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Order of Friars Minor
Ordo Fratrum Minorum
Abbreviation OFM, Franciscan
Motto Pax et bonum ("Peace and the good")
Formation 1209
Type Catholic religious order
Headquarters The Porziuncola,
Assisi, Italy
Minister General Michael A. Perry
Key people Francis of Assisi – founder
Main organ General Curia
Website OFM
The Order of Friars Minor and other Franciscan movements are disciples of Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Painting by El Greco (1541-1614).

Franciscans are people and groups (religious orders) who adhere to the teachings and spiritual disciplines of Saint Francis of Assisi. The term is usually applied to members who also adhere to the Roman Catholic Church. However, other denominations also have members who describe themselves as Franciscans. They include Old Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran.

The most prominent group is the Order of Friars Minor, commonly called simply the "Franciscans". They seek to follow most directly the manner of life that Saint Francis led. This Order is a mendicant religious order of men tracing their origin to Francis of Assisi. It comprises three separate groups, each considered a religious order in its own right. These are the Observants, most commonly simply called "Franciscan friars", the Capuchins, and the Conventual Franciscans. They all live according to a body of regulations known as "The Rule of St. Francis".[1]

The coat of arms that is a universal symbol of Franciscans "contains the Tau cross, with two crossed arms: Christ’s right hand with the nail wound and Francis’ left hand with the stigmata wound".[2]


  • Name 1
  • Beginning of the brotherhood 2
  • Last years of Francis 3
  • Development of the order after the death of Francis 4
    • Dissensions during the life of Francis 4.1
    • Development to 1239 4.2
    • 1239–1274 4.3
    • 1274–1300 4.4
    • Persecution 4.5
    • Renewed controversy on the question of poverty 4.6
    • Separate congregations 4.7
      • Clareni 4.7.1
      • Minorites of Narbonne 4.7.2
      • Reform of Johannes de Vallibus 4.7.3
    • Unification 4.8
  • Capuchins 5
  • New World missions 6
  • Modern times 7
    • Distinguished Franciscans 7.1
  • Poor Clares 8
  • Third Order 9
    • Secular Franciscan Order 9.1
    • Third Order Regular 9.2
  • Franciscans International 10
  • Franciscans not of the Catholic Church 11
  • Visions and stigmata 12
  • Custody of the Holy Land 13
  • Contributions 14
  • See also 15
  • Notes 16
  • References 17
  • External links 18
    • Official websites 18.1
      • Three branches of First Order 18.1.1
      • Regular and Secular Third Order 18.1.2
    • Lutheran Franciscans 18.2
    • Anglican Franciscans 18.3
    • Non-denominational Franciscans 18.4
    • Research resources 18.5


Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), founder of the Poor Clares, in a painting by Simone Martini (1284-1344) in the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi.

The official Friars Minor Conventual" (OFM Conv), and the "Friars Minor Capuchin" (OFM Cap).[4]

The women who comprise the "Second" Order of the movement are most commonly called Poor Clares in English-speaking countries. The order is called the "Order of St. Clare" (O.S.C.).

The Franciscan Third Order, the Third Order of Saint Francis or Third Order of Penance, has many men and women members, whether in religious communities under the traditional religious vows, or trying to live the ideals of the movement in their daily lives outside of religious institutes.

The Franciscan Order is also sometimes referred to as the Seraphic Order.[5]

Beginning of the brotherhood

A sermon which Francis heard in 1209 on Mt 10:9 made such an impression on him that he decided to devote himself wholly to a life of apostolic poverty. Clad in a rough garment, barefoot, and, after the Evangelical precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance.[6]

He was soon joined by a prominent fellow townsman, Bernardo di Quintavalle, who contributed all that he had to the work, and by other companions, who are said to have reached the number of eleven within a year. The brothers lived in the deserted lazar house of Rivo Torto near Assisi; but they spent much of their time traveling through the mountainous districts of Umbria, always cheerful and full of songs, yet making a deep impression on their hearers by their earnest exhortations. Their life was extremely ascetic, though such practises were apparently not prescribed by the first rule which Francis gave them (probably as early as 1209), which seems to have been nothing more than a collection of Scriptural passages emphasizing the duty of poverty.

