views updated Jun 11 2018


FRANCISCANS is the common designation for a number of religious communities professing to live according to the ideals of Francis of Assisi (1181/11821226). In 1206 Francis withdrew to the margins of society to adopt the life of a penitent hermit. His vocation received a decisive focus in 1208, when others joined him and he was inspired to "live according to the pattern of the Holy Gospel," as he called it, "following the footsteps and teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Testament, 14; Earlier Rule, 1.1 [Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, I: 63-64, 125]). Within Francis's lifetime his followers organized into three distinct but related orders: his own Lesser Brothers; communities of contemplative women under the leadership of Clare of Assisi (d. 1253), known now as Poor Clare nuns; and the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, laypersons who wished to remain in the midst of society, later commonly known as the Third Order. Although they differed in their manner of expression, all were based on Francis's vision of a gospel way of life. The concrete implications of this vision have often led to bitter internal dissension over the course of Franciscan history.

The Order of Lesser Brothers (the literal meaning of Ordo Fratrum Minorum, commonly translated as Friars Minor) began as a largely lay movement of hermits and itinerant preachers. They lived on a mere subsistence level, without any permanent residences, supporting themselves by whatever trade they knew or by begging. Despite the radical nature of this way of life, Francis and his companions received initial papal approbation in 1209/1210. However, the new order underwent a rapid transformation over the ensuing decades. First of all, its phenomenal growthby 1221 there were about three thousand brothersdemanded greater internal discipline and organization. At the same time the papacy recognized in the movement a potent instrument of church reform and increasingly intervened to oversee and channel its growth. Cardinal Hugolino di Segni, later Pope Gregory IX, played an important role in these developments. Historians have long debated Francis's own attitude toward this process, already evident in the definitive 1223 version of his rule. In any event by midcentury the friars were primarily engaged in the official pastoral ministry of the church, especially preaching and hearing confessions. The friars increasingly abandoned their hermitages to settle down in urban residences attached to a church, where they adopted more traditional patterns of religious life and pursued theological studies. In light of the new demands placed upon them, the brothers' rigorous observance of poverty was relaxed by several papal interventions. The houses of the order at such academic centers as Paris and Oxford soon produced some of the greatest masters of Scholastic theology, such as Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham.

Within the order, however, there was a significant resistance to these new directions. Toward the end of the thirteenth century, various minority factions, known collectively as Spirituals, demanded a literal observance of the rule and refused to submit to the modifications accepted by the majority of friars. The increasingly bitter internal conflict eventually led to the outright persecution of the Spirituals, culminating in a decision by John XXII in 1323 to brand as heretical the opinion that Christ and his apostles had led a life of absolute poverty. The Friars Minor thus gradually conformed to the practice of common ownership of property that was standard among other religious orders.

During the latter part of the fourteenth century, however, a reaction set in, with small groups of friars receiving permission to retire to remote houses to observe a more primitive form of Franciscan life. This movement, known as the Observant reform, gained momentum in the next century under such leaders as Bernardino of Siena, ultimately achieving virtual autonomy within the order. Nevertheless, relations between those friars who accepted this reform and those who did not, known as Conventuals (from the conventi, or large houses, they favored), grew increasingly acrimonious, leading Leo X in 1517 to divide the order into two independent congregations.

Over the course of the sixteenth century, the contemporary zeal for church reform continued to spawn new movements within the order, motivated by the desire for even stricter forms of Franciscan life. The largest of these, the Capuchins, so called because of the distinctive hood (cappuccino ) of their habit, played a prominent role during the Counter-Reformation as popular preachers; they achieved the status of an independent congregation in 1619. Other groups of stricter observanceDiscalced, Recollect, and Reformed friarsattained a large measure of autonomy while remaining under the leadership of the Observant general. Despite this fragmentation, the Friars Minor prospered between 1500 and 1750, a period that also witnessed a vast missionary effort by Franciscans, who accompanied Spanish, Portuguese, and French colonial expansion. By 1760 the Friars Minor had reached their peak membership, totaling 135,000 in their three branches.

