. Fra Paolo Sarpi is named theologian and canonist of the Venetian Republic.
1613 Constitutions of the Hermits of Monte Senario.
1613-1614 Foundation of the first priory of the Germanic Observance at Innsbruck, Austria.
1614-1623 First attempts at expansion on the part of the Hermits of Monte Senario: Montevirginio, near the Lake of Bracciano and a hospice at Rome near the Quirinale Palace.
1618-1622 First edition of the Annales of the Order by Fra Arcangelo Giani.
1619 Paul V orders that general chapters of the Order be celebrated every six years.
1621 Sr. Anna Juliana Gonzaga, "foundress" of the Germanic Observance, dies at Innsbruck.
1623 Deaths of Paolo Sarpi, Bernardino Ricciolini and Arcangelo Giani.
1627 The hermitage of San Giorgio in Lunigiana is united to Monte Senario.
1628 Urban VIII grants permission to the prior general to erect the Company of the Habit, after 1645 the Confraternity of the Seven Sorrows, in any church.
1636-1637 Foundation of the hermitage at Cibona, near Tolfa in Lazio.
1643 Printing of special Constitutions for Servite cloistered nuns.
1647 First provincial chapter in Germany and the election of the first provincial Fra Angelus M. Fieger.
1648 Death of Sr. Maria Benedetta Rossi, foundress (in 1619) of the convent in Burano (Venice).
1652 Suppression of about one hundred small priories of the Order in Italy with the constitution Instaurandae regularis disciplinae of Innocent X.
1657-1658 Foundation of the convent of Santa Maria del Pianto at Venice.
1663 Foundation of the Servite Third Order at Barcelona; it then spread through Spain and its overseas territories.
1666 Opening of the Ghent College in the priory of San Marcello in Rome.
1668 The Germanic Observance is definitively approved by Pope Clement IX.
1671 Canonization of St. Philip Benizi.
1679 Prior General Giorgio Soggia promulgates statutes for studies within the Order.
1682-1690 Generalate of Fra Giulio Arrighetti.
1689 Foundation of the convent in Arco.
1692 Our Lady of Sorrows is declared titular and patroness of the Order.
1699 A book on the Order for the use of Servite lay groups is published in Mexico City.
1700 The brother doorkeeper, Pierre Paul Perrier Dupré, dies at Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
1701 Death of Fra Giorgio Soggia, bishop of Bosa in Sardinia.
1705 Death of Fra Giulio Arrighetti.
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
From the highest number of friars to the Napoleonic suppressions (1810)
Characteristics of the century. The priors general of the eighteenth century. Devotion to Servite saints and blessed and the canonizations of St. Peregrine and St. Juliana. Studies in the Order up to the Methodus of Fra Francesco Raimondo Adami. Servants of Mary about 1750. Effects of the European political situation on the Order up to the Napoleonic suppressions. Distinguished Servites of the eighteenth century.
Characteristics of the century
The events, men and the life of the Order in the eighteenth century look like a kaleidoscope of contrasting and even contradictory features. In the first half of the century the Servants of Mary reached the highest number of friars in their entire history. But the suppressions at the end of the century and in the first decade of the nineteenth century brought about the closing of a large number of priories and the dispersal of the majority of their friars.
The priors general of this century of the Enlightenment were men of renown. Some were later named bishops or cardinals.
But nearly all of them were appointed by popes and not elected at general chapters. In fact, although seventeen general chapters should have been held in the eighteenth century, only twelve actually met.
The first half of the eighteenth century was characterized, by a great vitality. There were various decrees and instructions for the improvement of studies in the Order. Devotion to Servite saints and blessed, including the Seven Founders, experienced a great growth and Peregrine Laziosi and Juliana Falconieri were canonized. In the eighteenth century some Servants of Mary took part in official missions of the Holy See. At the beginning of the century Fra Giovanni Domenico Fabris and Fra Sostegno M. Viani formed part of the legation of the Holy See to China in the controversial question of the Chinese rites. Toward the end of the century a former prior general, Fra Carlo Francesco Caselli, was a consultant to Archbishop Giuseppe Spina in the concordat negotiations between Napoleon and the Holy See. While Caselli was received with honours by Napoleon, another Servant of Mary, Fra Amadio Bertoncelli, was executed by a firing squad on 16 September 1809 by order of Napoleon, and a third Servite, Fra Roberto M. Costaguti, bishop of Sansepolcro, refused to take the oath to Napoleon and declined the Legion of Honour which the Emperor had awarded him.
The eighteenth century did not lack friars taken up with secular interests. There were Attilio Ottavio Ariosti, a musician; Giuseppe Salvetti, a sculptor; Alessandro M. Bandiera, a man of letters; Giuseppe Giacinto M. Bergantini, a historian; Luigi Baroni, a man of many interests and talents; and Giuseppe Antonio Brusa, an outstanding student of aeronautical theory.
It is difficult to arrange the many events and dimensions of eighteenth century Servite life systematically, and so it seems best to deal with the material under the following headings: the priors general of the eighteenth century; devotion to Servite saints and blessed and the canonizations of St. Peregrine Laziosi and St. Juliana Falconieri; studies in the Order up to the Methodus prepared by Fra Francesco Raimondo Adami; the effects of the European political situation on the Order up to the Napoleonic suppressions; distinguished Servites of the eighteenth century.
It should be noted that there are few historical studies on eighteenth-century Servite history, especially on the second half of the century. It is therefore necessary to pass over certain aspects of Servite life in silence or to present conclusions which are only tentative.
Priors general of the eighteenth century
Fra Callisto Lodigieri (d. 1710) succeeded Fra Giovanni Francesco M. Poggi, who was mentioned in the previous chapter. The new prior general had been a master in theology at the Ghent College in Rome, and several of his students later succeeded him as general. But in 1707, before he finished his term of office, he was named bishop of Montepulciano, and the pope then appointed Fra Giovanni Pietro Bertazzoli to succeed him. Bertazzoli was then confirmed by the hard-working general chapter of 1708, the first general chapter held in eighteen years. Bertazzoli is remembered for the construction of a beautiful church and monastery dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows in the centre of his home town of Massa. He died shortly before the general chapter which he had convoked at Massa in 1714. The chapter was held in that year, but in Rome, where all the other chapters of the eighteenth century were held. It was at this chapter that Fra Antonio M. Castelli was elected prior general. He is remembered chiefly for his detailed instructions for the houses of study in the Order and, as was true also for many of his successors in this century, for the encouragement given to the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. He obtained permission to celebrate Mass and office of Out Lady of Sorrows on the Friday after Passion Sunday in all Servite churches.
After the death of Castelli in 1716, the pope selected the well-known preacher, Fra Angelo M. Ventura, to be vicar general until the general chapter of 1720 when Fra Sostegno M. Cavalli was elected prior general. Both Ventura and Cavalli worked for the improvement of studies in the Order. During their generalates the three large volumes of the second edition of the Annales were printed, bringing them up to the year 1725. Cavalli commissioned the annalist Fra Placido Bonfrizieri to prepare a Diario sagro with all the Servite saints, blessed and servants of God, and he urged all the friars to read and study it. He proclaimed Blessed Alexis Falconieri patron of students in 1724 and in 1725 the altars of Our Lady of Sorrows in all Servite churches were declared "privileged" each day. One year before the end of his term, Cavalli was named bishop of Gubbio, where he died in 1747.
Benedict XIII appointed Pietro M. Pieri to succeed Cavalli as prior general. He held this office for nine years (1725-1734) until Clement XII created him a cardinal. Well known as a scholar and member of various Roman Congregations, Pieri was highly regarded by the Holy See and was able to obtain various privileges for the Order. These included: the exemption of Third Order sisters from the jurisdiction of the local bishop and the placing of them directly under the Order; the right "in perpetuo" of the Servants of Mary to have a consultor in the Sacred Congregation of Rites; the approval of the Constitutions of the Germanic Observance (1727); the extension of the office of Our Lady of Sorrows on the Friday after Passion Sunday to the universal Church (1727). During Pieri's generalate St. Peregrine Laziosi was canonized and the canonization of St. Juliana Falconieri was prepared, but this had to be postponed until 1737 because of the death of Benedict XIII. Rossi claims that the Order was never so well known or respected as in the period when Pieri was prior general.
The following priors general were also named directly by the pope: Giuseppe M. Inghirami Curti (1734), Giovanni Pietro Fancelli (1744), and Giuseppe Antonio Rossi (1756). Fancelli is remembered for his promotion of studies in the Order, a commitment which, after the generalate of Girolamo M. Vernizzi (1762-1768), was intensified by Francesco Raimondo Adami (1768-1774), the author of a Methodus or program of philosophical and theological studies in the Order which for many years remained as the Ratio studiorum of the Order.
The suppression of the Congregation of the Hermits of Monte Senario took place during the generalate of Fra Sostegno M. Fassini (1774-1780). The eremitical life on Monte Senario and at San Giorgio in Lunigiana ceased in 1778 and at Cibona and Monterano in1780.
Difficult negotiations to open a college and school in the priory of Mendrisio in Switzerland were brought to a successful conclusion by Fra Pier Francesco Costa (1780-1786), Fassini's successor.
Fra Gregorio M. Clementi, preacher and scholar, was prior general from 1786 to 1792. He was also the author of a still unpublished biography of the Servite theologian, Caesar Shguanin, who died in Rome in 1769.
Fra Carlo Francesco Caselli, of whom more will be said later, was elected with the almost unanimous vote of the general chapter held in Rome in May of 1792.
The other priors general of the turbulent Napoleonic period were Filippo M. Cerasoli (1798-1801), who was named by Pius VI, Filippo M. Vallaperta (1802-1804), who was an apostolic vicar general appointed by Pius VII, and Luigi Bentivegni (1804-1814), elected at the general chapter held in Florence in 1804 but deported to France by Napoleon in 1809.
Devotion to Servite saints and blessed and the canonizations of St. Peregrine and St. Juliana
Interest in Servite history in the first decades of the eighteenth century and the second edition of the Annales, together with Bonfrizieri's Diario sagro were contributions to and also indications of a remarkable growth in devotion to Servite saints and blessed.
In his work on the saints and blessed of the Province of Romagna, Aristide M. Serra OSM summarizes the succession of events leading to the canonization of St. Peregrine in this way:
"The first diocesan process on the existence of devotion St. Peregrine from time immemorial began on 30 July 1608 with the canonical recognition of the remains of the saint. The cause then went to the Congregation of Rites where it was given to St. Robert Bellarmine. On 21 March 1609 a favourable reply was given. The following 15 April Paul V permitted the name of Bl. Peregrine, together with that of Bl. Joachim of Siena, to be inserted in the martyrology. The first requests for the canonization were presented, to Urban VIII in 1644 by the Venetian Republic and the Duchess of Mantua. Only in 1696, however, did Innocent XII authorize the beginning of a second diocesan process which was concluded between 19 and 21 June of the same year and approved by the Congregation of Rites on 26 August 1702. The decree on his heroic virtues was published on 23 August 1720 and that on his miracles on 4 December 1724. Peregrine was then canonized on 27 December 1726 together with St. John of the Cross and St. Francis Solano."
The entire octave of the canonization was celebrated with great solemnity in Rome. This can be seen from the documents in the conventual archives of San Marcello in Rome, showing the payments made to artists, craftsmen and others who contributed to the celebration.
The death of Benedict XIII postponed the canonization of St. Juliana Falconieri for eleven years. Davide M. Montagna OSM notes: "A true liturgical devotion began only with the canonical approval (beatification) in 1678. Before this an unsuccessful attempt was made to open the process in the early years of the seventeenth century. The cause for the canonization was introduced in 1694 and was concluded only in 1737, and included the examination of two spurious documents said to be from the fourteenth century."
The eighteenth century also saw an increase in devotion to other Servite blessed. In 1717 approval was given to devotion to Blessed Alexis, the last of the Seven Holy Founders, to be followed in 1725 by the approval of devotion to the other six Founders. In 1728 a proper Mass and office of the Seven Founders were granted and their feast day was assigned to 11 February. Approval of devotion to Blessed John Angelo Porro and Blessed Francis of Siena was obtained in 1737 and 1743 respectively. The cause of the canonization of the Seven Founders would have been successful had not Pope Benedict XIV required miracles for each of the Founders individually. The cause was thus blocked until 1884.
In the second half of the eighteenth century approval was obtained for devotion to Blessed James Philip of Faenza (1761), Blessed Thomas of Orvieto (1768), and Blessed Jerome of Sant'Angelo in Vado (1775). These and similar approvals of devotion from time immemorial were more or less equivalent to beatification.
The fifth centenary of Blessed James Philip's death was marked in 1983 by celebrations and conferences in Faenza and the publication of some fine studies. The monograph on Blessed Jerome, published in 1982, has already been mentioned.
Studies in the Order up to the Methodus of Fra Francesco Raimondo Adami
A doctoral dissertation which Pietro Benassi submitted to the faculty of political science at the University of Padua in October 1980 was dedicated to the cultural formation of Fra Carlo Francesco Caselli (1740-1828). It gives a detailed summary of documents relating to the state of studies in the Order in the eighteenth century. The dissertation first presents the actions of the priors general Antonio M. Castelli (1715), Pietro M. Pieri (1725) and Giuseppe M. Inghirami Curti (1734). It then cites the decrees and instructions about studies made by the general chapter of 1750, the decree of the general chapter of 1762 and finally the detailed program of studies (Methodus studi philosophici et theologici...) prepared by Fra Francesco Raimondo Adami in 1769. Taken together, these constitute a true and proper Ratio studiorum of the Order around the middle of the eighteenth century.
The criteria established for studies, the predominant cultural patterns and the rigorous programme of examinations for students make it possible to describe some general characteristics of the cultural life of the Servites in the eighteenth century.
First of all, it seems that the mandated restructuring of the Order in the second half of the seventeenth century resulted in a better organization of the Order, especially in Italy, and gave priority to houses of formation by sending more friars on for higher studies. Secondly, analysis of the Methodus drawn up by Adami (subjects to be studied, authors to be used, errors to reject, new trends to accept, the type of questions to be given in the examinations at the end of the course) reveals the prevalent eclecticism and openness of studies in the Order. "From the Methodus of Adami it is clear that, in keeping with the traditional prerogative of the Order, Servites were not obliged to follow any one particular theological school. But where precise indications were given, positive and historical theology prevailed."
