The Order of Saint Augustine in Spain has a history and a list of achievements probably unequalled anywhere else in the world. One of the constituent groups of the Little Union in the year 1244 had communities in Spain before the Order of Saint Augustine was constituted by the Grand Union of 1256.
The earliest house identified with any certainty is the one that existed at Jatvia, in the Spanish kingdom of Valencia. It was founded in 1244 by the Gianboniti (the Hermits of Brother John the Good), after King Jaime I took the territory from the Muslims during the Reconquista (the “reconquering”). Late in the thirteenth century, however, the house passed to the Dominicans.
Other houses were founded at Cordoba in Andalusia, and Salamanca in Leon. Both of them were probably established by the Gianboniti before the Grand Union of 1256, but the historical record is not totally clear. Other houses are mentioned that also possibly belonged to the Gianboniti: Aquas Vivas (1239), Burgos, San Gines near Cartagena, Carvajal, Valencia (1238) and the famous conventus Hispalensis at Seville. After the Grand Union the Order set up houses at Toledo in 1260. By 1300 there were seven other Augustinian houses in the Kingdom of Aragon, many of which enjoyed royal support: Aguas Vivas (by 1267), Alcira (1270), Zaragoza (1286), Burgos (about 1287), Alcoy (1290) and Castellon de la Plana (1298). On the Iberian Peninsula by 1295 there was the Province of Spain and the Province of Aragon (which covered Aragon, Catalonia and the Kingdom of Valencia).
As well, the houses of the Order in Spain received greater financial support from kings and people generally, and less opposition from local bishops such that rapid growth was supported rather than impeded. For example, in the early fifteenth century the constable Ruy Lopez Davalos and his second wife, Elvira de Guevara gave the Augustinians land in Valladolid, and came to be considered the founders of that house. Spain was the country in which the Order of Saint Augustine made most progress in the later Middle Ages. In the sixteenth century, the Province of Spain (later renamed the Province of Castile) led the renewal of Augustinian community life throughout Spain. The Province itself was reformed between 1497 and 1504, when the Catholic rulers Ferdinand and Isabel implemented in the greater part of their territory the reform of the religious clergy. This is quite the opposite of what would soon happen in England and Ireland under King Henry VIII, who confiscated the religious houses.
From the Province of Spain (or Castile) the other Augustinian provinces in Spain and Portugal also passed over to the observant (or reform) movement (a stricter adherence to both the spirit and the letter of Augustinian community life, especially in the matter of poverty). As well, all the houses of the two Spanish provinces that were located in Portugal had come together to form a separate Province of Portugal, probably in 1476. After the Protestant Reformation in the rest of Europe, Giralomo Seripando O.S.A. as Prior General (from 1539 to 1551) in the summer of 1541 became the first Prior General to travel to Spain and Portugal, almost three hundred years after Augustinian communities had begun there. Seripando was a papal legate at the Council of Trent, and strongly supported the reforms of church life and religious orders that the Council promulgated. This Province was even able, at the request of King Philip II of Spain, Pope Saint Pius V in 1568 ordered the Province of Spain send men to lead the renewal of religious life in the houses of other Augustinian provinces in Spain and Portugal. The Province of Spain immediately assigned fifty Augustinians to the task, which was successful. In the Province of Spain (or Castile), the city of Salamanca became a powerful centre of learning and example. In 1377 the Bishop of Salamanca, Alonso Barrasa, actually called on the Augustinians to come to there, and to open a house of study for Augustinian candidates. He gave them the Church of San Pedro and adjoining land on which to build their house. Their Priory there was recognised as a university in 1422.
Photos (at left): Picture 1: A student and the Augustinian Rector of Maria Cristina (university), Escorial, Spain. Picture 2: Entrance to Real Colegio (high school) de Alfonso XII, conducted by the Augustinians in the Escorial, Spain. Picture 3: Student and Augustinian Director of the Escolania (residential choir school), conducted by the Augustinians in the Escorial, Spain.
In the number of Augustinian saints and scholars produced, the history of the Order in Salamanca surpasses that of Paris. Notable figures there included Saint John of Sahagun O.S.A. (1430? - 1479), who is called the apostle of Salamanca. He died there in 1479 and was buried in its cathedral. The city nurtured Saint Thomas of Villanova O.S.A. (1486 - 1555), who sent the first group of Augustinians to missions in the New World (Mexico) when he was Provincial in 1533. Later he was bishop in Valencia from 1544 to 1555. Saint Alonso of Orozco O.S.A. (1500 - 1591), entered the Order in Salamanca when inspired by the preaching of Thomas of Villanova, and himself became a preacher to the king. Salamanca was the centre of Luis de León O.S.A. (1527 - 1591), a scholar and one of the greatest authors in the Spanish language. A statue of him stands at the entrance of the University of Salamanca. And so it was that, at the time of the Protestant Reformation early in the sixteenth century when the Order in most other parts of Europe seemed to have had weak or ineffective leaders, the Province of Spain was blessed with some of the greatest leaders, saints and scholars the Order has ever had.
The Order in Spain and Portugal reached out to the New World. Free from the effect of the Protestant Reformation that was happening in the rest of Europe, they began in the Order what became a significant missionary tradition that had not arisen to any extent in the Provinces in Italy, France, England, or in most of its German Provinces. The first Augustinian may have reached South America individually as early as 1525 or 1527, but the first group of Augustinians was sent to Latin America by the Province of Spain (Castile), and reached Mexico in 1533. A Province of the Canary Islands began in 1650, again from the Province of Spain (renamed Castile in 1582). South American provinces formed from the Province of Spain (or Castile) followed: Mexico in 1568, Peru in 1575, Ecuador in 1579, New Granada (today the area of Colombia and Venezuela) in 1601, Michoacan Province (a second province in Mexico) in 1602, and Chile 1627.
In Asia, the Province of the Philippines was formed in 1575 by Augustinians from the Province of Mexico and the Province of Spain. By the year 1600 it had 50 houses on six islands. Most of these Augustinians came from Spain. The four Spanish Augustinian provinces allowed their members to transfer to the missionary Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus in the Philippines if the foreign missions attracted them. In this way, and through direct recruitment of Spanish men to Augustinian Order by the Philippines Province, an estimated 2,900 Augustinians went from Spain to the Philippines between 1569 and 1898. In 1834 there were the following number of houses in the Augustinian provinces in Spain: Castile 38, with 347 members; Andalusia 35 house and 302 members; Aragon 47 houses and 572 members, and Province of the Canaries 8 houses and 35 members. This made a total of 138 houses.
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