Franciscans, especially the Conventuals, suffered greatly during the years 17601880, when secularizing government policies in Europe and Latin America restricted traditional religious orders. However, in the latter part of the nineteenth century a revival took place, accompanied by critical research into early Franciscan sources. Also, under papal initiative, the various groups within the Observant branch were reunited in 1897 under the simple name of the Order of Friars Minor. After 1965, Franciscans experienced a period of profound renewal and transition in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized a return to the founding vision of Francis. In 2002 there were 16,300 Friars Minor, 10,800 Capuchins, and 4,500 Conventuals. There is also a small community of friars, the Society of Saint Francis, in the Anglican Church.

The Poor Clares, sometimes referred to as the Second Order, date from 1212, when Clare, of a noble Assisi family, renounced her social status and received the habit from Francis. Under his direction, Clare and her companions followed a simple form of life, but Cardinal Hugolino intervened in 1219, prescribing regulations that emphasized monastic observances, such as a strict cloister. Clare managed to gain approval for her own rule embodying her vision of poverty in 1253. Because each monastery of Poor Clares is largely autonomous, practices have varied greatly. A reform, analogous to the Observance among the friars, was begun by Colette of Corbie in the fourteenth century. In 2002 there were more than eight hundred monasteries of Poor Clares with fourteen thousand nuns.

Francis can be called the founder of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance, or Third Order, only in an analogous sense. His preaching of gospel conversion moved many of his hearers to reform their lives, and so he sought to prescribe for these individuals a way of life appropriate to their respective social conditions. Some became hermits, whereas others continued to live in their own homes but formed confraternities for mutual support. Rules for these local groups were developed in 1221; the fraternities developed closer relations with the friars over the course of the century. This Order of Penance was characterized by a simple way of life, engaging in works of charity, and the refusal to bear arms. The tertiaries were a potent religious and social force in late medieval society. In the latter part of the thirteenth century, some of these Franciscan penitents began living together in communities, eventually binding themselves under religious vows. The rule of this Third Order Regular received definitive form in 1521. During the nineteenth century there was a veritable explosion of congregations of women following this rule devoted to teaching, nursing, and other charitable activities. In 2002 there were over 450 distinct congregations of Franciscan sisters, with approximately 100,000 members and about 1,500 male members of the Third Order Regular. Meanwhile, the secular Franciscan fraternities continued to expand, but their countercultural way of life increasingly conformed outwardly to general societal norms; they numbered over one million in 2002. After Vatican II both branches of the Third Order revised their rule of life, attempting to return more closely to their original inspiration.

See Also

Francis of Assisi.


A general survey of the entire Franciscan movement is Lázaro Iriarte de Aspurz, Franciscan History: The Three Orders of St. Francis of Assisi (Chicago, 1982). For the medieval period, John R. H. Moorman, A History of the Franciscan Order: From Its Origins to the Year 1517 (Oxford, 1968) is valuable. However, research during the late twentieth century significantly nuanced the understanding of early Franciscan history. The biographical sources on Francis, valuable for the understanding of the early movement, have been gathered in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, ed. Regis J. Armstrong, J. A. Wayne Hellmann, and William J. Short, three volumes (New York, 19992001. A good summary is Maria Pia Alberzoni et al., Francesco d'Assisi e il primo secolo di storia francescana (Turin, Italy, 1997). David Burr, The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century after Saint Francis (University Park, Pa., 2001), provides an excellent survey of that movement. Maurice Carmody, The Leonine Union of the Order of Friars Minor, 1897 (St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1994), presents the nineteenth-century revival. The best introduction to the Third Order Regular women's congregations is Raffaele Pazzelli, The Franciscan Sisters: Outlines of History and Spirituality (Steubenville, Ohio, 1993).