There is a great variety in the famous Servites of the eighteenth century. This confirms the fact that openness prevailed over rigidity of direction and that individuality surpassed any "school" even at a time when many Servites held important teaching positions in the principal Italian universities.
The contribution of the friars of the Germanic Observance in the fields of theology and asceticism deserves special mention in any discussion of a renewed commitment to studies.
Servants of Mary about 1750
The following table is based on a list of provinces and priories, and the number of friars in each, as found in volume 20 of the Monumenta Ordinis Servorum sanctae Mariae. It has already been noted that the number of friars increased during the century following the restructuring of the Order in 1652 which closed eighty-four priories in Italy. The figures given here probably represent the largest number of friars of any one period in the 750 years of the Order's history.
Province Number Province Number
Tuscany 289 Naples 106
Rome 195 Corsica and Sardinia 98
Romagna 205 Germany 348
Lombardy 224 Bohemia 110
March of Treviso 96 Provence 22
Veneto 167 Spain 203
Genoa 206 Hermits 67
Effects of the European political situation on the Order up to the Napoleonic suppressions
In the hundred years from 1770 to the fall of Rome in 1870 the Order experienced a series of suppressions which decimated its presence in Europe. These suppressions, beginning in the eighteenth century, were part of a general policy directed against religious orders first in the France of Louis XV, then in the Hapsburg Empire, and finally under Napoleon Bonaparte. The suppressions in the Hapsburg lands were part of the Church-State system, known as Josephinism, worked out under the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and implemented by her son Joseph II who succeeded her in 1780 and gave his name to the system. The suppressions continued in the nineteenth century under the liberal governments in Spain, the Kingdom of Sardinia, and then that of the unified Italian state; these will be discussed in the following chapter. Since the, Servants of Mary at this period were found only in those countries where policies against religious orders prevailed, the effect on the life of the Order can be easily imagined.
The duration of the suppression in some of these regions helps to explain, at least in part, why the contents of the conventual archives have been scattered and records are consequently difficult to find today. As a result, there has been little study of the relatively scanty documentation concerning the history of the Servite Order beginning with the late eighteenth century. Some information has been collected and published by several Servite writers, such as Graziano M. Casarotto and Davide M. Montagna for the priories of Veneto, Manlio Pasculli and Roberto M. Fagioli for the Roman Province, and Gabriele M. Rocca for the priory of Our Lady of the Ghiara in Reggio Emilia.
Finally it must be said that the fate of many priories during the suppressions is complex. At times some "secularized" friars were able to remain in the Order; at other times they became diocesan priests, even if the properties of the friars were confiscated and sold. The recently discovered case of Fra Pietro Ricasoli of the Tuscan Province is an illustration of this. He sided with the French troops and then was forced to go to France where in 1816 he was parish priest in Villemomble, a small town northeast of Paris. By a strange coincidence the Servite Sisters of the London Congregation have had a community in this same town of Villemomble since 1928. In some instances, especially in Italy, the effects of the suppressions were less severe because of local circumstances.
With these premises in mind, some sufficiently clear conclusions can be drawn.
Although in 1772 there were already some sporadic signs of what was to come, the Servite houses in the territories of the Austrian Hapsburgs felt the most severe repercussions between 1781 and 1783. This was the time of the so-called "Josephinist assault" on religious houses, that is, the second wave of suppressions after the death of Maria Theresa of Austria in 1780. Even before this, in 1772, there were suppressions of Servite priories in the Republic of Venice, and in 1770 the priories in Provence were suppressed. But, as Conrad M. Borntrager OSM notes, the decree of suppression of the French priories in Provence merely "declared the evident and inevitable."
The number of priories and convents suppressed in this second wave was high. Concretely, taking into account also the later restrictive decrees of Joseph II, the three provinces of the Germanic Observance (Tyrol, Austria-Hungary and Bohemia) lost about half of their priories, which at that time numbered almost thirty. But josephinism also weakened these provinces from within, bringing them to the point where they received almost no new vocations.
Some houses in Lombardy were also suppressed, and the suppressions by the Republic of Venice have already been mentioned. After the outbreak of the French Revolution and during the Napoleonic period the Hapsburgs enforced the josephinist laws less severely.
The Napoleonic suppressions occurred in several phases. The first phase coincided with Napoleon's first campaign in Italy, the second with the establishment of the Roman Republic, and the third with his decree of 17 April 1810, which suppressed all religious orders of both men and women in all territories occupied by the French army. An increase in severity marked each phase. First there was simply the expulsion of "foreign" religious, that is, religious who were not natives of the place where they were residing. Then the properties owned by the religious were confiscated and the religious given a type of pension. Next, the religious houses themselves were suppressed, unless there were at least three "native" religious present; these cases were not frequent after the expulsion of "foreigners." Finally in 1810 there was the general suppression whose gravity was lessened only by its relatively short duration, that is, until the end of Napoleon's reign.
Superiors were also subject to the laws concerning the "natives" and "foreigners." It was therefore impossible to hold any provincial or general chapters. The confusion within the Order was great especially during the second and third phases mentioned above, for then the Papal States had also fallen to the French army and religious houses there were therefore subjected to the laws of suppression. The treatment which Pius VI and Pius VII received well reflects the general situation.
Odir J. Dias writes as follows about what befell the prior general between 1809 and 1814: "Only five days after the annexation of Rome, 10 June 1809, the prior general Luigi Bentivegni, together with other superiors general, was forcibly detained at Castel Sant'Angelo, but he was still able to carry out some activities of his office. On the following 10 July Napoleon wrote from Schönbrunn to his minister of finance: 'Write to General Miollis and the Council to send the generals of all the monastic orders to Paris, taking this entire influential group away from Rome.' The group, composed of Bentivegni and the superiors general of the Franciscans, Conventuals and Carmelites, left Rome on 14 August. They passed through Florence, Genoa and Alessandria, and arrived in Paris on 19 September.
"At this same time Bentivegni, expelled from Rome and forced 'to start off for Paris,' asked that the faculties obtained, on 22 April 1808 be extended until he returned: that is, that he could continue to exercise his office in whatever place until he was given a successor or the Holy See disposed otherwise, and that he could subdelegate all faculties for the government and administration of the Order. This was granted on 2 September. He named procurator general Fra Filippo M. Dini vicar general. Dini was considered vicar general at least from 28 September and with this title he governed the Order until June 1810, when religious orders in the Papal States were suppressed."
A register of the Roman Province recounts the happenings of those years in this way: "No one has ever seen or suffered all that we have in our times. In 1809 the French army under Emperor Napoleon I invaded Rome and almost all Italy. They imprisoned and then deported the Sovereign Pontiff Pius VII and imprisoned or dispersed the cardinals, bishops and prelates. With his decree of 17 April 1810 Napoleon suppressed all the religious orders of both men and women in the territories occupied by his armies. And who can adequately retell the story of the collapse of provinces and priories in such a calamitous and hapless age? Their holdings were in great part dispersed and sold, and their buildings reduced to ruins; they had been left abandoned and awaited destruction. This is the reason that this register of our province was suspended from 1810 until the present ."
As will be seen in the following chapter, the Order was able to some degree to recover from this critical situation only after 1815. But about a half century later further suppressions by the Italian government dealt the Order a new and very serious blow.
Distinguished Servites of the eighteenth century
This special section is dedicated to the distinguished Servites of this period so as to give greater unity to the general view of Servite life in the eighteenth century.
Mention will be made of the following: Giovanni Domenico Fabris and Sostegno M. Viani and the role they played in the legation of Carlo Ambrogio Mezzabarba to China; the annalists, Luigi Garbi and Placido M. Bonfrizieri; Uguccione M. Dias Quaresma, a Brazilian, and the projected foundation of the Order in Brazil; the missionary activity of Filippo M. Serrati in China; Sister Maria Electa ab Jesu, foundress of the convent of Servite nuns in Munich; the Third Order Bishop Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz and the spread of the Third Order in Mexico; Carlo Francesco Caselli and Amadio Bertoncelli; the foundresses of convents of enclosed Servite nuns in Rome and Reggio Emilia; and some outstanding scholars and artists such as Attilio Ottavio Ariosti, Alessandro M. Bandiera, Giuseppe Giacinto M. Bergantini, Luigi Baroni, Giuseppe Salvetti, Giuseppe Antonio Brusa
A recent unpublished doctoral dissertation by Fr. Tarcisio M. Mascagni
OSM has thrown new light on the figure of Sostegno M. Viani. The voyage of Viani to China took place in the context of the Chinese rites controversy, which was not finally settled until the time of Pope Pius XII. The question
was whether or not the prayers of Chinese Christians and Christian funeral ceremonies could borrow words and rites, in form but not in substance, from Chinese religion, especially from Confucianism. At the beginning of the eighteenth century Rome to reconcile the division among the missionaries themselves by sending Carlo Tommaso Maillard De Tournon, later a cardinal, to China. His mission was unsuccessful and in 1710 he died in prison in the Portuguese colony of Macao. In 1719 Rome sent a second legate, the thirty-four year old Carlo Ambrogio Mezzabarba, patriarch of Alexandria and future bishop of Lodi. Mezzabarba chose two Servite friars as part of his retinue, Giovanni Domenico Fabris and Sostegno M. Viani, future provincial (1734-1737) of the Province of Genoa (later called the Province Piedmont). Viani kept a journal of the Mezzabarba legation to China. In addition to the original of the journal, there are several copies of it dating from about this same period. Viani’s journal, even if written for himself and, almost certainly, for his friend Mezzabarba, who wanted a faithful account of the facts to use in the interminable discussions on the Chinese rites controversy, has proved to be a dispassionate and objective text.
Right after Viani's death in 1739 the publisher Lami printed a mutilated version of the journal. It was based on this incomplete edition that Pastor in his History of the Popes accepted without criticism the biting insinuation of some authors that Viani's writing was merely "slanderous fiction" or "a one-sided report." The journal, on the contrary, is of great interest and shows the noble, learned and versatile personality of Sostegno M. Viani, not to mention the delightful account of Mezzabarba's adventurous voyage to and from China, described with realistic detail and rich with valuable geographical information.
The second edition of the Annales of the Order (the first edition, in two volumes, had been published by Fra Arcangelo Giani in 1618-1622) was prepared by Fra Luigi M. Garbi and Fra Placido M. Bonfrizieri and was published in three volumes in 1719, 1721, and 1725. The second edition brought the Annales up to the year 1725 and was in part also a revision of Giani's first edition. But any changes or additions made to the part previously written by Giani were clearly distinguished in the second edition. Fra Luigi M. Garbi, professor at Pisa and twice (1701-1704 and 1719-1722) provincial of the Tuscan Province, undertook numerous journeys after his appointment as annalist of the Order, a position he held from 1712 until his death in 1722. Fra Placido M. Bonfrizieri (d. 1732), a man of broader interest and former hermit of Monte Senario, was the author of numerous works on moral and ascetical theology. He also wrote the biography of Pierre Paul Pierrer Dupré, "the holy doorkeeper, which has already been mentioned.`Bonfrizieri was also secretary to Prior General Callisto Lodigieri.
The Brazilian Antonio (Fra Uguccione M.) Dias Quaresma (1681-1756) was another unusual Servant of Mary. He came from Brazil to Rome seeking indulgences for a confraternity in Bahia called "The Slaves of Our Lady." He met the Servite Prior General Pieri and after a short stay at the priory of San Marcello in Rome as a tertiary he was received into the novitiate at the age of fifty-two. In 1733 he was ordained a priest at Gubbio by the Servite bishop Sostegno M. Cavalli. He left Rome in 1734 with special constitutions approved by Pope Clement XII for a Servite Third Order Regular to be established in Brazil, of which he was named superior and vicar general. He founded a hospice in Lisbon open to religious, but he did not obtain permission from the Portuguese government to return to Brazil. He died in the Portuguese capital in 1756.
Fra Filippo M. Serrati is often mentioned as a Servite missionary in China. Sostegno M. Berardo OSM has dedicated several pages to him in his book, Le Missioni dei Servi di Maria (The missions of the Servants of Mary) written in 1925 but still useful today.
Filippo M. Serrati was born at Lodi in 1703 and completed his studies at the Ghent College in Rome, while residing at Santa Maria in Via. In 1732 ha was able to fulfill his desire to go to China as a missionary. The prior general, Pietro Pieri, named him vicar general for the countries to which he would go, giving him faculties to establish the confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows, to give the habit to tertiaries, to bless and indulgence rosaries, to found priories and receive candidates as Servite novices. Father Serrati left Italy at the end of 1732 with a group of missionaries of another religious order. He went first to Macao and then to Peking and finally in 1738 to Lu-gan-fu in the province of Shansi, where he remained until 1744. Exhausted and ill, he had to return to Italy. Father Serrati's missionary activity in China found no successor.
Sister Maria Electa ab Jesu, a fine example of a Servite cloistered nun, was foundress of the Servite convent in Munich. She was born in Dresden, Saxony, in 1671 of a noble Lutheran family and entered the convent of the Servants of Mary at Santa Maria del Pianto in Venice. In 1715 she left Venice to found a convent in Munich the following year, where there would be perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament both day and night. The convent, which stil exists in the heart of the Bavarian capital, was able to survive the period of suppressions and the difficulties of World War II without interruption of its contemplative life. The nuns took their inspiration from the Hermits of Monte Senario, as is clear from their Constitutions of 1729. The influence of the Hermits can also be seen before this time in the Constitutions of the convents of Venice (1669) and Arco (1699).
