Armenian monks from Tarsus who sought refuge in Italy when their land was invaded by the Egyptian sultan in 1296. This first group landed in 1307 in Genoa, where the church of St. Bartholomew was built for them, hence the name Bartholomites. Others of these persecuted monks soon followed, establishing themselves in Parma, Siena, Florence, Bologna, and Milan. They observed the Rule of St. Basil and the armenian liturgy. Soon they abandoned their national traditions and adopted the Roman liturgy, the Rule of St. Augustine, and a habit similar to that of the Dominicans. Innocent VI approved this change in 1356 and confirmed the union of the monasteries, previously autonomous, into one congregation. Boniface IX granted the congregation the privileges of the Dominican Order but prohibited it from joining any other orders, excepting that of the Carthusians. Superior generals, formerly elected for life, were ordered by Sixtus IV to have three-year terms. For about two centuries this Armenian congregation flourished; then regular observance declined. Their membership decreased until many of their houses had to be closed. In the last half of the 17th century, Innocent X authorized members either to enter another religious order or to become secularized, assuring the latter of a pension. In 1650 he suppressed the congregation, putting its houses and revenues to new uses. The congregation had several renowned preachers, such as Cherubini Cerebelloni of Genoa and Paul Costa of Milan. Among its celebrated writers was Gregori Bitio, who wrote the history of the order. In their church of St. Bartholomew in Genoa the celebrated portrait of Christ, "The Holy Face of Edessa," is still preserved. The Armenian Bartholomites are not to be confused with the religious community of the same name founded in Bavaria in the 17th century by Bartholomew Holzhauser.
Bibliography: p. hÉlyot, Histoire des ordres monastiques, 8 v. (Paris 1714–19) 1:243–248. m. van den oudenrijn, "Les Constitutions des Frères arméniens de S. Basile en Italie," Orientalia Christiania Anaectal 126 (1946) 7–117; Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 2:16.