Dominic V. Monti (1987 and 2005)


views updated May 18 2018


FRANCISCANS , Roman Catholic Order. The presence in the Middle East of the Franciscan Friars, the Order founded by Francis of Assisi (Italy), officially approved by the Pope in 1221, started in the same year. The province of Terrae Sanctae (the Holy Land), or Siriae or the Promised Land, was founded in the year 1217. The first provincial or superior was Brother Elia from Assisi. In the year 1219 the founder himself visited the region in order to preach the Gospel to the Muslims, seen as brothers and not enemies. The mission resulted in a meeting with the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil, who was surprised by his unusual behavior. The Franciscan Province of the East extended to Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, and the Holy Land. Before the taking over of Acre (on May 18, 1291), Franciscan friaries were present at Acre, Sidon, Antioch, Tripoli, Jaffa, and Jerusalem.

From Cyprus, where they took refuge at the end of the Latin Kingdom, the Franciscans started planning a return to Jerusalem, given the good political relations between the Christian governments and the Mamluk sultans of Egypt. Around the year 1333 the French friar Roger Guerin succeeded in buying the Cenacle on Mount Zion and some land to build a monastery nearby for the friars, using funds provided by the king and queen of Naples. With two papal bullae, Gratias Agimus and Nuper Carissimae, dated in Avignon, November 21, 1342, Pope Clement vi approved and created the new entity which would be known as the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (Custodia Terrae Sanctae).

The friars, coming from any of the Order's provinces, under the jurisdiction of the father guardian (superior) of the monastery on Mount Zion, were present in Jerusalem, in the Cenacle, in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, and in the Basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem. Their principal activity was to ensure liturgical life in these Christian sanctuaries and to give spiritual assistance to the pilgrims coming from the West, to European merchants resident or passing through the main cities of Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon, and to have a direct and authorized relation with the Christian Oriental communities.

The monastery on Mount Zion was used by Brother Alberto da Sarteano for his papal mission for the union of the Oriental Christians (Greeks, Copts, and Ethiopians) with Rome during the Council of Florence (1440). For the same reason the party guided by Brother Giovanni di Calabria halted in Jerusalem on his way to meet the Christian Negus of Ethiopia (1482).

In 1551 the Friars were expelled by the Turkish Muslim Authority from the Cenacle and from their adjoining monastery. However, they were granted permission to purchase a Georgian monastery of nuns in the northwest quarter of the city, which became the new center of the Custody in Jerusalem and developed into the Latin Convent of Saint Savior (known as Dayr al-Latin).

In 1620 the Franciscans received in Galilee, from Fakhr ed-Din, the Druze amir of Sidon, Mount Tabor and the venerated Grotto of the Annunciation in Nazareth. In the following year they could partly rebuild the church of St. John the Baptist at *Ein Kerem on the mountain of Judea, where they opened a new friary.

New churches and monasteries were built in various, already venerated sites in the 19th century above the ruins of an older church: the Chapel of the Flagellation along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem in 1838; a chapel at Emmaus-Qubeibah in 1872; the church at Cana (Kefer Kanna) in 1880, and a chapel in the village of Naim; a chapel at Bethfage in 1883, and a chapel at the "Dominus Flevit" in 1891, both on the Mount of Olives.

New basilicas were built at Emmaus-Qubeibah in 1901 and at Nazareth – the so-called Church of Nutrition – in 1914; the Basilica of the Agony at Gethsemane in 1919–24; the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in 1921–24, followed by the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Jericho in 1924; the chapel on the west bank of the Jordan River in 1934; the Chapel of Primacy at Tabgha on the shore of the Sea of Galilee; the Church of the Visitation at Ein Keren in 1938–40; a new church at Bethany in 1952–54; a chapel in the Shepherds Field outside the village of Beit Sahur-Bethlehem; and a new chapel at "Dominus Flevit" in 1955. The new great Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth started in 1955 was consecrated in 1969. The Memorial of Saint Peter at Capernaum was completed in 1990. In Transjordan, the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo is managed by the Franciscans.