The foundation of the Servite Third Order in Mexico toward the end of the eighteenth century warrants separate treatment. As early as 1687 there was a "Society of the Seven Sorrows" in Mexico City, which was recognized ten years later by Prior General Giovanni Francesco M. Poggi. It was soon necessary to respond to questions about these far away Italian friars who dedicated themselves to the spread of this particular form of Marian devotion. And so in 1699 a "short account of the origins of the Order of Servants of Mary" was printed in Mexico City. This was almost certainly the first book about the Servite Order to be published in the Americas. It should be noted that in the eighteenth century Pope Pius VI granted permission to the diocese of Mexico City to celebrate the Mass and office of Our Lady of Sorrows according to the ritual proper to the Servite Order (1777). A list dating from the early years of the eighteenth century contains names of illustrious Spanish members of the Servite Third Order. Among these is the name of Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz, bishop of Puebla. The bishop was Spanish and there were already various Third Order groups in Spain, beginning with the one founded in Barcelona in 1663. A group was organized in Segovia and it was precisely in that city that Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz had been a canon before he was named a bishop in Mexico. In Puebla he fostered devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows and the Confraternity of the Seven Sorrows. Research done by Fr. Damian M. Charboneau OSM shows that toward the end of the century there was already a flourishing presence of the Servite Third Order in Mexico, even though there were no foundations of Servite sisters or friars. The first priory of friars in Mexico was not established until 1948, almost three centuries later.
Two Servites connected with Napoleon, but for different reasons, are Fra Carlo Francesco Caselli and Fra Amadio Bertoncelli. The first was theological consultant to Giuseppe Spina and later to Cardinal Consalvi in the negotiations for a concordat between Napoleon and the Holy See. He was esteemed by the French Emperor who also offered him the archbishopric of Paris. The esteem was mutual, for he did not turn away from Napoleon when the Emperor fell into disgrace, but until Caselli died in 1828 he remained a counsellor of Napoleon's second wife, MarieLouise of Austria. Marie-Louise had become the duchess of Parma, the diocese where Caselli, now a cardinal, was bishop for twenty-four years. It might seem strange that Caselli was not involved in another matter which directly touched the Order during the period in which he enjoyed Napoleon's favour. Caselli's confrere, also a master of theology and a well-known preacher, Fra Amadio Bertoncelli (1769-1809), had finished a series of Lenten sermons in Vienna and returned to Italy with a letter from the papal nuncio in Vienna for the pope. He left Vienna on 6 May 1809 and as soon as he arrived in Senigallia he was arrested and imprisoned, because, as the indictment stated, he was in possession of alarming correspondence with the Holy See. The French executed him in Ancona on 16 September 1809. He went to his death with religious dignity and courage. The following is the text of a letter he wrote just a few hours before facing the firing squad. It was addressed to his friend and confrere Fra Girolamo Tonelli of the priory of San Lorenzo in Budrio (Bologna). The letter says:
"Dearest Friend. It is now about nine o'clock at night. I am now in a cell awaiting death. In the morning at five o'clock I shall be in eternity. I am going to be shot. Pray for my poor soul. Come for my belongings. They are in Fiume in the possession of the man who has the florins for which you have the receipt. Take out what I owe you and then take care of my family. I am writing only to you in my agony so that you will know my friendship to the very end. Greet everyone: Father Prior, Father Pastor, Father Procurator. Ask pardon from all. We shall see each other in paradise, if God has mercy on me. Greet the Servite sisters, Sister Candida and the usual friends. Greet my brother, my sister-in-law, everyone at home, my friends in Bologna. 15 September. Thank Rasinelli for everything. Goodbye. I embrace you. Yours. Bertoncelli."
There is an undocumented story that the order to 'execute Bertoncelli came in a personal telegram from Napoleon to General Pouchin with the words "Shoot Bertoncelli for me."
Did Caselli know of the arrest of his confrere? If he did, did he try to do anything for him? These questions await further research.
It is interesting to note that precisely in this very turbulent period at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth two foundations of enclosed Servite nuns were made.
Those who later were to become the enclosed Mantellate Servants of Mary began a contemplative life together in Rome in 1797 with the help of Vincenzo Masturzi who wanted to start a convent for his daughter Elizabetta, later known as Sister Maria Giuliana. Among these young women was the Venerable Maria Luisa Maurizi who began her novitiate with the others in 1803, the date of the foundation of the convent. The following year she made her profession before Pope Pius VII. The followers of Sister Maria Luisa continue their contemplative life today on the hill of Fanella in Rome, and their convent forms part of the Italian Federation of Enclosed Servite Nuns. In 1977 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints published the decree of heroic virtue of Maria Luisa, and in 1981 the 150th anniversary of her death was commemorated with solemnity.
In 1805 the convent of the Servants of Our Lady of Sorrows was founded in Reggio Emilia. It was later transferred to Montecchio Emilia and was known as S. Maria dell'Olmo, from the title of the former priory of Servite friars into which they moved. The history of this foundation, written by Sister Maria Maddalena di Gesu’ (Piazza), its foundress, was published in 1980 with a long introduction by Sister Maria Ignazia Danieli and a series of sketches by Fiorenzo M. Gobbo OSM. This text also notes the interest Caselli took in the foundation.
Finally, some brief notes about other important Servites of the eighteenth century. Among the Servites who dedicated themselves to music during this century (for example, Girolamo Celotti, Angelo Ferialdi, Cajetan Vogel, Luigi Braccini) Fra Attilio Ottavio Ariosti (Bologna 1666 - England 1729) is of particular importance. He was a composer, author of numerous theatrical works, oratorios, arias, songs and sonatas. This restless friar, to put it mildly, went from the court of Mantua, to Berlin, Vienna and Paris. In 1722 he helped direct the Royal Academy of Music in London.
The Florentine Fra Giuseppe Salvetti (d. 1729), a talented sculptor and engraver, has left us busts and portraits of some contemporary Servants of Mary.
Fra Alessandro M. Bandiera (1699-1765), a former Jesuit, man of letters and translator of Cornelius Nepos and Cicero, was esteemed even by Giuseppe Parini, the noted eighteenthcentury Italian author and poet. Fra Luigi Baroni (1723-1809), bibliophile and coin collector, was much sought after as a valuer and reviewer of books and organizer of libraries. He fled from France after the French Revolution and returned to his priory of Lucca where he established a rich library of manuscripts and rare editions.
Fra Giuseppe Giacinto M. Bergantini (1691-1774) was a historian of note, but many of his writings were destroyed in the fire at the priory of Venice in 1769. He was a Sarpian scholar and defended the Venetian Servite.
The list could continue so as not to neglect other illustrious Servants of Mary, as for example: Giuseppe Antonio Brusa, forerunner with Luigi Poletti in the field of experimental aeronautics; both were from Bologna and students of Fra Girolamo Malisardi (d. 1796); Carlo Antonio Tassinari (d. 1731) for many years the spiritual director of St. Veronica Giuliani; Carlo Traversari (1739-1818) a theologian; Roberto M. Costaguti (1732-1818), first rector and organizer of the University of Malta, and then for forty years bishop of Sansepolcro; and the noted Tyrolese theologian Caesar M. Shguanin (1692-1769).
Dates to Remember
1712 Death of Sister M. Arcangelo Biondini, foundress of the convent of enclosed nuns at Arco.
1714 The priories of the Germanic Observance are divided into two provinces: Germany (subdivided in 1756 into Austria and Tyrol) and Bohemia.
1719 Foundation of the hermitage of Monterano.
1719-1723 The Servites Giovanni Domenico Fabris and Sostegno M. Viani take part in the legation of Carlo Ambrogio Mezzabarba to China.
1719-1725 Second edition of the Annales of the Order, edited by Luigi M. Garbi and Placido M. Bonfrizieri.
1726 Canonization of St. Peregrine Laziosi.
1727 Approval of the Constitutions of the Germanic Observance.
1731 Death of Fra Carlo Antonio Tassinari, spiritual director of St. Veronica Giuliani.
1732 Fra Filippo M. Serrati leaves for China; he returns to Italy in 1744.
1733 Ordination to the priesthood of the first Latin American Servite, the Brazilian Antonio (fra Uguccione M.) Dias Quaresma.
1737 Canonization of St. Juliana Falconieri.
1742 Death of Sister Maria Electa ab jesu, foundress of the convent of enclosed nuns in Munic in 1716.
1769 Publication of the Methodus or program of studies by Prior General Francesco Raimondo Adami.
1770 Decree of the king of France suppresses the Servants of Mary in Provence.
1772 Suppression of priories in the Republic of Venice.
1778-1779 The pope suppresses the Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario.
1780-1790 Reign of Emperor Joseph II; Josephinist suppression of religious orders and congregations.
1798-1799 First "Roman Republic." The suppressions of religious orders continue in the territories occupied by the French.
1801 Concordat between Napoleon and Pius VII. Fra Carlo Francesco Caselli, former prior general (1792-1798), later cardinal (1802) and bishop of Parma (1804-1828) takes part in the negotiations.
1803 Foundation of the convent of enclosed nuns in Rome.
1805 Foundation of the convent of enclosed nuns in Reggio Emilia, which was transferred to Montecchio Emilia in 1887.
1809 Exile of Prior General Luigi Bentivegni. Execution of Fra Amadio Bertoncelli.
1810 General suppression of religious orders by Napoleon I.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
From the Restoration (1815) to the early twentieth century.
An illusory hope. The life of the Order from 1815 to 1848. The suppressions by the Italian government up to events following the fall of Rome, 1870. Servants of Mary in England and the United. States of America. The canonization of the Seven Holy Founders in the context of increased devotion within the Order to its saints and blessed. Congregations of Servite women. Revitalization into the early twentieth century. Servants of Mary in Canada. Servite priories from 1848 to 1911. Some outstanding Servites in the nineteenth century.
An illusory hope
Both secular and church history see the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as a key-date. It was here that Europe was partitioned in the vain hope of a "restoration." Some shrewd observers were aware of the fragility of the arrangement, in spite of its attention to detail. But there were many people of great talent and perspicacity who truly hoped that things would return to the way they were before the Napoleonic period, which had overturned and shattered so many familiar systems.
The situation was even more complicated for religious orders and congregations, because the attacks launched against them in Europe were begun under Emperor Joseph II only to be continued by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Servite Costantino M. Battini, a man of great learning and an energetic writer who later became prior general of the Order (1823-1829), made the following note about the end of the Napoleonic empire: "...it was hoped that there would be a resurgence of regulars and nuns." And indeed, a certain revival did occur. While quite promising in the beginning, it lasted only a short time, especially for the Servants of Mary, most of whom at this time were in Italy. It was here that a whole new series of laws of suppression were to be passed just a few decades later. These would bring the Order almost to the point of extinction.
In looking at the history of the Servants of Mary during the 1800s in general terms, 1815 stands out as the beginning of a short-lived revival, whereas the later 1800s and early 1900s would see a solid and lasting rebirth, starting slowly and gradually increasing right through to the 1960s. In the very middle of this time-span (1815-1964) we find the canonization of the Seven Holy Founders of the Order (1888), an event which is closely bound up with the revitalization of the Order in the twentieth
Chronologically the following pages on the nineteenth century extend from 1815 to the first ten years of the twentieth century, to just before the time when the Order of Servants of Mary accepted a number of significant commitments in mission areas. In any case the First World War is generally seen as closing one historical period and opening another.
Within this time-span the following pages will consider: the life of the Order from 1815 to 1848; suppressions by the Italian government up to events following the fall of Rome, 1870; the Order in England and the United States of America; the canonization of the Seven Holy Founders in the setting of an increased devotion within the Order to its saints and blessed; congregations of Servite women; revitalization into the early twentieth century; Servites in Canada; priories from 1848 to 1911; some outstanding Servites in the nineteenth century.
The life of the Order from 1815 to 1848
From 1815 to 1848 the Order was governed by an apostolic vicar general appointed by the Holy See, Stefano Antommarchi (1814-1823), then by priors general Costantino M. Battini (1823-1829), Vittorio Amedeo Pirattoni (1829-1834), Luigi Grati (1834-1841), Michele Francesco M. Strigelli (1841-1847) and Gaetano M. Bensi (1847-1853).
Each of these men had as a priority the regaining of the rincipal priories that had been suppressed and the reorganization and renewal of religious life in the provinces and communities. With such objectives, they each encountered many difficulties deriving from much instability among the friars and in society at large. What happened could barely warrant the name "revival".
These generals were in fact strong in character, well-suited to the task of "restoration." Some had known the hardships of the Napoleonic era, like Costantino Battini, who was captured by the French in 1799 and imprisoned for four months in Dijon; others were men of long experience in directing the Order's affairs. A register of deceased friars at the priory of Santissima Annunziata in Florence makes the following note by the name of Fra Stefano Antommarchi: "In recognition and gratitude for the pains suffered by the Most Reverend Stefano Antommarchi in the restoration of the Tuscan Province's priories, the fathers celebrated a solemn office with the catafalque in the centre of the church, reciting the entire office of the dead and offering Mass for him."
The provinces of the Order could not be quickly reestablished and the friars were widely dispersed. And so, to regain the suppressed priories, the priors general of this period, especially Stefano Antommarchi, named vicars general for the various provinces whenever necessary.
In 1835 the Order regained possession of the important priory of Monte Berico at Vicenza, near Venice. But the ancient Spanish Province, on the other hand, was breathing its last after all the suppressions. The friars had dispersed, either making their way to Italian priories or trying to live their Servite lives alone. Even when there were no priories left in Spain, a local liturgical calender for Servite feasts continued to be published for more than thirty years, until there were no friars left. This is similar to what has been happening in more recent times in Hungary, where the priories of the Hungarian Province were suppressed by the government in 1950. Various friars have kept in sporadic contact with the rest of the Order, although there are now fewer than ten left.
It is not particularly surprising that the priors general of the period 1815-1848 were well-versed in governance, and some of them were entrusted with important offices in the Roman Curia. Fra Luigi Grati, prior general from 1834 to 1841, is unique for having been made prior general when he was already a bishop. Restoration work called for great skill and tact, legal expertise and administrative experience.
It could hardly be said that the thirty years from 1820 to 1850 were an era of resurgence for the Order. Nevertheless, a great deal was achieved, and by 1848 there were sixty-four priories in the Order with just under six hundred friars.
The suppressions by the Italian government up to the events following the fall of Rome (1870)
A distinction needs to be made between the legislation passed by the kingdom of Sardinia and that of the government of unified Italy, even though there is continuity from one to the other. The religious laws passed in the kingdom of Sardinia happened in the following sequence: the law of 19 June 1848, stating the equality of all citizens before the law irrespective of religion; the Siccardi laws of 9 April 1850, which abolished the right of sanctuary and tribunal privileges for ecclesiastics (a law in the preceding March had placed all charitable institutes under State supervision); the law of June 1850 insisting on "government authorization for accepting free gifts of property"; the law of 29 May 1855, which suppressed religious corporations.