Regula bullata, the Rule confirmed by Honorius III

In spite of some similarities between this principle and some of the fundamental ideas of the followers of Peter Waldo, the brotherhood of Assisi succeeded in gaining the approval of Pope Innocent III.[7] What seems to have impressed first the Bishop of Assisi, Guido, then Cardinal Giovanni di San Paolo and finally Innocent himself, was their utter loyalty to the Church and the clergy. Innocent III was not only the Pope reigning during the life of St. Francis of Assisi, but he was also responsible for helping to construct the Church Francis was being called to rebuild. Innocent III and the Fourth Lateran Council helped maintain the church in Europe. Innocent probably saw in them a possible answer to his desire for an orthodox preaching force to counter heresy. Many legends have clustered around the decisive audience of Francis with the Pope. The realistic account in Matthew Paris, according to which the Pope originally sent the shabby saint off to keep swine, and only recognized his real worth by his ready obedience, has, in spite of its improbability, a certain historical interest, since it shows the natural antipathy of the older Benedictine monasticism to the plebeian mendicant orders. The group was tonsured and Francis was ordained as a deacon, allowing him to proclaim Gospel passages and preach in churches during Mass.[8]

Last years of Francis

Francis had to suffer from the dissensions just alluded to and the transformation they effected in the original constitution of the brotherhood making it a regular order under strict supervision from Rome. Exasperated by the demands of running a growing and fractious Order, Francis asked Pope Honorius III for help in 1219. He was assigned Cardinal Ugolino as protector of the order by the Pope. Francis resigned the day-to-day running of the Order into the hands of others but retained the power to shape the Order's legislation, writing a Rule in 1221 which he revised and had approved in 1223. After about 1223, the day-to-day running of the Order was in the hands of Brother Elias of Cortona, an able friar who would be elected as leader of the friars a few years after Francis' death (1226) but who aroused much opposition because of his autocratic leadership style. He planned and built the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi in which Saint Francis is buried, a building which includes the friary Sacro Convento, still today the spiritual centre of the order.

"The Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule" by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494), Capella Sassetti, Florence.

In the external successes of the brothers, as they were reported at the yearly general chapters, there was much to encourage Francis. Caesarius of Speyer, the first German provincial, a zealous advocate of the founder's strict principle of poverty, began in 1221 from Augsburg, with twenty-five companions, to win for the order the land watered by the Rhine and the Danube. In 1224 Agnellus of Pisa led a small group of friars to England. The branch of the order arriving in England became known as the greyfriars.[9] Beginning at Greyfriars at Canterbury, the ecclesiastical capital, they moved on to London, the political capital, and Oxford, the intellectual capital. From these three bases the Franciscans swiftly expanded to embrace the principal towns of England.

Development of the order after the death of Francis

Dissensions during the life of Francis

The controversy about issues of poverty, which extends through the first three centuries of Franciscan history, began in the lifetime of the founder. The ascetic brothers Matthew of Narni and Gregory of Naples, a nephew of Ugolino, the two vicars-general to whom Francis had entrusted the direction of the order during his absence, carried through at a chapter which they held certain stricter regulations in regard to fasting and the reception of alms, which really departed from the spirit of the original rule. It did not take Francis long, on his return, to suppress this insubordinate tendency; but he was less successful in regard to another of an opposite nature which soon came up. Elias of Cortona originated a movement for the increase of the worldly consideration of the order and the adaptation of its system to the plans of the hierarchy which conflicted with the original notions of the founder and helped to bring about the successive changes in the rule already described. Francis was not alone in opposition to this lax and secularizing tendency. On the contrary, the party which clung to his original views and after his death took his "Testament" for their guide, known as Observantists or Zelanti, was at least equal in numbers and activity to the followers of Elias. The conflict between the two lasted many years, and the Zelanti won several notable victories, in spite of the favor shown to their opponents by the papal administration—until finally the reconciliation of the two points of view was seen to be impossible, and the order was actually split into halves.

Development to 1239

Anthony of Padua (c1195-1231) with the Infant Christ, painting by Antonio de Pereda (c1611-1678)

When the General Chapter could not agree on a common interpretation of the 1223 Rule it sent a delegation including St. Anthony of Padua to Pope Gregory IX for an authentic interpretation of this piece of papal legislation. The bull Quo elongati of Gregory IX declared that the Testament of St. Francis was not legally binding and offered an interpretation of poverty that would allow the order to continue to develop. The earliest leader of the strict party was rather Brother Leo, the witness of the ecstasies of Francis on Monte Alverno and the author of the Speculum perfectionis, a strong polemic against the laxer party. Next to him came John Parenti, the first successor of Francis in the headship of the order. In 1232 Elias succeeded him, and under him the order developed its ministries and presence in the towns significantly. Many new houses were founded, especially in Italy, and in many of them special attention was paid to education. The somewhat earlier settlements of Franciscan teachers at the universities (in Paris, for example, where Alexander of Hales was teaching) continued to develop. Contributions toward the promotion of the order's work, and especially the building of the Basilica in Assisi, came in abundantly. Funds could only be accepted on behalf of the friars for determined, imminent, real necessities that could not be provided for from begging. Gregory IX, in Quo elongati, authorized agents of the order to have custody of such funds where they could not be spent immediately. Elias pursued with great severity the principal leaders of the opposition, and even Bernardo di Quintavalle, the founder's first disciple, was obliged to conceal himself for years in the forest of Monte Sefro.