Historically, the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land resulted in a continuity with the keeping and recording of local Christian traditions. Over the centuries, in fact, the Franciscans published several important books in different languages supplying, revising, and updating a wealth of information useful for the guidance of pilgrims, as a result of first-hand experiences.

During the long period which officially started in the year 1342, they functioned as custodians of the Christian shrines on behalf of the Catholic Church, guides of the Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, and consequently as authors of many publications about Palestinian subjects written with the intention of improving the knowledge of the Holy Land among the Christians of Europe.

Works such as Il Libro d'Oltramare ("A Voyage beyond the Seas") by Fra Niccolò da Poggibonsi, published in 1346; Trattato di Terra Santa ("Treatise on the Holy Land") by Fr. Francesco Suriano, written in 1485; Piante dei Sacri Edifici ("Plans of the Sacred Edifices of the Holy Land) by Fr. Bernardino Amico, which came out in 1609; and the work in two volumes of Fr. Francesco Quaresmi, Elucidatio Terrae Sanctae ("The Illustration of the Holy Land"), which appeared in 1626, bear witness to this activity.

The restoration and the rebuilding of the sanctuaries owned by the Custody of the Holy Land during the last century resulted in the archaeological exploration of the sites and their occupational history. The scientific work was entrusted to the archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum (sbf), an institute founded in Jerusalem in 1923.

As a scientific institution, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum is closely related to the history of the Franciscan presence in the Holy Land. It was officially founded as a continuation of the work done by the Franciscan Fathers during the previous centuries. The Studium Biblicum Franciscanum is today a Roman Catholic faculty of biblical and archaeological studies in the Holy Land sponsored by the Franciscan Custody of Terrasanta. It is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, in the Flagellation monastery at the Second Station of the Via Dolorosa.

As a research center, the sbf specializes in the rediscovery and exploration of New Testament sites, as well as in the study of the local early Christian Church in the Holy Land, by means of both literary sources and excavations.

Reports on excavations are published annually in the review Liber Annuus and in the series Collectio Maior and Collectio Minor. Exegetical studies on the Bible are published in the series Analecta. The archaeological collections of the sbf are illustrated in the series Museum.

As a learning center, the sbf is presently authorized to confer pontifical academic degrees of Baccalaureate, Licentiate, and Doctorate in Biblical Sciences and Archaeology.

Added to the sbf is an archaeological museum opened in 1902 in the monastery of Saint Saviour. This original nucleus of the museum was transferred to the Monastery of the Flagellation in 1931. Findings from the sbf excavations, along with liturgical Latin codices of the 14th–15th centuries, a treasure trove of liturgical medieval objects from the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the 18th century pots of the pharmacy of the Franciscan monastery of Saint Saviour are displayed in the museum. The collection includes a numismatic section specializing in the city-coins of Palestine, Decapolis, and Provincia Arabia.

As a center of archaeological research, therefore, the Studium Biblicum specializes in the study of the Christian presence in the Holy Land in the sanctuaries of the Late Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader periods. Historically important for the geography of the Gospel are the discoveries of the localities of Nazareth, Capharnaum, Magdala, and Bethany.

The excavations in Nazareth, started by Fr. Prosper Viaud at the beginning of the 20th century, were resumed by Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti in 1954. Along with the discovery of the ancient village, he found the first signs of the Christian presence as evidenced by the Christian graffiti scratched on plaster found under the Crusader and Byzantine Basilica of the Annunciation.

At Capharnaum, the excavations started by Fr. Gaudenzio Orfali in the synagogue in 1921 were taken up again in 1968 and have been continued into the 21st century by Frs. Virgilio Corbo and Stanislao Loffreda. They have discovered among the ruins of the houses of the ancient village the insula sacra (the sacred insula) with the domus-ecclesia (house-church) of St. Peter under the Byzantine octagonal basilica. At the same time, they have unearthed under the Jewish synagogue, structures dating to the Late Roman period.