Under the government of unified Italy, on the other hand, laws were passed on 7 July 1866 and 15 August 1867, both of which - but especially the first - stipulated the suppression of a large number of ecclesiastical bodies.
The government assured the support and annual upkeep for life of ecclesiastics belonging to the suppressed institutions. This upkeep, obtained from the sale of church goods, was distributed through the Cult Fund. All but metropolitan dioceses were abolished, and only one seminary per archdiocese was permitted. Former bishops , incomes were taken over by state officials, whose task it was to use them for the support of parish priests in need, for worship expenses and for the restoration of poor churches.
History has shown that the reduction of religious houses in Italy from 1850 to 1870 could probably have been avoided if the Holy See had been less intransigent, and if the Kingdom of Sardinia and the subsequent government of unified Italy had been more just. One has only to read the drastic measures of the law of 7 July 1866 which stated: "The State no longer recognizes religious orders, corporations and congregations, regular or secular; nor conservatories or retreats where common life is lived in an ecclesiastical way. Those houses and corporations, congregations, conservatories and retreats are hereby suppressed."
It should not be forgotten, however, that after an initially rigorous application of the above laws, there followed in many parts of Italy a kind of "illegal survival" policy permitting many religious houses to continue with deliberate tolerance by the government. Of course it should also be remembered that a great number of religious foundations in Italy took care of needy people, like the sick and elderly, and these activities were very much needed by the State. It could be added that many religious organizations had learned a hard lesson in survival during the Josephinist and Napoleonic suppression, and were thus better equipped to counteract the latest assaults. A number of them, for example, used fictitious names to repurchase their properties as they came up for auction by the State.
Even the ban on wearing the religious habit was frequently ignored without trouble from the authorities, mainly because, from the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy onwards, the government was trying to reach some sort of accord with the Holy See. It could be said, in fact, that the Italian suppressions were only secondarily ideological and that their main motivation was the government's need to raise money for the administration of the state.
For an Order of limited size like the Servants of Mary which had already suffered under previous assaults and which was located almost entirely in Italy, the above laws of suppression proved almost fatal. A letter from the prior general, Fra Bonfiglio M. Mura, in 1863 urges remedial action and speaks of "a question of life or death."
It was fortunate that the priors general of the Order from 1850 to 1870 were men of outstanding quality: Gaetano M. Bensi (1847-1853), Albuin M. Patscheider (1853-1859), the first non-Italian prior general, Bonfiglio M. Mura (1859-1868) and Giovanni Angelo Mondani (1868-1882). In spite of what Bonfiglio Mura called "the iniquities of this age," with the resulting impossibility of accepting new vocations, these generals believed in the Order and set about spreading it to other countries. Above all, they inaugurated a disciplined religious observance in the few remaining priories.
Once again we are faced with a period in the Order's history which has not been extensively studied. Contributions by Filippo M. Berlasso OSM on the life of Bonfiglio Mura and recent research by Richard M. Boyle OSM, along with other studies now being done, are beginning to shed some light on the troubles of those days.
It is not easy to determine the lowest number of Servite friars during the nineteenth-century suppressions. Probably the Order was reduced to little over three hundred friars. The terrible threat of absolute extinction came from the ban on receiving new vocations. It was because of this that Prior General Bonfiglio Mura opened two novitiates in 1863, one in the priory of San Marcello in Rome and the other at Monte Berico, Vicenza, in northern Italy. These were the only two priories where a novitiate was permitted. He also urged those friars who were obliged to live outside their priories to hand over their state pensions to their superiors as a fund for the education of new students of the Order.
Ever since the generalate of Pirattoni the Order had been looking at the possibility of new foundations outside of Europe. In 1830 the Order was unfortunately unable to accept a mission in Burma. Between 1840 and 1842 two Servite friars from the defunct Spanish Province unsuccessfully attempted to establish a mission on Mindanao in the Philippines. About the same time the Order was entrusted with the vice-apostolic prefecture of Arabia, with its See in Aden, in present-day South Yemen. This only lasted a few years - up to 1849 - but it is symbolic of vitality amid the hardship of those times.
Much more could be said about the priors general of the period 1850-1870. Among them Bonfiglio M. Mura stands out in a special way and more will be said about him in the concluding section of this chapter. It was during his term of office that the Order's first foundation was made in England.
Servants of Mary in England and the United States of America
In 1864 two friar Servants of Mary reached England to set up the Order there. They were Fr. Philip M. Bosio and Fr. Austin M. Morini. Within three years they had opened the first priory in London (1867). By the general chapter of 1895 the English communities were declared a provincial commissariats, and in 1914 they became the present English Province of the Order.
The early days presented many difficulties, including the new challenge of relations with the Servite Sisters of London, who had asked the Order to send priests to England in the first place. The friars entrusted with the new foundation were not only men of generosity and quality, but also very strong personalities. It is possible that a certain Italianate approach to the new foundations lay at the root of some misunderstandings, and it seemed that this lasted for a long time, and not just in England. This problem is recalled in the recent obituary of Fr. Francis M. McEnerney OSM (1896-1983) written by the provincia curia in England: the much revered Fr. McEnerney is credited with having continued, between the two world wars, the labours of Fr. Alphonsus M. Coventry to lessen an excessive dependence on Italian ways in the province and give it a more truly English character.
Servite presence in the United States of America dates from 1852 when two lay brothers of the Tyrolese Province, Bro. Franz Paulsteiner and Bro. Bruno Kaufmann, accompanied two Norbertine missionaries from Wilten Abbey, Innsbruck, to Wisconsin. The following year Fr. Antoninus Grundner, also of the Tyrolese p Province, began working among the German-speaking Catholics first in New York City, then in eastern Pennsylvania, and finally as pastor of St. Alphonsus Church in Philadelphia. The 1970 Catalogue of the Order continues the story: "No Servite foundation was made and Fr. Grundner’s death in 1876 ended the independent activity of the Tyrolese Province in the United States. Some Austrian Servites, however, continued to work with the Italians in their Midwestern foundations.
"While attending the First Vatican Council in 1870, Joseph Melcher, first bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, invited Servites to work in his diocese. That same year four Servites, under the guidance of Fr. Austin M. Morini, took charge of St. Charles Church in Menasha, Wisconsin. In 1874 Bishop Foley invited the Order to Chicago, and eventually Chicago became the center of Servite activity in America. The American Province was established in 1909."
For several years now, the American Servite Fr. Conrad M. Borntrager has been engaged in research on the activities of the Servants of Mary in North America prior to 1870. Doubtlessly the successful development of the two American provinces can be attributed in part to a solid foundation laid at the beginning. The gradual organization of the archives of the Eastern Province in the United States will be instrumental in making the history of the Order in America better known.
The canonization of the Seven Holy Founders in the context of increased devotion within the Order to its saints and blessed
An examination of the liturgical celebrations of Servite blessed reveals that many were approved in the early nineteenth century. In 1804, Pius VII approved the office and Mass of Blessed Elizabeth of Mantua. Later, in 1806, he approved the office and the Mass of Blessed James of Citta della Pieve (the Almsgiver) and the Blessed Andrew of Sansepolcro. This same pope approved the cult of Blessed Ubald of Sansepolcro in 1821 and of Blessed Bonaventure of Pistoia in 1822. In 1828 Leo XII approved and confirmed devotion to Blessed Joan of Florence, and in 1829 Pius VIII acted likewise in favour of Blessed Benincasa of Montepulciano.
It was during this period of renewed devotion to Servite saints and blessed that the Order took up again the process for the canonization of the Seven Founders.
In 1884 Pope Leo XIII personally decreed that the cause of the Seven could go ahead, after an interval of nearly 150 years, with four miracles obtained by invoking the Seven as a group considered sufficient. The decree approving the four miracles which had been presented was published on 27 November 1887. Meanwhile, the Order had been giving considerable attention to celebrating the sixth centenary of the death of St. Philip Benizi (1285-1885). Pope Leo XIII canonized the Seven Holy Founders on 15 January '1888. The historian, Fr. Alessio M. Rossi, who died in 1968, recalled hearing how Monte Senario was buried in deep snow that January, preventing a number of friars from travelling to Rome for the celebrations. One of those who did attend was Fr. Anthony M. Pucci, who died four years later in 1892 and was to be himself canonized by the Church in 1962.
The decree of canonization obviously made reference to the names of the Founders: Bonfilius, Bonajuncta, Manettus, Hugh, Amadeus, Sostene and Alexis. The papal decree drew on the most recent of ancient texts bearing the names of the Founders, although historians have certain doubts about this list and are sure of the names of only the first and the last of the Seven, namely Bonfilius and Alexis. Church autorities chose to give precedence to the Seven as a group rather than as separate individuals, for they accepted four miracles obtained through the intercession of the Seven invoked together rather than each one singularly. This was the first time that this was done for saints who were not martyrs.
The canonization, which occurred as the repressive laws against religious institutes in Italy were being gradually eased, gave renewed confidence to the entire Order. With such a great benefit to be gained, one can understand why enthusiastic promoters like Fr. Anthony M. Pucci worked and prayed so hard to bring the canonization to reality.
And if its achievement is linked to the name of the prior general, Fr. Pier Francesco M. Testa (1882-1888), its earlier preparation must be attributed to predecessors like Fr. Giovanni Angelo M. Mondani (1868-1882), and even to Fr. Bonfiglio M. Mura, a close friend of Pope Leo XIII.
Congregations of Servite women
From the middle of the nineteenth century onward a number of congregations of sisters from different parts of the world have come to join the wider family of the Servants of Mary. Some of these groups grew up within the Order itself, often from secular tertiary origins (such as the sisters from Florence, Pistoia, Galeazza, the Sisters of the Compassion and the Sisters for Reparation, etc.); others sought official aggregation to the Order, often within a short time of their foundation, because of similarity of spirit or service and devotion to Our Lady.
The first of these congregations traces its heritage to 1840 and the French woman Marie Guyot whose religious community known as the Daughters of Calvary eventually established themselves in England in 1852 with the title Sisters of the Compassion. They took up permanent settlement at St. Mary's Priory in London. In 1864 Mother Philomena Morel and Sister Antonia Loughnan travelled to Rome and obtained affiliation of their community with the Servite Order. A foundation was made in 1893 at Mount Vernon, Indiana, in the United States, and two years later at Enfield, Illinois. In time these foundations developed into the American Province of the Congregation, with its provincialate at Omaha, Nebraska. The Congregation also has foundations in Canada, Jamaica, Belgium, France and Austria.
A community of sisters was founded in Tiruchirapalli, India, in 1854, and eleven years later the sisters were aggregated as individuals to the Servite Third Order. The congregation grew rapidly during the generalate of Mother Mary Alexis (1898-1916) and at the present time it is the largest of the congregations of Servite Sisters with 945 sisters (1985) in India, Burma and Australia.
In the last 120 years of the Order's history, since 1864 that is, many women's congregations were affiliated to the Servants of Mary. Some of them no longer belong to the Servite Family, for various reasons. The two principal ones are their demise (sometimes through suppression, as is happening at present with the sisters in Albania and Hungary), or else their amalgamation with another (usually Servite) congregation: for example, the sisters of Pistoia have incorporated, among other groups, the Servants of Mary of Viareggio (initially under the direction of St. Anthony Pucci), of Saluzzo, Leghorn, and, most recently, the Mantellates of St. Juliana of Florence.
The list below indicates the year of foundation and the year of aggregation to the Order of Servants of Mary. In some cases the aggregation was no more than an initial connection ratified later when the group was more evolved or wished for stronger links with the Order. The list presents all the congregations which are at present aggregated to the Order, including those founded or aggregated in the twentieth century.
Congregation Founded Aggregated
Servite Sisters, London, England 1840 1864
Suore di Maria Ss.ma Addolorata, Naples, Italy 1840 1951
Serve di Maria, Ravenna, Italy 1852 1868
Serve di Maria SS.ma Addolorata, Florence, Italy 1854 1876
Sisters of the Mother of Sorrows, Servants of Mary,
Tiruchirapalli, India 1854 1865
Mantellate Serve di Maria, Pistoia, Italy 1861 1868
Serve di Maria, Galeazza, Italy 1862 1883
Minime dell'Addolorata, Le Budrie, Italy 1868 1951
Compassioniste Serve di Maria, Scanzano di Sta-
bia, Italy 1869 1893
Serve di Maria Addolorata, Nocera, Italy 1872 1880
Serve di Maria Addolorata, Chioggia, Italy 1873 1918
Sisters of Providence, Holyoke, U.S.A. 1873 1894
Socurs Servites de Maria, Jolimont, Belgium 1881 1927
Infermiere Serve di Maria, Pisa, Italy 1896 1916
Motrat Servite, Shkodrë, Albania 1898 1989
Serve di Maria Riparatrici, Adria, Italy 1900 1910
Servants of Mary, Ladysmith, U.S.A. 1912 1921
Irthas Servas de Maria, Jacarepagua’, Brazil 1917 1922
Szervita Növerèk, Hungary 1922 1925
Scrvite Sisters, Mahlabane, Swaziland 1932 1935
Misioneras de Mara Dolorosa, Ciudad Juárez,
Revitalization into the early twentieth century
The closing decades of the nineteenth century and the opening part of the twentieth witnessed a number of events, which showed that a true rebirth was taking place.
In 1891 a Servite priory was founded in Brussels, Belgium.
Four years later the new priory of the Seven Holy Founders was built in Florence, while in Rome the International College of St. Alexis Falconieri was inaugurated in rented premises next to the Church of St. Nicholas of Tolentino. This college was the successor to the older Ghent College of the Order, and forerunner of the Marianum Pontifical Theological Faculty.
In 1897 modern historical writing began in the Order with the publication of the first volume of Monumenta Ordinis Servorum sanctae Mariae, edited by Fr. Austin Morini and Fr. Pérégrin M. Soulier. In the first two volumes of this work, figured the Constitutiones antiquae and the Constitutiones novae, which were the decrees of the general chapters from 1295 to 1473, the Legenda de origine Ordinis and the Legenda beati Philippi. The publication also gave access to sources for the history of early priories in Germany and the college that the Order had in Paris. The administrative register of the priors general St. Philip Benizi and Fra Lotaringo of Florence for the years 1285 to 1300 was also printed. The collection of texts given in the Monumenta endorses the truth that a healthy revitalization must draw inspiration from the original options exercised at the foundation of the Order.
