Benedictines, Sylvestrine

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BENEDICTINES, SYLVESTRINE

A monastic congregation, originally named Ordo Sancti Benedicti de Monte Fano, and now designated Monachorum Silvestrunorum, OSB. The Sylvestrines, as they are commonly called, were founded by St. silvester guzzolini (11771267) in 1231 at Montefano, near Fabriano (Ancona), Italy. Silvester led a reform movement at a time when the benedictines were in decline, and when the mendicant orders appeared to be supplanting the monastic orders. The followers of Silvester lived in caves, in huts, and in poor, cramped monasteries. They restored the primitive spirit of the benedictine rule by alternating prayer with manual labor and apostolic work among the simple people of the countryside. Innocent IV issued a bull of approval (June 27, 1227), despite the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which aimed to consolidate the various monastic institutes, and to prevent the birth of new ones. Papal approval was more easily granted because of the Sylvestrines' organized juridical structure with its centralization of authority under a prior or abbot general.

In the 14th century the order counted more than 1,000 monks and dozens of monasteries, among which was the celebrated San Marco in Florence, which later passed to the Dominicans. Meanwhile, the original eremitical ideal gave way to a cenobitic form of monastic life. In time much of the vitality of the movement was sapped by poverty, by the evils of the system of commen dation, and by the sizable contribution of 300,000 scudi requested by Alexander VII in 1664 for the support of Christian armies. After the Holy See had suppressed about 15 of the smaller monasteries, the Sylvestrines were ordered (1662) to unite with the vallombrosans in one congregation. Five years later, however, the union was ended, and in 1690 Alexander VIII approved the constitutions of the Sylvestrine congregation. These critical circumstances rendered ineffective the attempts to expand into Portugal, Brazil, and Vietnam. Not until 1845 was a mission opened in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

In the 19th century the suppression by Napoleon I, and later, by the Piedmontese government, reduced the order to a few dozen members. In the middle of the 20th century a recovery was under way. Foundations were established in India, Australia, and Canada. In the U.S., where they arrived in 1910, the congregation has established three monasteries: St. Benedict Priory (Oxford, Mich.), St. Sylvester Monastery (Detroit, Mich.) and Holy Face Monastery (Clifton, N.J.).

In art and culture Sylvestrines won renown with their papermill in Fabriano (1276), one of the oldest in Europe. Fra Bevignate, sculptor and architect, designed the great fountain (fontana grande ) in Perugia (1278), and developed the first plan for the cathedral in Orvieto (1290). Varino Favorino, Bishop of Nocera (1514) and humanist (d. 1538), composed the Magnum et perutile dictionarium, the first printed Greek lexicon.

Bibliography: OSB, Official Catholic Directory #0200. a. m. cancellieri, S. Silvestro Abate e l'opera sua (Milan 1942). g. pagnani, I codici dell' Archivio di Montefano (Picena 1958). g. penco, Storia del monachesimo in Italia (Rome 1961). m. papi, La voce della selva (Rome 1962); Il poema figurativo di Fra' Bevignate (Casamari 1965).

[m. papi/eds.]

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Benedictines, Sylvestrine

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