For the first century, which is the setting of the New Testament, one may mention the excavations of the Herodion palace near Bethlehem. This work was carried out by Fr. V. Corbo during the years 1962–67. The same archaeologist directed the excavations of the Herodian fortress of Machaerous in Jordan, in which, according to Josephus Flavius, *John the Baptist was jailed and murdered.

One of the main excavation and restoration projects undertaken by the Institute is the one at Mount Nebo in Jordan. The project started in 1933 under the direction of Fr. Sylvester Saller. The work was focused mainly on the Memorial Church of Moses, Prophet and Man of God. This memorial was built by the Christians of the region in the fourth century on the western peak of Siyagha. Around it a monastery developed in the Byzantine period.

Excavations were expanded to the nearby ruins of Khirbet el-Mukhayyat on the southern peak of Mount Nebo, where the Iron Age fortress and the Roman-Byzantine village identified with Nebo are located. Since 1984, the Studium has been excavating two Byzantine churches in the 'Uyoun Mousa valley, north of the mountain. At the same time, the Studium is cooperating with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities in excavating several monuments of the city of Madaba, such as the Church of the Virgin, the Hippolythus Hall, the Cathedral, and the Burnt Palace.

In the summer of 1986 work started at Umm er-Rasas, important ruins located in the steppe 20 miles (30 km.) southeast of Madaba, with the rediscovery of the ancient name of the ruins, Kastron Mefaa, in the inscriptions in the rich mosaic floor of the Church of St. Stephen built in the Umayyad period, with the biblical implications of this discovery. Moreover, a city plan of Kastron Mefaa was found along with these inscriptions. In the summer of 1989 a second plan of the city of Kastron Mefaa depicted in the mosaic floor of the church of the Lions was unearthed.

At Umm er-Rasas, as at Mount Nebo, Madaba, and other sites of the Holy Land, archaeological and historical research in the Roman-Byzantine and Arab periods (the main field of the scientific interest of the Studium) has proven to have deep historical implications with regard to the biblical world of both the Old and the New Testament, based on the continuity of life in the same land by the same populations, Jews, Christians, and Muslims.


G. Golubovich, Biblioteca Bio-Bibliografica della Terra Santa e dell'Oriente Francescano, vol. 1–14 (1906–33); A.V.V., The Custody of the Holy Land (1979); M. Piccirillo (ed.), La Custodia di Terra Santa e l'Europa (1983); B. Bagatti (ed.), Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Nel 50° della fondazione (1923–1973) (1973); B. Bagatti, Il Museo della Flagellazione in Gerusalemme (1939); M. Piccirillo, Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum (1983). The principal scientific publication produced by the Franciscan Printing Press, Liber Annuus, was founded in 1950. In regard to books, the Collectio Maior has now reached 34 titles; the Collectio Minor 34 titles; see also the series Analecta with 29 titles and Museum with 8 titles.

[Michele Piccirillo (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 17 2018


Franciscans, men and women affiliated with a far-reaching tradition within the Roman Catholic Church, who embrace a life that may involve a state of consecration, or the taking of vows, and that follows one of several interpretations of the thirteenth-century rule set down by Saint Francis of Assisi. The largest single branch of the Franciscans, the Order of Friars Minor (OFM), shares company with other members of the Franciscan family, such as the Capuchin Friars, the Conventual friars, numerous branches of religious sisters, the Third Order of Saint Francis, and an assortment of lay associations. The term "Franciscan," especially in the history of Latin America, is most popularly employed in reference to the Friars Minor, the primary focus of the present article.

Saint Francis received approval of a rule in 1209 from Pope Innocent III, officially founding the Friars Minor as an order of mendicants; its members voluntarily relinquish all rights to the ownership of property and live solely from alms. The Franciscan habit, a brown tunic with a hood and a rope belt ending in three knots to signify the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, is universally recognized. Franciscan men and women have been at work in Latin America since the beginning of European contact; their legacy of evangelization is pervasive, and the Franciscan presence in Latin America remains strong. From the second voyage of Columbus on, Franciscans made their way to the Americas in the rush to spread the Christian message. They founded their first missions in the Antilles, from which expeditions to the mainland were undertaken.