Nevertheless, the attention of the Order at this time was still directed towards new foundations outside of Italy. While an attempt in 1900 to reenter Spain proved ineffective, the general chapter of 1901 declared the Order's intention of "resuming as soon as possible missions to non-believers." But a little over ten years would pass before this desire could be acted upon. Meanwhile, the whole atmosphere was one of renewal and "missionary" fervour. A considerable number of Servants 'of Mary played an enthusiastic part in the 1904 International Marian Congress held in Rome for the 50th anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854).
There was an extraordinary general chapter held in Rome in 1905 for the revision of the Constitutions. These were promulgated in 1907. They were accepted by the communities of the Germanic Observance which by this time were gathered into two provinces, the Tyrolese and the Austro-Hungarian Provinces. Thus the Order was once again united under the same Constitutions.
The stormy period known as the modernist era does not seem to have had a particularly great effect on the Servants of Mary. It is worth mentioning at this point that, throughout its history, the Order has always been sensitive in matters of obedience to the Holy See. Fr. Filippo M. Ferrini (d. 1972) recorded in his personal memoirs in 1950, that after the general chapter of 1901 a decision was taken to keep Servite graduate students away from non-Servite centres, to avoid contact with the various teachings that would be later collected under the heading of modernism. History would show that this decision was excessively limiting, but it does give an indication of a constant feature of the Order's approach to theological currents throughout its history.
A general atmosphere of missionary enthusiasm in the Order in the early 1900s, as noted above, preceded the acceptance of missionary territories in the strict sense of the word. This page of the Order's history has yet to be written. Donations and funds were collected for the future "missions among non-believers," and bank accounts were started. Proposals for missions were drawn up and examined in great detail. It is fascinating to note that the friar put in charge of this work was a young priest from the Bolognese Province, Fr. Prospero M. Bernardi, who was to become the first vicar provincial of the Order in Canada and later the first bishop of the Brazilian mission of Acre and Purus. More will be said about him later. As the revitalization of the Order between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries drew to a close, let us see how the Order began in Canada.
Servants of Mary in Canada
An article was published in 1980 in the magazine Le Missioni d ei Servi di Maria (The Missions of the Servants of Mary) on the early foundations of the Order in Canada, entitled "To Canada as if to the Missions." And indeed it was in a missionary spirit that the Order of Servants of Mary first arrived in that country in 1912.
Although a number of factors contributed to bringing the Order to Canada, the foundation there was the first concrete result of many missionary dreams and plans. It predates even the mission to Swaziland. It might seem strange today to call the early foundations in Canada "missions" but the documents of that period use that specific title. This is found in the discourse which Prior General Giuseppe M. Lucchesi (1907-1913) addressed to the three friars in Florence who were about to leave for Canada. Account should also be taken of the mentality of the age: anyone leaving Europe to work in the young churches across the Atlantic, especially among the immigrants, was considered a missionary. Besides the pastoral care of immigrants, there was also the evangelization of Indians and the conversion of non-Catholic. Whatever the case, the movement to establish the Order in Canada was the first fruit of a missionary attitude which grew out of the canonization of the Seven Holy Founders.
There were also other factors which influenced the foundation in Canada. Mention could be made of Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal (1840-1885) who was a Servite tertiary very attached to the Order and committed to spreading devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. In 19l0 Alexis M. Lépicier, later prior general and cardinal, took part in the Eucharistic Congress in Montreal. In 1911 Archbishop Pellegrino M. Stagni OSM, former prior general and at that time archbishop of Aquila, was sent to Ottawa as apostolic delegate to Canada and Newfoundland.
It was the following year, 1912, that three Servants of Mary from the Tuscan Province arrived in Montreal: Fr. Ildefonso M. Francesconi, Fr. Angelico M. Barsi and Fr. Aurelio M. Prosperi.
Events leading up to their departure from Italy happened very suddenly between the end of 1911 and the first months of 1912. The details given below are more ample than for other foundations because they have never been published before.
Two significant things happened at the end of 1911 which had a bearing on the project. Firstly, Fr. Rusconi, Canadian by birth but of Italian origin, was a parish priest in Montreal who made it clear that he wished to leave his parish made up mainly of Italian immigrants. When Archbishop Stagni informed Rome of this, he obviously thought that this could open the way for the Servants of Mary to enter Canada. Secondly, the Archbishop of Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada, had written Stagni asking for an Italian priest to minister to the four thousand Italians of his city and many others throughout his vast diocese. Archbishop Stagni suggested to him that an Italian religious order, possibly the Servants of Mary, could meet this pastoral need, and the archbishop of Vancouver was favourable to the idea.
The second possibility was pursued. Once Archbishop Stagni realized that Italian priests from the American Province of the Servants of Mary were unable to go to Vancouver, he wrote to the prior general in Rome. His letter from Ottawa was dated 16 January 1912 and already by 29 January the prior general was in contact with the Tuscan Provincial in Florence.
Preparations egad at once, with the utmost speed. Just two months after the prior general's letter to Florence, the first Servants of Mary arrived in Montreal (29 March 1912).
How equipped were these men for their new assignment? Apart from Latin, their only language was Italian. Enthusiasm and generosity are important, but they are not everything. Plans changed. They never' left Montreal for Vancouver, but instead accepted two parishes of Italian immigrants there in Montreal: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Madonna della Difesa, which is still part of the Servite Tuscan Province. In the meantime, the American Province accepted the parish in Vancouver.
Not long afterwards the Order was entrusted with the parish of St. Anthony of Padua in Ottawa, once again a parish for Italians. It was here that a student house for the future Canadian Servants of Mary was eventually built. Already by 1920 the majority of applicants to the Order had French surnames and the Order took on a Canadian character. Growth was rapid. After being a provincial commissariats for a number of years, the priories were declared an autonomous province of the Order in 1948. In 1979 the Servite communities in France were incorporated into the Canadian Province. The present prior general, the Canadian Fr. Michel M. Sincerny, joined the Order in 1948, the same year that the priories in Canada became a province. He was reelected to a second six year term as prior general at the general chapter held in Rome in 1983.
Servite priories from 1848 to 1911
In 1848, just thirty-three years after the Vienna restoration and the ensuing reorganization of the Order, there were 64 Servite priories, all in Europe, and about 600 friars, not including the ones in Spain who were living in dispersal after the suppression of religious orders in 1835 but who considered themselves very much part of the Order. In Aden (now South Yemen) Fr. Marco M. Gradenigo was serving as vice-prefect apostolic in the mission there.
By 1885, after a long and devastating phase of religious suppressions in Italy, the priories were down to 53 in number, with just 34 in Italy as opposed to 46 in 1848. The Order was now present in England, not to mention its longstanding communities in Austria and Hungary. The most significant new feature was the existence of two priories in the United States of America with 15 friars. In all the Order counted 359 friars.
Twenty-five years later, in 1911, there were 63 priories in the Order, of which 35 were in Italy and 28 elsewhere (one now in Belgium and seven in the United States). The number of friars had risen to 584, with 54 in America.
Some outstanding Servites in the nineteenth century
It would seem useful at this point to highlight some of the more significant personalities of the nineteenth century in Servite history. Due to limitations of space, only four will be presented here, with brief sketches of Fr. Bonfiglio M. Mariani, one of the last remaining friars of the suppressed Congregation of Hermits of Monte Senario; Fr. Bonfiglio M. Mura, outstanding prior general, teacher and writer, a man deeply involved in the events of his time; Fr. Anthony M. Pucci, the "little Parish Priest" and saint from Viareggio; and Fr. Austin M. Morini, historian of the Order, one of the first two friars sent to England and superior of the first Servite community in the United States.
Fr Bonfiglio M. Mariani was born at Camaiore, province of Lucca, Italy, in 1734, and joined the hermits of Monte Senario while still quite young. He lived subsequently in the hermitages of Monterano and Cibona. When the hermit congregation was suppressed some years later he was sent to the Roman priory of Santa Maria in Via where he lived almost until his death in 1831. A recent study by Fr. Roberto M. Faggioli OSM provides a detailed reconstruction of Fr. Mariani's life and spirituality. He was particularly devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of Sorrows, and well known for his austere life style and apostolic labours. Many spoke of him as a saint after his death. There are numerous records of him, and there would probably have been more had there not arisen a protracted dispute within the Santa Maria in Via community on the type of burial and tomb to be accorded to him.
Fr. Bonfiglio M. Mura was born in Cuglieri, Sardinia, on 6 August 1810. His family were unassuming artisans. He met the Servants of Mary at their priory in his home town, and joined the Order when he was fifteen. He studied in Florence, Genoa and Turin, and was ordained priest in 1833. He then moved to Sassari and received a doctorate in theology there, becoming professor of philosophy and regent of studies. In 1842, when he was just thirty-two years old, he was designated by the government and the Holy See as archbishop of Oristano, Sardinia, but he declined the nominations. In 1847 he was elected procurator of the Order for the following six years. In 1853, as he was about to return to Sardinia, he was appointed by Pius IX as professor of natural law and law of nations at the University of Perugia. He became rector of the University in 1854 and was appointed for a second term in 1859. Just a few days before the riots in Perugia in 1859, he was elected prior general by the Servite general chapter. A thick file of correspondence between Mura and Gioacchino Pecci, bishop of Perugia and later Pope Leo XIII, confirms that Fr. Mura's departure from Perugia doubtlessly saved him from reprisals by the revolutionaries.
Fr. Mura remained prior general until 1868. Other tasks were given him as well during this time. In 1860 he was elected rector of the Roman Sapienza University, and he held this title until 1876, even though it was ineffective after 20 September 1870, the fall of Rome.
He was a member of the theological faculties of Florence, Perugia and Siena, a consultor for the pontifical congregations of the Inquisition and Indulgences, a member of the Syllabus commission, and personal theologian to Cardinals Filippo de Angelis and Luigi Amat di San Filippo e Sorso. At the First Vatican Council he was a consultor of the Commission on Faith and Dogma. Following the fall of Rome in 1870 he was obliged to move away after hostile demonstrations by former students of the Sapienza University. He obtained a safe-conduct to Cagliari from General Cadorna and returned to his native Cuglieri. Between 1878 and 1879 he taught natural law and law of nations at Cagliari Seminary. Leo XIII made him archbishop of Oristano and he was consecrated in Sardinia in 1879. His service as archbishop lasted just three years and he died at Cuglieri on 18 July 1882. His body was buried initially in the civic cemetery at Cuglieri, but was later transferred to the collegiate church of Our Lady of the Snows, Cuglieri, on 1 October 1902.
Fr. Bonfiglio Mura wrote about thirty works, some twenty in his own name, others just initialled and still others anonymously. His name is still remembered in Sardinia, where this outstanding Servant of Mary is honoured with street names and public monuments. Most commentators on the last years of the Sapienza University before the fall of Rome describe Fr. Mura somewhat unfairly as conservative and reactionary. This is undoubtedly caused by the way his writings are judged through the retrospective eyes of modern society. Nevertheless, his diffidence about change was always counterbalanced by unflinching loyalty and firmness of principle, which gained him the respect of all who knew him well.
St. Anthony M. Pucci was born in 1819; his father was sacristan and farmer for the parish priest of Poggiole a little parish in the highland valley of Bisenzio. He was one of nine children, ten including an adopted daughter. He lived with his family until he was eighteen, and was introduced to studies by his parish priest, a man of letters in the typical mold of Tuscan clergy. In 1873 he was accompanied by his father and his parish priest to the priory of Santissima Annunziata in Florence to join the Servants of Mary. He was admitted to the novitiate, changing his baptismal name Eustachio to Anthony Mary. But, in accordance with the laws of the time, he could not profess his vows until he was twenty-five. From 1839 to 1843 he lived at Monte Senario amid its harsh climate and stringent discipline, being ordained priest on 24 September 1843. The following year he was sent to Viareggio where a new parish, St. Andrew's, had been started four years previously. He continued his studies and became a Bachelor of Theology in 1847, the same year that he was appointed parish priest at St. Andrew's, Viareggio. In 1850 he received the degree of Master of Theology. He was to remain in Viareggio until his death in 1892, even during the time he was Tuscan prior provincial (1883-1890).
The half century that he spent at Viareggio was full of important events. In 1847 Lucca was transferred to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. That same year witnessed a dreadful famine, and 1854 was the year of a devastating cholera epidemic. Fr. Pucci never left Viareggio during this time. Religious suppressions put the community in extreme financial difficulties in 1866, but Fr. Pucci made light of the matter. His chief concerns were always to care for the interests of the poor fisher-folk of his parish day by day, to provide catechetical instruction and basic education for their children, to prepare his Sunday preaching most assiduously (for which numerous volumes of notes still exist) and to care for the material and moral needs of children and youth to the point where he set up Italy's first seaside health resort for sick children.
The spiritual life of St. Anthony Pucci is characterized by
moderation, simplicity and poverty. The Blessed Sacrament was most important for him, as was great devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, his attachment to the Servite family and his practical commitment to vocations. A detailed description of him was given in the Servite Basilica of Monte Berico on 21 May 1963 by Bishop Albino Luciani of Vittorio Veneto, later Pope John Paul I. In one of the most difficult periods of the Order's history Anthony Pucci was able to face every situation with faith and constancy. Pope John XXIII canonized him on 9 December 1962. The bull of canonization opens with the meaningful words, "Every time we reflect on the image of the Good Shepherd..." And the same theme provides the title for two recent books, one by Fr. Ubaldo M. Forconi OSM, written just before his death in 1981, called Piccola storia di un buon Pastore (Short Account of a Good Shepherd), and a second entitled Shepherd of Souls by Fr. Peter M. Rookey OSM (1985). Both are affectionate biographies of the "little parish priest" of Viareggio.
