The Augustinian Hermits of Tuscany (as formed by the Little Union of 1244)
These were the ones who had been amalgamated at the Little Union of March 1244. A number of their houses may have begun as independent houses (hermitages) as far back as the year 1116. These include Lecceto, Lupocavo (before 1153), Acquaviva (in 1163) and Spelcona in 1187. They had commenced independently of one another; each was under the control of the local bishop of the respective area.
Eremitical ("hermit") life had preserved a great deal of individualism until the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which had demanded that all religious communities be guided by one of the approved Rules of Life, and that independent houses had to form provincial units with a common superior according to the example set by the Cistercian Order. Any existing house or Order which did not comply with this law forfeited its right to further existence. In many instances, the resulting applications for a rule and the approval by the Holy See mark the first appearance of religious communities in the annals of history. Many of them preferred the Rule of St Augustine because it changed but little their former manner of life by allowing them to retain their own constitutions. More difficult and, therefore, more slow proved the formation of provincial units under a common superior, because this meant the surrender of many individual rights, new orientation and stricter supervision.
But Rome insisted on this demand, and used every opportunity to achieve its goal. When for example in 1231 the hermitages of Lecceto and Montespecchio asked for the Rule of St Augustine, the bishop of Siena was told to extend it to all hermitages in that region, thus giving them the impression that they were regarded as one. Five of these communities around Pisa began uniting under one provincial superior in 1223, and others likewise in the province of Siena in 1231. Some historical details are available for the Congregation of Lucca (or Lupocavo), which came into existence in 1228 with the aggregation of thirteen hermitages. Their place names are known, even if some no longer appear on any map.
One of their leaders was named Stephen, who joined the hermitage in 1203, was made its superior in 1215, and from that position helped to establish an additional hermitage by sending it four experienced members of his community. Stephen is most probably identical with the priest named Stephen who went with three other Tuscan hermits to Lyon in 1243 to visit the Pope - the journey that led to the Little Union a year later. It is most likely that the Augustinian hermits of Tuscany were operating as three separate Provinces before the Grand Union (similar, as will be seen on the next page, to the Hermits of John the Good - the Gianboniti.) Soon after the Little Union of 1244, it was the latter Province that was granted the convent (convento, monastery) and church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome during or soon after the year 1250 by Cardinal Richard Annibaldi. The reasoning for their having a base in Rome was that Rome was the venue for their chapters that had been mandated by the Little Union and that originally were held annually.
Furthermore, having a community in Rome would be convenient for their superiors when coming to Rome to meet with Cardinal Annibaldi. Never reluctant to wield his power, Annibaldi moved the Franciscans from Santa Maria del Popolo into a former Benedictine monastery that he had seen vacated for the purpose. He then moved these amalgamated hermits of Tuscany into this place that soon in 1256 would be a convenient venue for the Grand Union.
In less than a decade Annabaldi made the new Order into a highly efficient organization. Another group, the Order of St Galganus was absorbed into them, as were many other independent hermitages. The Brothers Hermits of Tuscany were the largest and the fastest growing of the groups joining the Great Union of 1256. The Tuscan hermits had an estimated sixty-one houses by 1253 (i.e., even before participating in the Grand Union in the following year), and had already spread to France, England, Germany and Spain. Thanks to the constitutions adopted at the Little Union, and the direction of Cardinal Richard Annibaldi in the meantime, by 1256 these Tuscan hermits already had a structure of Provinces, and processes of governance, administration and visitation ("inspection") went smoothly.
The Order of Hermits of Brother John the Good - the "Gianboniti"
The Order of Hermits of Brother John the Good - in the Italian language, popularly called the Gianboniti or the Bonites. Their founder was called John the Good (1168-1249), a layman of Mantua, Italy. He was a wandering entertainer who, after a deep religious conversion, in about the year 1209 withdrew into a cave in the isolated area of Butrioli (Bertinoro), four kilometres from Cesena in northern Italy.
He could neither read nor write, and never learned to do so. It was his strict life of penance that attracted many followers. He had founded a hermitage (in Italian, an eremo) in 1209 at Butrioli, four kilometres from Cesana in northern Italy. By about 1217 he began attracting many followers. Influenced by the example of the Order founded in 1209 by Francis of Assisi, his followers seem spontaneously to have adopted a life of preaching the Gospel while moving from place to place.
One early Augustinian historian actually claimed that Francis of Assisi began as a disciple of John the Good. Henry of Freimar O.S.A., is the first Augustinian author known to have claimed that Francis of Assisi - over fifty years before the Augustinian Grand Union in 1256 - had been a member of the Augustinian hermitage of St James of Aquaviva near Pisa before he founded his own order. Henry, who generally was a reputable historian, published this “legend” (by which he simply may have meant an unproved assertion that had come to his ears) that that Francis of Assisi had been a disciple of John the Good as a member of the Augustinian hermitage of St James of Aquaviva near Pisa before founding his own order. In the seventeenth century this claim excited a lively controversy between the famous Franciscan historian Luke Wadding and the Augustinian Thomas Herrera O.S.A.. It has now been definitely settled that the so-called Augustinian Monachism of St Francis was added to certain Italian manuscripts over a hundred years after the text had been compiled. In any case, the historical evidence of the Acts of the Process of Canonization of John Bonus (John the Good) leaves no doubt that John Bonus started his life of penance about the year 1209, the very year in which St Francis began his Order. Therefore, Francis could not have been a disciple of John Bonus whose brethren started to gather only about 1217.
The Boniti wore a habit (outer garment) of grey sackcloth, which was the cheapest material available. Soon John the Good obtained permission from the Bishop of Cesana to form a religious community and a small church. Soon he needed to build branch communities in order to house all those who joined him. He realised that the foundation of a new religious order was inevitable. Since his followers had not adopted one of the approved rules of life set out by the Second Lateran Council of 1215, John the Good sent a delegation to Rome to ask for the Rule of Saint Augustine.
This request was granted in about the year 1225, and they thereby were regarded as mendicants. They adopted Augustine's Rule, and also had their own Constitutions, about which little is now known. They laid aside the habit of penitence and took up the habit of hermits, which was grey in colour. This habit was almost like that of the Franciscans, and since the Zanbonini were also mendicants it was unavoidable that they mistakenly received alms that were intended for the Franciscans. The resulting quarrel was laid before the papal legates, Cardinal Thomas of Sabina and Rainald of Ostia, whereupon in 1240 Pope Gregory IX prescribed a black or white habit, a wide cincture and a stave (a hermit's walking stick).
The Franciscans were also convinced that the similarity of habit deprived them of candidates and did not hesitate to come to Butrioli and brazenly take candidates of the Zanbonini away to place them in their own Order. From various sources a picture can be pieced together of a Gianboniti community. All of their communities were situated away from the cities, yet close enough to obtain food and to go inside the city walls during the frequent regional wars of that period. As a visitor approached a Gianboniti settlement, he was met at the gate and taken to the guesthouse, which was built next to the church. A guest did not dine in the common refectory, as this was prohibited in the constitutions of the Gianboniti.(Continued on the next page)
For the Augnet photo gallery on Rosia (see in some of the photos above), click here.
Links (for Rosia)
Eremo di Rosia. Written in Italian, but has photographs.http://www.castellitoscani.com/italian/rosia.htm
13th Century Augustinian Monasteries. Text by Fr. Brian Lowery, OSA, Ph.D, and uploaded by the Augustinians in California, USA. An excellent overview, with illustrations. http://osa-west.org/ancient-osa-monasteries.html