In Mexico, a group of reformist, millenarian Franciscans dominated the first generation of missionaries, seeing the newly found territories as inviting the dawn of a radical new social order, the kingdom of God on earth. The responsibility for building this new order, they believed, sat squarely on their shoulders, and the extreme zeal with which they undertook its realization has been alternately lauded and criticized.

In 1522 Emperor Charles V responded to requests from Hernán Cortés to send Franciscans to Mexico to undertake the systematic conversion of the natives. Thus began a steady stream of missionaries from Spain and other countries, the most notable among the first arrivals being Fray Pedro de Gante, a Belgian who worked tirelessly among the poor and who established schools, chapels, and health facilities for the Indians. He was joined in 1524 by a group of friars known as "The Twelve," a name that symbolically connected the missionaries to the twelve Apostles. These friars firmly implanted Franciscanism, with its emphasis on poverty, communal living, and the passion of Christ, as the primary Christian force among the newly converted in Mexico. They battled, at times fiercely, with civil and church authorities over control of native populations. The first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, himself a Franciscan friar, defended with a great sense of urgency the idea that the friars had primacy in all matters. By learning the native language and by instilling confidence in the church as the organizing principle of society, the friars met with success in their catechetical efforts. Accounts of mass baptisms found their way into early Franciscan accounts; the friars often recalled their exhaustion at administering the sacraments in towns near and far. By the mid-sixteenth century, the friars were organized into administrative units, or provinces, extending south from the central valley of Mexico to the Yucatán and Central America, north to Guadalajara, and eventually into the south and west of what is now the United States. Missionary colleges to train friars for work in the farthest reaches of New Spain were established in the seventeenth century in Querétaro, Mexico City, and Zacatecas. Friars were trained to teach not only Catholic doctrine but also those arts, crafts, and agricultural techniques considered beneficial to Christian living.

Policies of the ruling Bourbon dynasty in the mid- to late-eighteenth century, aimed at centralizing the church under tighter royal regulation, had profound effects on the friars. The crown secularized, or turned over to clergy not affiliated with a religious order, most properties and parishes that had come under the friars' corporate control over the course of two and a half centuries. Though the friars maintained certain principal monasteries, the decree of secularization forced them to abandon much of their pastoral work. By the period of independence in the 1820s, their numbers had declined sharply.

Franciscan involvement in South America parallels that in New Spain, with missionaries taking part in the evangelization program from the early colonial period. Friars arrived in Peru in 1532, embarking on a program of conversion and beginning the construction of churches, hospitals, and schools throughout the region, including present-day Bolivia, northern Argentina, and Chile north of the Bío-Bío River. Their first foundation in Ecuador, in Quito, dates to 1534. The symbolism of sending twelve friars into a new region was repeated in 1542, lending the name "Twelve Apostles" to one Peruvian province. As at New Spain, missionary colleges served to train friars for the more remote areas; only the Jesuits had as extensive a network of missions in South America, and once the Jesuits were expelled (Brazil, 1760; Spanish America, 1767), the friars took over these South American missions as well as the ones in New Spain. The annals of the Franciscans show that their missionary activities in South America met with varying degrees of success. The Friars Minor were much less active in what is now Colombia and Venezuela; those areas were dominated by their fellow Franciscans of the Capuchin branch.

Instability wrought by the Wars of Independence in the 1820s, combined with the already weakened state of the order resulting from eighteenth-century royal decrees aimed at curbing their power, made the Franciscans particularly vulnerable to attack from emerging social and political forces unfriendly to the clergy. The story of each individual country differs in the nineteenth century, but it is safe to conclude that the friars suffered persecutions of some type in nearly every locale. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the number of friars in Latin America declined, beginning with the flight of the Spanish Franciscans back to Europe after independence. The resuscitation of the order in the twentieth century likewise differs from one region to another. The most often cited catalyst for this rejuvenation, in any event, is the 1891 papal encyclical Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII, which brought to the fore the need for social action of a type reminiscent of the Franciscan spirit.