Detailed biographies of Fr. Austin M. Morini (Florence 1826 - Rome 1909) have been written by Fr. Pérégrin M. Soulier OSM and, more recently, by Fr. Justin Ryska. From his youth Fr. Morini had been dearly interested in the humanities and especially in history. He had a lively and versatile mind, as witnessed by the reams of correspondence he shared with intellectuals in many countries. From 1864 to 1888 he made a decisive contribution to the Order's foundation in England and the United States of America. The general chapter of 1888 appointed him postulator for saints and blessed of the Order, and from then onwards he returned to his studies, collaborating with Fr. Pérégrin M. Soulier in starting and developing the historical collection Monumenta Ordinis Servorum sanctae Mariae. He was honoured in 1895 with the privileges reserved to former priors general, and completed his days in the priory of Santa Maria in Via, Roma, where he died in 1909 at the age of eighty-four.
Many other Servants of Mary of the nineteenth century warrant a special mention here. There was, for example, Fr. Gavino Secchi-Murro (1794-1868), procurator of the Order from 1835 to 1841, a great promoter of the missions, friend and defender of Rosmini (many documents concerning Rosmini are to be found in the priory archives of Santa Maria in Via, Rome). Great missionaries, even before the establishment of missions in the twentieth century, included Antonio Buenajunta Foguet, Bernardo Rabascall, José Viñes, Pellegrino Serafini and Marco M. Gradenigo.
Fr. Alessio M. Biffoli (1828-1892) was a parishioner of Santa Maria in Via in Rome who joined the Order, became parish priest of San Marcello in Rome and later bishop of Fossombrone. Some of the priors general have been mentioned already, but all of them contributed to the strengthening of the Order in the nineteenth century: Pier Francesco M. Testa (1882-1888), Andrea M. Corrado (1889-1895), Giovanni Angelo M. Pagliai (1895-1901), Pellegrino M. Stagni (1901-1907) and Giuseppe M. Lucchesi (1907-1913). Nor should the following be omitted: the tertiary Servant of Mary, Rev. Ferdinando M. Baccilieri; Fr. Philip M. Bosio and Fr. Antonine M. Appolloni who were very much involved in the Order's beginnings in England; and Fr. Manetto M. Niccolini, who was mortally wounded during the Garibaldi assault on the city of Viterbo in 1867 and later proclaimed a hero of Italian unification, though this would have surprised him.
Dates to Remember
1814-1823 Fr. Stefano Antommarchi, apostolic vicar general, governs the Order. Gradual revival of the Order after the Napoleonic suppressions.
1831 Death of Fr. Bonfiglio M. Mariani, survivor of the Congregation of Hermits of Monte -Senario.
Death of Venerable Maria Luisa Maurizi.
1835 Servants of Mary return officially to Monte Berico Vicenza. Complete suppression of the Spanish Province.
1840-1842 Abortive mission of two Spanish Servites to Mindanao, Philippines.
1840-1849 Vice-prefecture apostolic of Arabia entrusted to the Order: See at Aden, now South Yemen.
1841 St. Andrew's Priory, Viareggio, founded. From 1847 Fr. Anthony M. Pucci parish priest for the next 45 years.
1852 First Servants of Mary in the United States of America.
1859-1869 Generalate of Fr. Bonfiglio M. Mura.
1860 Third Order of Servants of Mary established in Cuba.
1864 Mantellate Sisters of London (now Servite Sisters) aggregated to the Order, first of a long series. First Servite friars arrive in England.
1866 Suppression of religious orders by the government of unified Italy.
1870 First foundation of the Order in the United States of America.
1877 Return of Servites to France after a century of absence Vaucouleurs College).
1885 Solemn celebrations of sixth centenary of the death of St. Philip Benizi.
1888 15 January: canonization of the Seven Holy Founders. General chapter celebrated in Rome after a forced interruption of nearly thirty years, preceded by provincial chapters in some Italian provinces in 1883. Foundation of monastery of enclosed Servite nuns at Bognor Regis, England.
1890 Remaining priories of the Piedmontese Province amalgamated for nine years with those of Picena Province (formerly called Province of Romagna).
1891 First presence of Servants of Mary in Brussels, Belgium.
1892 Death of St. Anthony M. Pucci.
1895 Inauguration of International College of St. Alexis Falconieri, Rome.
1896 Servites return to Venice and make a foundation at the church of the -Sacred Heart.
1900 Unsuccessful attempt to return to Spain.
1901 General chapter commitment asking the Order to "resume as soon as possible missions to nonbelievers."
1905 Extraordinary general chapter in Rome for revision of Constitutions.
1907 Promulgation of revised Constitutions.
1909 Communities in the United States become a province of the Order. Death of Fr. Austin M. Morini.
1912 First foundation of the Order in Canada.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
From the first missionary undertaking (1913) to the present day
The Servants of Mary today. The generalate of Fr. Alexis M. Lépicier. Acceptance of missionary territories by the Order. Expansion in the United States of America. The generalates of Fr. Alfonso M. Benetti and Fr. Alfonso M. Monta’. Foundation of the Servite Secular Institute and the Regnum Mariae. Renewal of the Constitutions after Vatican 11. Some outstanding events and personalities of this century. Expansion of the Order in the present day. Distribution of Servite friars (1985).
The Servants of Mary today
The present situation of the Order can be seen more clearly from a comparison with two hundred years ago. While the 1700s saw the biggest numerical increase of the Order, the 1900s have witnessed its widest geographical distribution. In fact, the Order is now present on all five continents and in about thirty different countries.
This internationalization of the Order is reflected in the following comparison. From 1233 to 1913 the Servants of Mary had only one non-Italian prior general, Albuin M. Patscheider. From 1913 to the present day, five of the nine priors general have been non-Italians: from France Alexis M. Lépicier (1913-1920), from England Austin Moore (1926-1932), from the United States Joseph M. Loftus (1965-1971) and Peregrine M. Graffius (1971-1977), and from Canada Michel M. Sincerny, elected in the Barcelona general chapter of 1977 and reelected at the 1983 general chapter in Rome.
Comparing the twentieth century with the nineteenth, it is possible to see how in the last century the Order was in serious crisis because of suppressions by Napoleon and the Italian government, while in the latter part of the twentieth century there has been an enormous drop in candidates or vocations in the western world to the Servite Order and other religious orders. However, just as the closing years of the nineteenth century witnessed a revival, so too there are signs in the present age of a revival, though the areas offering greatest hope are in the southern hemisphere.
This century has also experienced a renewal of the constitutional text of the Order which has no precedent in any other part of its history.
It might also be noted that the Order's development from the second half of the nineteenth century to the present day has assuredly been helped by the number and growth of the women's congregations associated with the Order and, more recently, the emergence of two secular institutes in the Servite family. On the other hand, note should be made of the considerable decline of the Third Order, now called the Secular Order of the Servants of Mary, even if its new Rule and Statutes (1982) suggests a hopeful revival of this important branch of the Servite religious family.
Another noteworthy feature in recent developments has been the establishment of a communications network around the Order. Various information bulletins are successfully counteracting any risk that wide dispersal of Servite communities around the world might lead to isolation or fragmentation. Communication among the members is maintained by the international newsletter Cosmo (produced in Italian, French, English, Spanish, German and Portuguese by the General Secretariat for Communications) and by a variety of bulletins and newsletters published by the various provinces and vicariates. This network is a result of the kind of decentralization and local autonomy that are the products of the present age.
The following account of the Servants of Mary in the twentieth century would have involved a lot of repetition if it had taken each geographical area separately. To follow the chronological order of events, this section will deal with: the generalate of Fr. Alexis M. Lépicier (1913-1920); acceptance of missionary territories by the Order from 1913; expansion (of the Order in the United States of America; the generalates of Fr. Alfonso M. Benetti (1938-1953) and Fr. Alfonso M. Montà (1953-1965); the beginnings of the Servite Secular Institute and the Regnum Mariae; renewal of the Constitutions after the Second Vatican Council; some significant events and personalities of recent years; the Servite family today.
The generalate of Fr. Alexis M. Lépicier
Of the many illustrious Servites from the late nineteenth Century to the middle of the present century, perhaps Fr. Alexis M. Lépicier is the one who represented and influenced the Order's history most typically.
He was born in 1863 at Vaucouleurs in Loriaine. Henri Lépicier joined the Order in 1878, doing his novitiate in London with the religious name of Alexis. He was ordained priest in the English capital in 1885, and then transferred to Rome to complete his doctorates in philosophy and theology at Propaganda Fide. It is interesting to note that he was present at the papal audience of Leo XIII in 1887 which Was attended by the future St. Theresa of Lisieux when, as a young girl, she requested the pope to allow her to enter Carmel. Correspondence between Sr. Agnes of Jesus, one of the saint's sisters, and Cardinal Lépicier between 1918 and 1935 was published recently.
He returned to England in 1890 for two year, and was then summoned to Rome by Leo XIII to take the place of the future Cardinal Satolli as professor of dogmatic theology at Propaganda Fide. Here he was to teach for twenty-one years.
He was given many other responsibilities connected with various congregations of the Holy See. Fr. Lépicier was held in high regard by Pope Pius X as witnessed by a number of private letters from the pope to Alexis Lépicier when he was rector of the College of St. Alexis Falconieri in Rome; these letters are in the historical section of the Order’s general archives.
During this period Fr. Lépicier held various positions of responsibility in the Order. He was founder and first rector of the International College of St. Alexis Falconieri, general consultor (1895), procurator general (1901) and in 1913 he was elected prior general to succeed Fr. Giuseppe M. Lucchesi (1907-1913). Even with all the demands of being prior general and an important official in the Holy See, Fr. Lépicier found time to publish numerous theological works. Outstanding among these was his Tractatus de beatissima Virgine Maria Matre Dei (Treatise on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God) (1901) which achieved five editions in twenty-five years. Fr. Lépicier was a strict Tomist in matters of doctrine and a man of richly varied cultural interests. A file of correspondence with Jacques Maritain points to an enduring friendship between these two great figures of culture.
As soon as he was elected prior general, he endorsed the Order's acceptance of the missionary territory of Swaziland in southern Africa. Towards the end of his generalate he accepted the Brazilian territory of Acre and Purus. In 1915 he created the Venetian Rectorate which was to become a full province of the Order in 1922. In 1916 he arranged for the first publication of Acta Ordinis Servorum Beatae Mariae Virginis which has continued ever since providing a detailed account of all significant happenings in the Order. This annual publication offers all the official documentation regarding the life of the Order and is edited by the General Secretariate OSM.
The First World War involved many friars in military conscription. Fr. Lépicier took a special interest in each one of them, both during the war and afterwards when it was time for survivors to find their way back into the religious communities. He also gave special attention to the matter of studies and issued a number of important letters on the subject.
The general chapter at the end of June 1920 was celebrated at the priory of Monte Berico, Vicenza, where Fr. Luigi M. Tabanelli was elected as successor to Fr. Lépicier. This chapter was held after the usual six-year interval on account of the Great War and its aftermath. It was a difficult and troubled chapter. In an unpublished account written some years later, Alexis Lépicier expressed himself somewhat bitterly, judging that general chapter to have been one of the dark events in the whole history of the Order. His personal notes document in detail the reasons for this judgment.
In 1924, Fr. Lépicier was consecrated titular archbishop of
Tarsus and appointed apostolic visitator for India, where he travelled for the next eighteen months; later, in 1927, he did likewise for Eritrea and Abyssinia. In a consistory on 19 December 1927 he was named cardinal. He was papal legate on a number of occasions. He completed his life on 20 May 1936 in Rome. When Pope Pius XI wrote to the Order for the 700th anniversary of its foundation in 1933, he described Cardinal Lépicier as "the glory of the Order, the sacred college of cardinals and the Church."
Acceptance of missionary territories by the Order
Today the Order has official responsibility for four missionary territories: Swaziland since 1913, Acre in Brazil since 1919, Aysén in Chile since 1937, and Zululand in South Africa, part of which came under the jurisdiction of the Servites in Swaziland in 1938, while additional territory was given to the Order in 1948 when this area was placed under the jurisdiction of the Servites of the American Province.
To the above list should be added foundations in Argentina from 1914 and more solidly since 1921; Transvaal in South Africa since 1935, Uruguay 1939, Bolivia 1946, Mexico 1948, Australia 1951, Venezuela 1952, Colombia 1953 and India 1974, not to forget the very latest foundations in Mozambique, Gabon and the Philippines, 1983-1984.
The Order's present day commitment to the Third World is considerable, without forgetting its service in other areas with special attention to ethnic minorities, as in the United States.
With reference to the missionary activities of the Order, it should be noted that the vicariates of the Order in Swaziland and Zululand are co-extensive with the ecclesiastical structures of the diocese of Manzini and the Prefecture Apostolic of Ingwavuma, Zululand. The co-extension of local church and Servite responsibility does not apply in Aysén, Chile, where communities of the friars are included in the much larger vicariate of Chile-Bolivia, and in Acre Brazil where the communities in the diocese of Rio Branco form part of the Brazilian Province.
For the purpose of renewal and coordination between the various Servants of Mary working in missionary territory, there is a General Secretariate for the Missions, some of whose members are located in the missions themselves. There are also mission secretariates in the provinces and vicariates of the Order. Recent general chapters (1971, 1974, 1977, 1983) have issued important decrees on the missionary commitments of the Servants of Mary.
As will be mentioned later, many of the great personalities of the Servants of Mary in the twentieth century are people from the missions.
An important element in the missionary story of Servitesis the presence of the congregations of Servite sisters alongside their missionary brothers, as well as their independent missionary activities. The Mantellate Sisters of Pistoia are working in Swaziland, as is an African congregation of Servite Sisters. The Servants of Mary for Reparation, the Galeazza Servite Sisters, the Sisters Servants of Mary of Brazil and recently a number of sisters from the Servants of Mary of Ravenna are active in Acre, Brazil. There Ravenna sisters among the destitute shanty-town dwellers of in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Servants of Our Lady of Sorrows of Florence are present in Aysén, Chile, and also in Colombia. The Servants of Our Lady of Sorrows of Naples went to Mexico in 1983, and the Servants of Mary of the Compassion have been in Aysén for a number of years, like the Servants of Mary for Reparation in Argentina.
The friars' community in Mozambique was started by the enclosed Servite nuns in Nampula, whose convent was founded are 1973.