St. Clare of Assisi, whom St. Francis saw as a his "little daughter", and who is now considered the foundress of the Poor Clares, consistently backed Elias as faithfully reflecting the mind of St. Francis.


A Franciscan Convent in Mafra in Portugal.

Elias governed the order from the center, imposing his authority on the provinces (as had Francis). A reaction to this centralized government was led from the provinces of England and Germany. At the general chapter of 1239, held in Rome under the personal presidency of Gregory IX, Elias was deposed in favor of Albert of Pisa, the former provincial of England, a moderate Observantist. This chapter introduced General Statutes to govern the order and devolved power from the Minister General to the Ministers Provincial sitting in chapter. The next two Ministers General, Haymo of Faversham (1240–44) and Crescentius of Jesi (1244–47), consolidated this greater democracy in the Order but also led the order towards a greater clericalisation. The new Pope Innocent IV supported them in this. In a bull of November 14, 1245, this pope even sanctioned an extension of the system of financial agents, and allowed the funds to be used not simply for those things that were necessary for the friars but also for those that were useful. The Observantist party took a strong stand in opposition to this ruling, and agitated so successfully against the lax General that in 1247, at a chapter held in Lyon, France—where Innocent IV was then residing—he was replaced by the strict Observantist John of Parma (1247–57) and the order refused to implement any provisions of Innocent IV that were laxer than those of Gregory IX.

Elias, who had been excommunicated and taken under the protection of Frederick II, was now forced to give up all hope of recovering his power in the order. He died in 1253, after succeeding by recantation in obtaining the removal of his censures. Under John of Parma, who enjoyed the favor of Innocent IV and Pope Alexander IV, the influence of the order was notably increased, especially by the provisions of the latter pope in regard to the academic activity of the brothers. He not only sanctioned the theological institutes in Franciscan houses, but did all he could to support the friars in the Mendicant Controversy, when the secular Masters of the university of Paris and the Bishops of France combined to attack the Mendicant Orders. It was due to the action of Alexander's representatives, who were obliged to threaten the university authorities with excommunication, that the degree of doctor of theology was finally conceded to the Dominican Thomas Aquinas and the Franciscan Bonaventure (1257), who had previously been able to lecture only as licentiates.

Bonaventure (1221-1274), painting by Claude François, ca. 1650-1660.

The Franciscan John of Parma was seen as favoring the condemned theology of Joachim of Fiore. To protect the order from its enemies John was forced to step down and recommended Bonaventure as his successor. Bonaventure saw the need to unify the order around a common ideology and both wrote a new life of the founder and collected the order's legislation into the Constitutions of Narbonne, so called because they were ratified by the Order at its chapter held at Narbonne, France, in 1260. In the chapter of Pisa three years later Bonaventure's Legenda maior was approved as the only biography of Francis and all previous biographies were ordered to be destroyed. Bonaventure ruled (1257–74) in a moderate spirit, which is represented also by various works produced by the order in his time—especially by the Expositio regulae written by David of Augsburg soon after 1260.


The successor to Bonaventura, Jerome of Ascoli or Girolamo Masci (1274–79), (the future Pope Nicholas IV), and his successor, Bonagratia of Bologna (1279–85), also followed a middle course. Severe measures were taken against certain extreme Spirituals who, on the strength of the rumor that Pope Gregory X was intending at the Council of Lyon (1274–75) to force the mendicant orders to tolerate the possession of property, threatened both pope and council with the renunciation of allegiance. Attempts were made, however, to satisfy the reasonable demands of the Spiritual party, as in the bull Exiit qui seminat of Pope Nicholas III (1279), which pronounced the principle of complete poverty meritorious and holy, but interpreted it in the way of a somewhat sophistical distinction between possession and usufruct. The bull was received respectfully by Bonagratia and the next two generals, Arlotto of Prato (1285–87) and Matthew of Aqua Sparta (1287–89); but the Spiritual party under the leadership of the Bonaventuran pupil and apocalyptic Pierre Jean Olivi regarded its provisions for the dependence of the friars upon the Pope and the division between brothers occupied in manual labor and those employed on spiritual missions as a corruption of the fundamental principles of the order. They were not won over by the conciliatory attitude of the next general, Raymond Gaufredi (1289–96), and of the Franciscan Pope Nicholas IV (1288–92). The attempt made by the next pope, Pope Celestine V, an old friend of the order, to end the strife by uniting the Observantist party with his own order of hermits (see Celestines) was scarcely more successful. Only a part of the Spirituals joined the new order, and the secession scarcely lasted beyond the reign of the hermit-pope. Pope Boniface VIII annulled Celestine's bull of foundation with his other acts, deposed the general Raymond Gaufredi, and appointed a man of laxer tendency, John de Murro, in his place. The Benedictine section of the Celestines was separated from the Franciscan section, and the latter was formally suppressed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. The leader of the Observantists, Olivi, who spent his last years in the Franciscan house at Tarnius and died there in 1298, had pronounced against the extremer "Spiritual" attitude, and given an exposition of the theory of poverty which was approved by the more moderate Observantists, and for a long time constituted their principle.