See alsoCapuchin Friars; Gante, Pedro de; Sahagún, Bernardino de; Zumárraga, Juan de.


John Leddy Phelan, The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World (1956).

León Lopetegui and Félix Zubillaga, Historia de la Iglesia en la América Española (1965).

Robert Ricard, The Spiritual Conquest of Mexico, translated by Lesley Byrd Simpson (1966); New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967).

Francisco Morales, ed., Franciscan Presence in the Americas (1984); The Americas: A Quarterly Journal of Inter-American Cultural History (published by the Academy of American Franciscan History).

Additional Bibliography

Abad Pérez, Antolín. Los Franciscanos en América. Madrid: Editorial MAPFRE, 1992.

Jackson, Robert H., and Edward D. Castillo. Indians, Franciscans, and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.

Molina, Alonso de, Barry D. Sell, Larissa Taylor, and Asunción Lavrin. Nahua Confraternities in Early Colonial Mexico: The 1552 Nahuatl Ordinances of Fray Alonso de Molina, OFM. Berkeley: Academy of American Franciscan History, 2002.

Pellichi, Pedro María, and Ana A. Teruel. Misioneros del Chaco Occidental: Escritos de franciscanos del Chaco Salteño, 1861–1914. Jujuy: Centro de Estudios Indígenas y Coloniales, 1995.

Sahagún, Bernardino D., Thelma D. Sullivan, and H. B. Nicholson. Primeros memorials. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

                                   Brian C. Belanger


views updated May 18 2018


FRANCISCANS. In 1209 Saint Francis of Assisi founded the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. Despite the wishes of his wealthy father, Francis abandoned his privileged lifestyle and devoted himself to a life of poverty and preaching in the vernacular to the masses. His mendicant order soon gained the support of powerful patrons, including Pope Innocent III, who approved of the Franciscans' respect for church authority and orthodox doctrine in a time of rampant popular heresy. Soon after, Francis's childhood friend Clare founded a female counterpart to the Franciscans, called the Poor Clares, who also lived in voluntary poverty but remained cloistered rather than wandering and begging as did the Franciscans.

In colonial times, the Franciscans were preeminent in the discovery, exploration, and settlement of Spanish North America. In the Spanish borderlands of the colonies, that is, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, they were the only missionaries to spend significant time among the Indians and to cover substantial territory. Many old missions still bear witness to the zeal and success that marked their activity. The work of bishop-elect Juan Juáres, who in 1528 journeyed to Florida with Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition, and Father José Sánchez, who in 1884 died at San Gabriel Mission, California, stand as well-known examples of Franciscan achievement.

In the sections of North America that belonged to France, where they were known as the Recollects, the Franciscans were less active. They cast their lot with Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in the Illinois country and on the Texas coast between 1675 and 1687. Thereafter, until 1763, when French North America became English territory, the Franciscans labored in upper Louisiana, at Cahokia on the Mississippi River, at Detroit in Michigan, and at the French forts in northern Ohio, Pennsylvania (Duquesne), and New York (Niagara, Crown Point, and Saint Frédéric). In the English colony of Maryland, they joined the Jesuits in 1672 and were active there until 1720, when the last of their group died. It is probable that from Maryland they forayed into Pennsylvania.

During the half-century following the American Revolution, various provinces in Europe sent Franciscans to the United States, usually with immigrant groups. These Franciscans labored chiefly in the "new" West and Northwest. Among them, Father Michael Egan in 1810 became the first bishop of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, scholars have yet to trace and to write the history of these isolated Franciscans.

The present era of Franciscan activity in the United States, which has taken place chiefly in parishes and schools, began in about the 1850s. Since then, regularly organized into juridical entities, Franciscans have advanced steadily in both membership and foundations. At the end of the twentieth century, the Franciscan order boasted almost eighteen thousand members worldwide, with just under twelve thousand of those members serving as priests and the rest as scholastics and lay brothers. Working both in the United States and in foreign areas such as Bolivia, Brazil, Central America, Japan, Peru, and the Philipines, American Franciscans have focused their efforts on friaries, schools, and Indian missions.