To complete the picture, mention should be made of the Minims of Our Lady of Sorrows in Tanzania since 1974, and the London Servite Sisters in Jamaica since 1952. The Servite Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows of Pisa and the Servants of Mary of the Compassion both have foundations in India. The Galeazza Servite Sisters are in South Korea, and the Servants of Mary for Reparation went to the Ivory Coast in 1983. The Indian Servite Sisters are now in Burma and Australia, and the Servite Secular Institute is present in Zululand.
Expansion of the Order in the United States of America
It was already noted in the previous chapter that the American communities became a province of the Order in 1909. Subsequent developments were summed up in the 1970 Catalogus of the Order in the following terms:
"In 1927 a group of Italian Servites in the Chicago and Denver areas sought affiliation with the Roman Province so that they might serve the Italian apostolate in the United States more effectively. In 1952 this group became an American Province in its own right under the patronage of St. Joseph. Thus in 1952 the two provinces of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Joseph existed within the same territorial boundaries and both maintained their provincial centers in Chicago. Our Lady of Sorrows Province maintained a priory in Ireland and missions in Zululand, South Africa, while St. Joseph Province had charge of the Australian foundation. The latter was transferred to Our Lady of Sorrows Province in 1955.
"Changing conditions of time and apostolate, as well as the demands of distance and the effective use of manpower and finances rendered such territorial coexistence unrealistic and wasteful. The Prior General, Alfonso M. Montà, in a letter addressed to the two provincials on May 8, 1964, stated that the time had come for a territorial division of the two provinces and asked the two provincial councils to work out together the terms of this division. At a meeting on October 6-7, 1964, the two provincial councils agreed that two new provinces based on a geographical division should be formed and suggested that this take place at the time of the provincial chapters of 1967. The dividing line would run between the states of the Dakotas and Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas, and Texas and Louisiana. Ten joint provincial council meetings worked out the details of the division and final approval of the plans was given by the Servite, General Council on July 14, 1966, and by the Congregation of Religious on August 4, 1966. The division took effect on February 6, 1967, date of the first provincial chapters of the new provinces.”
These two new jurisdictions were to be called the Eastern American Province and the Western American Province.
The twentieth century has also seen the formation of other groups of Servite Sisters in the United States in addition to those from London. In 1912 a group of young women who had been received into the Servite Third Order took charge of the parish school in Ladysmith, Wisconsin. The following year two Servite sisters of the Pistoia Congregation came to Ladysmith to help in the formation of the American sister. The sisters from Pistoia remained until 1919, and then in 1921 the Ladysmith Congregation was affiliated to the Servite Order. In the meantime other sisters of the Pistoia Congregation had arrived in the United States and began to work among the Italian immigrants in Chicago. Later a foundation was made in Blue Island, Illinois, near Chicago, where the American Province of the Congregation now maintains its motherhouse.
The first two priors general of the Order from the United States, Fr. Joseph M. Loftus (1965-1971) of the Eastern Province and Fr. Peregrine M. Graffius (1971-1977) of the Western Province, were both directly involved in the renewal of the Order's Constitutions. The text was approved in a special general chapter at Majadahonda, Madrid, in 1968, with a revision towards definitive approval in the elective chapter held at Barcelona in 1977.
The generalates of Fr. Alfonso M. Benetti and Fr. Alfonso M. Montà
These two generalates cover nearly thirty years: Fr. Benetti from 1938 to 1953 and Fr. Monta from 1953 to 1965. From 1932 to 1938 the Order had been governed by Fr. Raffaele M. Baldini. Fr. Benetti was from the Venetian Province and Fr. Montà, who died in 1982, was from the Piedmontese Province. Both these generals were zealous in their pursuit of the question of vocations. Under their leadership and during their terms of office the Order reached its largest number in the present century in the mid-1960s.
While Fr. Alfonso Benetti was prior general the Order was established in Uruguay 1939, Bolivia 1946, Ireland 1947, Mexico 1948, Australia 1951 and Venezuela 1952. It also returned to Spain in 1943. During the period of Fr. Alfonso Montà 's generalate, the Order was begun in Germany 1954 and Colombia 1963. Communities were also opened in Geneva in 1958 and Issy-lesMoulineaux near Paris in 1964. That period also saw the creation in 1950 and definitive approval by the Holy See in 1955 of the Theological Faculty Marianum in Rome. This became a pontifical faculty in 1971.
The beatification in 1952 and subsequent canonization in 1962 of St. Anthony M. Pucci also took place during this period.
Frs. Benetti and Montà gave high priority to the development of Mariological studies. In 1939 the scholarly Mariological review Marianum was inaugurated.
Fr. Alfonso Montà had noticed a number of urgent needs of the age which would only find full response some years later, after the Second Vatican Council. He presented proposals to the 1959 general chapter on extending the period of temporary vows, on the need to set up a centre of spiritual life for periodical renewal of the friars, and on the need to improve community life by limiting those forms of apostolate which tended to disperse the friars. It was that same general chapter of 1959 which founded the Historical Institute of the Order.
In preparation for the 1965 general chapter, Fr. Montà and his general council drew up a series of concrete proposals for the revision of the Constitutions, for an adjusted role for non-clerical brothers in the Order, for a revision of Servite liturgical texts, for the restructuring of the Italian Provinces, for improved links with the various women's congregations of the Order, and for a revival of the Third Order.
Foundation of the Servite Secular Institute and the Regnum Mariae
It was also under the above-mentioned priors general that the Servite Secular Institute was begun. Its origins were somewhat complex. In 1943 in London, Miss Joan Bartlett, with the help of Fr. Gerard M. Corr OSM, began Servite House for homeless elderly people after the bombing of London. It was a lay apostolate with distinctive Servite characteristics, but the group seemed to present something more than the traditional Third Order structure.
The first intention, however, of starting a group within the Servite family that would later have the physiognomy of a secular institute came from Fr. Tarcisio M. Bozzo (d. 1960) of the Piedmontese Province in 1954. He had been considering such a possibility for some time. Nevertheless, with links to the Servite Third Order, the emerging secular institute took on a more definite form in 1955 with the name "Servite Lay Association." At about the same time the group connected with Servite House in London declared itself enthusiastic to be part of a Servite secular institute. The early death of Fr. Bozzo, along with other circumstances, left the Italian group in some difficulties, while the group in England under Miss Joan Bartlett and Fr. Corr was developing rapidly. The overall direction of the new Servite Secular Institute thus moved to England, and it received canonical approval from the archbishop of Westminster, London, in 1964. On 25 March 1979 the Servite Secular Institute received formal approval from Pope John Paul II as an institute of pontifical right.
Meanwhile at Ancona in eastern Italy, a group of young persons belonging to the Third Order of Servants of Mary formed the Regnum Mariae in 1959. Fr. Luigi M. Poli OSM of the Bolognese Province and a group of young women from Ancona were responsible for these beginnings. It was aggregated to the Order in 1976 and received recognition as a secular institute in 1983. The institute's Rule of Life states the following: "The Regnum Mariae is made up of people who are called to live out their consecration to God in the world in a spirit of service. It arose within the Order of Servants of Mary and desires to maintain fraternal communion with the Order. Like the Servants of Mary, the Regnum Mariae has been dedicated from its beginnings to the Mother of the Lord so as to serve God and neighbour more fully. And so the members of Regnum Mariae dedicate themselves to Mary and look to her as their perfect model of evangelical-apostolic life..."
Between them the Servite Secular Institute and the Regnum Mariae number about one hundred and fifty members.
Renewal of the Constitutions after Vatican II
The Second Vatican Council required all religious orders, including the Servants of Mary, to undertake a renewal of their Constitutions. Servite legislation in force up to that time dated back to 1940, and in basic content to the Constitutions of 1907. Indeed the Constitutions that emerged from the post-Vatican II renewal represent the most far-reaching change in the Order's rule of life since 1580 and the period of the post-Tridentine reform.
The general chapter of 1965 held in Florence began the process of constitutional renewal, which went on until the special general chapter of Majadahonda, Madrid, in the autumn of 1968. The resulting text went into force on 6 April 1969 ad experimentum. A number of adjustments were made in the subsequent general chapters at Opatija, Yugoslavia, in 1971, Rome 1974, Barcelona 1977 and finally Rome 1983. Now the Order is awaiting final approval of its new Constitutions by the Holy See.
The priors general leading the Order during this crucial phase were Fr. Joseph M. Loftus (1965-1971), Fr. Peregrine M. Graffius (1971-1977) and from 1977 to the present day Fr. Michel M. Sincerny.
The assimilation of the new constitutional text by members of the Order was not always easy, especially at a time when vocations were dwindling and many structures were entering a period of crisis. This was especially true for the years from 1968 to 1977. Prior General Peregrine Graffius' report on the state of the Order presented to the general chapter of 1974 in Rome casts much light on this period.
The Second Vatican Council in Perfectae Caritatis, no. 2, required that the new Constitutions represent both a return to the spirit of the foundation of the Order and also adaptation to the changed needs of modern times. The first requirement can be seen in the way the revised Servite Constitutions affirm spiritual values rather than being merely a collection of norms; the second is seen in the commitment to live fraternity along the two interwoven lines of collegiality and subsidiarity.
The Order has been aided in fulfilling these two requirements by two permanent groups: the work of liturgical reform has been furthered by the creation of an International Liturgical Commission (CLIOS) and the need for historical studies by the establishment of the Servite Historical Institute in 1959.
Some outstanding events and personalities of this century
It might not be appropriate to dwell on very recent events and personalities, since some time must pass before historical assessments can be made. It is not through neglect, therefore, that some outstanding recent initiatives of the Order are passed over in silence. One could mention, for example, the tremendous vitality of the "Corsia dei Servi" in Milan during and after the Second World War; or the energetic group of Servites who promoted Servitium, a periodical which enjoyed the support of the Italian Provincials' Conference over several years. Likewise, there would be numerous "new forms" of apostolate to mention, such as the backing given to the famous pioneer Rev. Zeno Saltini who founded Nomadelfia, or recent apostolic initiatives among ethnic minorities in the United States or the destitute shack-dwellers of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
It was already stated that the outstanding feature of the Order's life in the early part of this century was its spread all over the world, accompanied by a parallel growth in numbers up to the 1960s. It is not surprising, then, that the outstanding personalities of this period were bound up with new foundations in the Third World, or with consolidation of the Order in Europe and U.S.A., with the acceptance of missionary territories, or the training of new entrants to the Order. It is from those areas of concern that the following list of personalities has been drawn up.
As a way of linking many features of the Order's development in the twentieth century, it seems appropriate to make special reference to Fr. Gabriele M. Roschini, founder of the review Marianum, champion and first president of the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum. He was born at Castel Sant'Elia, Viterbo, in 1900 and died in Rome in 1977.
He served in a variety of posts of responsibility in the Order and in several congregations of the Holy See. But this short biography singles out for attention his contribution to Marian studies. Fr. Giuseppe M. Besutti makes the following comment: "... the most outstanding feature for which Fr. Roschini is recognized as a true master of international fame is undoubtedly his activity in the sphere of Mariology. It was here that he exercised a vast, lasting and undeniable influence. In 1933 he wrote The Divine Masterpiece. This summary of Mariology, which was published in five editions, was followed in 1941-1943 by Mariologia in three volumes. This latter was revised and published in 1947-1948 in four volumes and underwent various adaptations and translations up to its last edition just after the Second Vatican Council.
"Fr. Roschini was not the first to conduct a systematic study of the life, mission, privileges and cult of the Blessed Virgin. Nevertheless, I think it must be said that he was the first to gather all these themes into a systematic work in which theoretical and doctrinal considerations are interwoven with historical ones. ... The various tracts by Fr. Roschini, just like his many other specialized writings, provide an inexhaustible treasure for students, offering ample bibliography and suggestions for further study.
“…It will be for a future generation to assess the greatness of his contribution to Marian studies. Even now, however, it is possible to outline the themes where he made an original contribution to Marian studies, themes that were to occur again and again in his writings. These are: the question of the basic principle of Mariology; the problem of Marian interpretation of the Proto-evangelium (Genesis 3:15); the primary reason for the existence of Christ and therefore of his mother; the history of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; the mediation of Mary; Mary's cooperation in salvation; the assumption and the question of the death or non-death of Mary; the queenship of Mary; doctrine on Marian devotion and cult; history of certain particular aspects of Marian devotion."
Fr. Gabriele Roschini was devoted to the history of the Servite Order. Over many years he patiently built up a vast collection of lives of different Servites. "A Servite gallery," he enjoyed calling it, with "over a thousand religious of the Order of Servants of Mary who were noted for holiness, learning, letters or art." His latter years were burdened by ill-health which prevented him from doing a thorough revision of the material in the collection. Nevertheless, its publication represents a remarkable contribution to knowledge of the part various Servites played in Marian studies across the centuries.
As already noted above, the Servite Order's acceptance of mission territories this century is bound up with a number of pioneers who displayed those unmistakable characteristics which have come to be identified with Servites and their traditions. Such men include Alessio M. Rattalino, Pellegrino M. Bellezze, Prospero M. Bernardi, Romualdo M. Migliorini, Costantino M. Barneschi, Gioacchino M. Rossetto and James M. Keane.
Fr. Alessio M. Rattalino was born in Bra in northern Italy. He was a diocesan priest until he Was thirty-three and then joined the Order in 1898. After living in a number of priories in the Piedmontese, and Roman provinces of the Order, he was sent to Argentina just before the First World War to start a community there. He first ministered in several places that had no priest, settling eventually in the parish of San Antonio de Obligado in Santa Fe, Argentina. In 1924 he moved to Brazil reaching Brasileia in Acre, where he remained until his death by malaria in June 1940.
He was a restless, itinerant missionary, who succeeded in living the spirit of the Servite Order in a powerful way, even when in complete isolation for many years. He is still remembered in Acre for his indomitable faith and his great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The early history of the mission in Swaziland was dogged by many problems and difficulties, and bound to this history is the name of Fr. Pellegrino M Bellezze. He was born at Montefiore in Recanati, Macerata, in Italy in 1884, and followed his brother Agostino into the Servite Order. He was ordained priest in 1907 and seven years later departed for the mission in Swaziland which had been recently entrusted to the Order. When this mission was given the status of prefecture apostolic in 1923 Fr. Bellezze was made the first prefect apostolic, which he remained for ten years. He then moved to Brazil where he lived for the next twenty-eight years until his death at Sao Jose dos Campos in 1961.
