This series of Augnet pages is little more than a brief summary, but it has hyperlinks to numerous Augnet pages that offer far much more detail.
On the broadest canvas, when compared to the fourteenth-century expansion of the Order in Europe and its the sixteenth-century developments in Latin America and in various regions of Asia and the Middle East, there were no grand Augustinian developments during the fifteenth century. Even so, on a smaller focus, during the fifteenth century there were numerous talented Augustinians and noteworthy and lasting Augustinian local initiatives.
Image (above): Colegio San Agustin, Salamanca. The Augustinians were invited to Salamanca in 1377, and their Priory there was recognised as a university in 1422, and became a cradle of Augustinian scholars and saints in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
In 1400 the Augustinian Order was approaching the 150th year since its official beginning at the Grand Union of 1256. In 1400 it was experiencing a poorly-led Church that was then confused and administratively divided by the Western Schism of 1378 – 1414. This universal predicament further weakened the somewhat tentative attempts by the Augustinian Order to renew and reform itself.
In Rome there was a Pope who was recognised by most nations, while at Avignon a competing Antipope was supported by France and Spain. The Order of St Augustine in France and Spain was forced by the local kings and princes to heed an Augustinian who could be described as an “anti-Prior General” in Avignon (where previously an Augustinian central administration had been functioning during the time of the pre-Schism era of the Avignon Papacy in 1307-1377).
Efforts at Augustinian renewal spotlighted Lecceto in Tuscany, Italy. Previously in the middle of the fourteenth century the Augustinian eremo (hermitage) at Lecceto in Tuscany had become respected as a centre of Augustinian living and mystical piety. At the Augustinian General Chapter at Gran, Hungary in 1385 Lecceto had been set aside as the first designated Augustinian house (convento) of strict observance and of the renewal of Augustinian community life. Lecceto thus became the official model for the Augustinian observant (or observantine) movement. This was reinforced by repeated decrees at the General Chapters of 1394, 1397 and 1400.
Image (above): The inner (second) clositer at Leccetto. It became a monastery of Augustinian Contemplative Nuns on 30 December 1972, after an Augustinian absence of 162 years,In no way disadvantaged by the medieval legend (now known to be spurious) that St Augustine of Hippo had visited there, Lecceto sustained its reputation as an Augustinian spiritual powerhouse throughout the fifteenth century, although in hindsight it can be said probably to have passed its prime by then. Even so, it had become a model for Augustinian observant movements elsewhere across Europe, spreading to Naples and to other parts of Italy, and thence to Germany and to Spain, and from Spain to Portugal.
It spread to Ireland, authorised on 19th September 1423 by the Prior General, Agostino da Roma O.S.A., and begun at a new house of the observance at Banada, County Sligo in 1432, after which some other Irish houses also became Observantine. It grew stronger in Germany late in the fifteenth century, and early in the sixteenth century involved Johann von Staupitz O.S.A. and Martin Luther O.S.A. there, and arose briefly to England.
Lecceto’s considerable spiritual repute was most probably why it was able to supply three Priors General to the Order link during the fifteenth century, more than did any other Augustinian convento. Alessandro Oliva O.S.A., perhaps the most admirable Italian Augustinian of the fifteenth century, considered it an honour to be affiliated to the Lecceto congregation. He became the Augustinian Prior General in 1459, and a cardinal in 1460. In 1447 he sent to Lecceto a man named Anselmo de Montefalco O.S.A., who became Prior General in 1486. Mariano de Genazzano O.S.A., who joined the Augustinian community at Lecceto in 1482, became Prior General in 1497.
Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. (1469 - 1532), was probably the greatest preacher in Europe during a considerable part of his lifetime, and one of the greatest influences on the reform of the Order of Saint Augustine on the eve of the Protestant Reformation. At the age of thirty-three years and already an Augustinian priest, he transferred the Lecceto community in 1503 and was there for two years until the Pope called him to Rome and to the office of Augustinian Prior General. What Lecceto became for the Order in Italy, France, England and Ireland, the Augustinian convento at Salamanca became for the Hispanic portion of the Order, in learning as much as in spirituality.
Previously in 1377 the Bishop of Salamanca, Alonso Barrasa, had called on the Augustinians to come to Salamanca to open a house of study for Augustinian candidates. Their Priory there was recognised as a university in 1422, and became a cradle of Augustinian scholars and saints in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Notable figures at Salamanca included Saint John of Sahagun O.S.A. (c. 1430 - 1479), who is called “the apostle of Salamanca.” He died there in 1479 and was buried in its cathedral. A little later in Salamanca there was St Thomas of Villanova O.S.A. (1486 – 1555), saint, scholar and the Provincial who in 1533 was the first to send Augustinians to Latin America.
As to the City of Rome, the Order’s presence had begun there with the monastery and church of S Maria del Popolo, but from 1286 onwards the Order took steps to move its headquarters to a larger Roman venue, that of Sant’Agostino. The fifteenth century saw the building of the present spacious Church of Sant’Agostino (the third successive church on that approximate site) undertaken in 1479 – 1483. Its design was inspired by the early Renaissance style of “Santo Spirito" (Church of the Holy Spirit) in Florence, designed by Filipo Brunelleschi (1337-1446) and eventually completed in 1487. Sant’Agostino was sponsored greatly by the wealth of Cardinal William d’Estouteville, the Order’s flamboyant and influential Cardinal Protector who simultaneously was the bishop of five dioceses in France and Italy while actually resident in Rome as papal camerlengo (chamberlain – chief officer) from 1477 until his death in 1483.
Images (at right) Picture 1: Church of Santo Spirito, Florence Pictures 2 & 3: Church of Sant'Agostino, Rome
Following the advent of humanism in the fourteenth century, the fifteenth century saw the beginning of the Renaissance era (circa 1453). Humanism had promoted a return to insights available in pre-Christian Roman and Greek research and learning. Florence was an early centre of this movement, and one of its earliest proponents was the poet laureate, Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374), who had a circle of Augustinian associates and confidants, most of whom – including Bartholomew of Urbino O.S.A. - died before the end of the fourteenth century.
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