Galloway, Patricia K., ed. La Salle and His Legacy: Frenchmen and Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.

Hann, John, and Bonnie G. McEwan. The Apalachee Indians and Mission San Luis. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.

Rabasa, Jose. Writing Violence on the Northern Frontier: The Historiography of Sixteenth-Century New Mexico and Florida and the Legacy of Conquest. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000.

Antonine S.Tibesar/a. e.

See alsoColorado River Explorations ; Exploration of America, Early ; French Frontier Forts ; Hennepin, Louis, Narratives of ; Indian Missions .


views updated May 18 2018

Franciscans (or ‘friars minor’ or ‘grey friars’) were a mendicant order founded by St Francis of Assisi (1181/2–1226), the son of a wealthy merchant, in 1209, when he gave his disciples, like him devoted to poverty, care of the sick, and meditation, the ‘Regula primitiva’, the first rule, heavily influenced by apostolic models. In 1212 a wealthy woman, Clare, joined Francis: she became abbess of a community of Franciscan nuns (‘Poor Clares’), like their male counterparts noted for their ascetic poverty. Francis was unwilling to regularize his rapidly growing band of itinerant preachers, and control soon passed from his hands. In 1223 Pope Honorius III confirmed a more institutionalized rule which emphasized total poverty. The friars were to live by their own labour or by begging. Later, following Dominican example, the Franciscans were organized into provincial and general chapters under the ultimate authority of the minister-general.

Thereafter the order expanded rapidly, appealing particularly to urban benefactors, and the Franciscans settled and preached primarily in towns, though they were also active in missionary work in the East. Tension between those who wished to follow the apostolic ideals of the founder (later known as the ‘Spirituals’), however impractical, and those who were prepared to compromise, particularly over the issues of property and corporate poverty (the ‘Conventuals’), soon emerged, bringing disunity to the order, particularly in the mid-13th and early 14th cents., when many of the more radical ‘Spirituals’ were condemned as heretics, while in 1368 a new group, the ‘Observants’, emerged in Italy demanding a return to the rule of 1223.

The first Franciscans under Agnello of Pisa were sent to England by Francis in 1224 and communities founded at Canterbury, London, and Oxford. Thereafter the Franciscans grew rapidly and there were some 60 houses by 1300. At Oxford the Franciscans soon acquired a reputation for their scholarship, first under Alexander of Hales, and were in the forefront of intellectual activity during the 13th and 14th cents., their number including Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, and William of Occam. There were also three successful houses of Franciscan nuns, of which the Minories, in London, was the most significant. At the end of the 15th cent. six houses of Observants were established, three being transfers from Conventual friaries. Observant friars were fierce opponents of Henry VIII's policies and many were executed or imprisoned during the 1530s. The English order was dissolved in 1538.

Brian Golding


views updated May 23 2018

Franciscans Friars belonging to an itinerant religious order founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. The first order, known as the Friars Minor now comprises three subdivisions: the Observants; the Capuchin; and the Conventual, who are allowed to own property corporately. The second order, Poor Clares, an order of nuns founded by Saint Francis and Saint Clare, came into being in 1212.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Fran·cis·can / franˈsiskən/ • n. a friar, sister, or lay member of a Christian religious order founded in 1209 by St. Francis of Assisi or based on its rule, and noted for its preachers and missionaries.• adj. of, relating to, or denoting St. Francis or the Franciscans.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Franciscans. Christian religious orders derived from St Francis and St Clare of Assisi. Basic to them is the initial determination of Francis that they should be brothers and sisters ‘living according to the form of the Holy Gospel’.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Franciscan friar of the order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209. XVI. — F. franciscain — modL. Franciscanus, f. Franciscus Francis; see -AN.

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