This lively character was ahead of his time in trying to achieve Africanization in the preaching of the gospel in Swaziland. He met with resistance even among his religious brothers, but remained firm in his efforts to know and understand the Swazi people, to such an extent that King Sobhuza II considered him a great friend and trusty advisor. By 1929 Fr. Bellezze had started sixty-two schools in the Swaziland mission. His reports to Rome still make lively reading, full of insight, missionary commitment and strong Marian devotion.
Fr. Prospero Gustavo M. Bernardi was the first prelate and bishop of the missionary territory of Acre, northwest Brazil, which had been assigned to the Order in 1919. He was already over fifty when he crossed the Atlantic to go to Acre. A native of Bologna, where he was born in 1870, he had already been general consultor and secretary of the Order prior to going to the missions. As already noted in a previous chapter, he also spent some years in Canada (1914-1917) as vicar provincial. Bishop Bernardi remained in Brazil until 1939, when incurable illness took him back to Italy for the last years of his life. He died at Monte Berico in 1944.
He was an uncomplicated and humble person, very hardworking and unassuming. Throughout his life he enjoyed recalling that he made his profession of vows in the hands of St. Anthony Pucci. He placed the mission in Acre upon firm and lasting foundations. Even though he was bishop he laboured and worked tirelessly just like the humblest of missionaries, and it is significant that the warmest memories of Bishop Bernardi have been among the non-clerical brothers of the Acre mission.
The successor to Fr. Pellegrino Bellezze as prefect apostolic in Swaziland was Fr. Romualdo M. Migliorini. He took up this office in 1933 after two years in Africa, but insisted that he would not accept nomination as bishop. Fr. Migliorini was born at Volegno, Lucca, in Italy in 1884 and spent several years in Canada after priestly ordination. His stay in Swaziland was to be quite brief. Bad health forced him to return to Italy in 1939 and he spent the rest of his life at the International College of St. Alexis Falconieri in Rome, where he offered valuable spiritual direction to Servite students. During this time he became a champion of the authenticity of the visionary writings of Maria Valtorta (d. 1961). These writings were later collected by Fr. Corrado M. Berti (d. 1980) and published in a multivolume series under the title Il poema dell'Uomo-Dio (The poem of the God-Man).
Fr. Migliorini died at Carsoli, Abbruzzo, in Italy, on 10 July 1953, where he was accompanying the young professed students of the Order during their summer holidays. He left his mark in Africa especially in the foundation of the congregation of African Servite Sisters. Truth to tell, Fr. Migliorini prefered to give his attention to the spiritual life. Even though he gave many years to hard work in the apostolate, his first concern was always the apostolate's underpinning of prayer and contemplation.
Bishop Costantino M. Barneschi OSM traced his missionary vocation back to a promise he made as a Servite student during the First World War. He was in the army and was about to have his right arm amputated. He promised to go on the missions if his arm were spared. And so it came to pass. In 1923 when he was thirty-one - he was born at Foiano della Chiana, Arezzo in Italy in 1892 - Fr. Barneschi left for Swaziland. He was in charge of St. joseph's Mission for over seventeen years. When the prefecture became a vicariate apostolic in 1939 he was appointed its first bishop with the title of Bishop of Tagaste. The vicariate became a diocese twenty years later and Bishop Barneschi the first bishop of Manzini. He died on 21 May 1965 and was laid to rest in front of the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows in the cathedral church which he had built.
This was a man of great energy, at the same time genial and good-natured. He laid the foundations of what is now a flourishing diocese in Swaziland. He started the seminary, made provisions for the training of catechists, and organized the mission schools into an efficient system. His people loved him and he was held in great regard by the King of Swaziland, who showed his esteem by allowing the Queen Mother to be baptized in the bishop's church and later to have her funeral there under the ministry of Bishop Barneschi. Those who appreciate Swazi customs will realize from such episodes how great was the respect for the bishop's human and religious qualities.
As well as recalling great missionaries of the present century, this chapter also highlights some other outstanding Servites. Fr. Gioacchino M. Rossetto could perhaps be called a missionary in his own native land. He was born at Schio, Vicenza, in Italy in 1880 and died at Tirano in 1935. He was part of the first group that went to Swaziland but was obliged to return to Italy almost immediately. This grieved him considerably and he spent the remainder of his life working for the missions and encouraging people to help them. When the priories of the Venetian region became a separate entity in 1922, Fr. Rossetto was appointed prior at Monte Berico. Next door to the ancient priory in 1926 he built the Missionary Institute of Our Lady as a place for preparing young missionaries. He also founded and edited the magazine Le Missioni della Madonna and the periodical Pater. Likewise he was responsible for starting the Istituto San Raffaele as a house of hospitality for pilgrims to the shrine of Monte Berico. He met many difficulties and misunderstandings in his projects, but faced these with calm resignation. Some people consider him the "father" of the modern Venetian Province which is now the largest province in the Order.
Fr. James M. Keane goes down in Servite history as a person of the most energetic Marian commitment. He was born in Chicago in 1901 and died at Ladysmith in 1975.
In 1937 Fr. Keane started the famous "Perpetual Novena in honor of Our Sorrowful Mother" and its associated weekly bulletin Novena Notes whose circulation rose to almost a million copies every week. The "Novena" consisted in the recitation of the Via Matris every Friday as a "perpetual novena." It met with remarkable success and by 1947 had spread to over 1,800 churches and convents in 45 of the American states and 24 other countries. Fr. Keane also organized and directed radio and television programmes dedicated to the knowledge of Mary. In 1947 he was elected general consultor of the Order. That same year he founded the first community of the Servants of Mary in Ireland at Benburb, County Tyrone, and a few years later began the Order in Australia.
The prayerbook Novena in Honor of Our Sorrowful Mother eventually reached over six million copies in seventeen editions and twenty-two different languages. Fr. Keane also acquired some land near the shrine of Fatima in Portugal in the hope of establishing a Servite community there. A serious road accident in 1961 left him badly injured and prematurely cut short his untiring activities.
There would be many more people to write about in this chapter to provide a full treatment of outstanding Servites of the twentieth century.
Two friars from the Tuscan Province are remembered for noteworthy contributions to the study of the Order's history, namely Fr. Alessio M. Rossi (1888-1968) and Fr. Raffaello M. Taucci (1882-1971). Fr. Rossi produced, among other things, a useful and wide-ranging Manuale di Storia dell'Ordine (Manual of History of the Order), published by the general curia of the Order in 1956. Fr. Taucci was primarily responsible for starting the scholarly journal of Servite history Studi Storici dell'Ordine dei Servi di Maria (Historical Studies of the Order of Servants of Mary) which first came out in 1933.
Human, religious and cultural training of young Servite students after the Second World War was intimately bound up with the names of Fr. Montà Vincenzo M. Buffon (d. 1975), Fr. Corrado M. Berti (d. 1980) and Fr. Giovanni M. Vannucci (d. 1984).
It is probably most fitting to complete this review of outstanding Servites of recent times by calling to mind two very saintly members of the Order in this century. Both died very young, one a clerical student Venanzio M. Quadri, the other a non-clerical brother Gioacchino M. Stevan. Each has had his cause for beatification opened.
Brother Venanzio M. Quadri was born at Vado di Monzuno, near Bologna in 1916 and died in Rome on 2 November 1937. His mortal remains are in the Basilica of S. Maria dei Servi in Bologna. What was considered so exceptional in Venanzio Quadri's life was the way he fulfilled ordinary things in an extraordinary way. His companions all noticed how his sense of responsibility for his vocation was very great. He showed singular devotion to fulfilling the daily requirements of religious life, as well as being untiringly available to others. His Marian commitment was solid and deep, and his death most edifying.
Brother Gioacchino M. Stevan displayed similar depth and maturity of spirit in one so young. He was born at Nove, Vicenza, in Italy in 1921 and died at Vicenza on 28 April 1949. His mortal remains are honoured in the tiny cloister adjoining the Basilica of Monte Berico. He was twenty-six when he joined the Servites as a lay-brother. He died only two years later of acute meningitis. Prior to entering the Order he had been very active in Catholic associations. Then as a friar Servant of Mary he drew great inspiration from the ideals of sincere devotion and generous service. His "spiritual journal" shows a great wealth of spiritual life.
Only these two young men are mentioned here, but it would be possible to list quite a number of Servites who died after only a short life, yet left behind them a witness of total commitment to their calling. This too may be a "sign of the times" to be interpreted in silence rather than in writing.
Expansion of the Order in the present day
The latest Catalogus of the Order of Servants of Mary issued in 1986 gives statistics up to 31 December 1985. There were 1,139 friars in 207 priories spread around 13 provinces and 11 vicariates. There were 166 enclosed nuns in 14 convents. There were 4,652 Sisters Servants of Mary in 21 different congregations, of which two were on the way towards extinction (Hungary and Albania). The sisters had 611 convents. There were 146 members in the two secular institutes of the Order and about 10,000 members of the Servite Secular Order (formerly called Third Order) in about 140 groups.
The Order's presence reaches all five continents and about thirty different countries. Italy is the country with the largest number of friars, where there are six provinces of the Order.
A word about the most recent foundations of the Order: in 1974 the Venetian Province opened a community in Mamallapuram, a poor village on the Bay of Bengal about sixty kilometres south of Madras, India. This was the first Indian foundation of the friars. By 1984 another community had been started at Trichy (or Tiruchirapalli) with a promising number of young candidates.
In the 1973 the Servite enclosed nuns started a convent in
Mozambique around which grew a community of young candidates for the friars, now under the responsibility of the Spanish Province. In the southern African state of Lesotho a student formation house has been opened by the Swaziland :Vicariate for new members from Swaziland, Zululand and Transvaal. The Canadian Province has begun a small community of friars in the African state of Gabon with good prospects for development. And the Bolognese Province has opened a community in the Philippines. All this latest information was communicated at the elective general chapter celebrated in Rome from 15 October to 16 November 1983. It offers good hope for the future.
And since the healthy growth of the Order throughout its history has always been linked to a strengthening of its Marian characteristics, there is doubtlessly a promising sign in the recent publication of the Order's "Marian Document," issued by the general chapter of 1983 and entitled Do Whatever He Tells You. It was addressed to all members of the Servite family, to bishops wherever Servite communities are present, to other Marian religious orders and to all religious and laypersons who know and share the calling of the Servants of Mary.
Distribution of Servite friars (1985)
Europe: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary,
Ireland, Italy, San Marino, Spain.
America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico,
United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela.
Asia: India, Philippines.
Africa: Gabon, Lesotho, Mozambique, Republic of South Africa, Swaziland.
Romagna (Bologna) 15
Southern Italy (Naples) 10
Tyrol (Austria) 7
United States, Eastern Province 16
United States, Western Province 11
General houses (in Rome) 3
- The Canadian Province includes a foundation in Gabon, the Province of Romagna (Bologna) a foundation in the Philippines, the Spanish Province a foundation in Mozambique, the Tuscan Province a house in Montreal, Canada, and the Venetian Province a foundation in India.
- Three communities in Rome are under the direct jurisdiction of the prior general.
- Friars of the Hungarian Province are not allowed to
live in communities.
Argentina-Uruguay (Veneto) 8
Australia (USA, Western Province) 5
Belgium-France (Canada) 5
Chile-Bolivia (Veneto) 9
Ireland (USA, Eastern Province) 3
Mexico (Veneto) 9
Swaziland (Tuscany) 10
Transvaal (Veneto) 3
Venezuela-Colombia (Rome) 3
Dates to Remember
1913 Start of missions in Africa (Swaziland).
Fr. Alexis M. Lépicier elected prior general.
1914 First Servant of Mary in Argentina
English Province canonically established.
1919-1920 Start of the missions in Acre and Purus, Brazil.
1922 Venetian Province canonically reestablished.
1927 Alexis Lépicier made cardinal. The following year he became prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious.
1928 Opening of the new premises of the International College of St. Alexis in Rome.
Death of Cecilia Eusepi, Servite tertiary.
1933 Solemn festivities for the Order's Seventh Centenary.
First issue of the periodical Studi Storici OSM.
1935 Start of the Transvaal foundation, South Africa.
1936 Sister M Guadalupe Ricart Olmos from the enclosed convent in Valencia is killed during the Spanish Civil War.
1937 Start of the Chile foundation, Aysen mission.
1938-1953 Generalate of Fr. Alfonso M. Benetti. Foundations in Uruguay (1939), Bolivia (1946), Ireland (1947), Mexico (1948), Australia (1951) and Venezuela (1952).
1943 Servants of Mary return to Spain.
Servite House started in London, from which the Servite Secular Institute (1964) would be born.
1946 Canonical establishment of Southern Italian (Neapolitan) Province in the area of the former Neapolitan Province of the Order.
1948 Canadian Province canonically established. Servites; from United States start Zululand mission.
1950 The Hungarian communities are suppressed by government decree.
The Marianum Faculty started.
1952 Beatification of Anthony M. Pucci.
St. Joseph’s Province, U.S.A., canonically established.
1953-1965 Generalate of Fr. Alfonso M. Montà.
1954 Servants of Mary return to Germany.
1959 Historical Institute OSM established.
The Regnum Mariae started in Ancona.
1961 Brazilian Province canonically established.
1962 Canonization of St. Anthony M. Pucci.
1963 First foundation in Colombia.
1966 Servite International Liturgical Commission (CLIOS) established.
1968 Special general chapter at Majadahonda, Madrid, for the revision of the Constitutions. A decree of this chapter changed the status of all missions and commissariates into vicariates.
1971 General chapter of Opatija, Yugoslavia.
Spanish Province canonically established.
1973 Enclosed convent started in Mozambique by nuns from Spain.
1974 General chapter of renewal held in Rome.
Venetian Province starts new foundation in India.
1977 General chapter of Barcelona.
1979 Servite Secular Institute receives pontifical status.
1983 Regnum Mariae becomes a secular institute.
Elective chapter in Rome; Fr. Michel M. Sincerny reelected prior general.