Under Pope Clement V (1305–14) this party succeeded in exercising some influence on papal decisions. In 1309 Clement had a commission sit at Avignon for the purpose of reconciling the conflicting parties. Ubertino of Casale, the leader, after Olivi's death, of the stricter party, who was a member of the commission, induced the Council of Vienne to arrive at a decision in the main favoring his views, and the papal constitution Exivi de paradiso (1313) was on the whole conceived in the same sense. Clement's successor, Pope John XXII (1316–34), favored the laxer or conventual party. By the bull Quorundam exigit he modified several provisions of the constitution Exivi, and required the formal submission of the Spirituals. Some of them, encouraged by the strongly Observantist general Michael of Cesena, ventured to dispute the Pope's right so to deal with the provisions of his predecessor. Sixty-four of them were summoned to Avignon, and the most obstinate delivered over to the Inquisition, four of them being burned (1318). Shortly before this all the separate houses of the Observantists had been suppressed.

Renewed controversy on the question of poverty

Franciscan friary in Katowice, Poland

A few years later a new controversy, this time theoretical, broke out on the question of poverty. In his 14 August 1279 bull Exiit qui seminat,[10] Pope Nicholas III had confirmed the arrangement already established by Pope Innocent IV, by which all property given to the Franciscans was vested in the Holy See, which granted the friars the mere use of it. The bull declared that renunciation of ownership of all things "both individually but also in common, for God's sake, is meritorious and holy; Christ, also, showing the way of perfection, taught it by word and confirmed it by example, and the first founders of the Church militant, as they had drawn it from the fountainhead itself, distributed it through the channels of their teaching and life to those wishing to live perfectly".[11][12][13]

Although Exiit qui seminat banned disputing about its contents, the decades that followed saw increasingly bitter disputes about the form of poverty to be observed by Franciscans, with the Spirituals (so called because associated with the Age of the Spirit that Joachim of Fiore had said would begin in 1260)[14] pitched against the Conventual Franciscans.[15] Pope Clement V's bull Exivi de Paradiso of 20 November 1312[16] failed to effect a compromise between the two factions.[14] Clement V's successor, Pope John XXII was determined to suppress what he considered to be the excesses of the Spirituals, who contended eagerly for the view that Christ and his apostles had possessed absolutely nothing, either separately or jointly, and who were citing Exiit qui seminat in support of their view.[17] In 1317, John XXII formally condemned the group of them known as the Fraticelli.[14] On 26 March 1322, with Quia nonnunquam, he removed the ban on discussion of Nicholas III's bull[18][19] and commissioned experts to examine the idea of poverty based on belief that Christ and the apostles owned nothing. The experts disagreed among themselves, but the majority condemned the idea on the grounds that it would condemn the Church's right to have possessions.[14] The Franciscan chapter held in Perugia in May 1322 declared on the contrary: "To say or assert that Christ, in showing the way of perfection, and the Apostles, in following that way and setting an example to others who wished to lead the perfect life, possessed nothing either severally or in common, either by right of ownership and dominium or by personal right, we corporately and unanimously declare to be not heretical, but true and catholic."[14] By the bull Ad conditorem canonum of 8 December 1322,[20] John XXII, declaring it ridiculous to pretend that every scrap of food given to the friars and eaten by them belonged to the pope, refused to accept ownership over the goods of the Franciscans in future and granted them exemption from the rule that absolutely forbade ownership of anything even in common, thus forcing them to accept ownership.[21] And, on 12 November 1323, he issued the short bull Quum inter nonnullos,[22] which declared "erroneous and heretical" the doctrine that Christ and his apostles had no possessions whatever.[13][17][23] John XXII's actions thus demolished the fictitious structure that gave the appearance of absolute poverty to the life of the Franciscan friars.[24]

Influential members of the order protested, such as the minister general Michael of Cesena, the English provincial William of Ockham and Bonagratia of Bergamo. In 1324, Louis the Bavarian sided with the Spirituals and accused the Pope of heresy. In reply to the argument of his opponents that Nicholas III's bull Exiit qui seminat was fixed and irrevocable, John XXII issued the bull Quia quorundam on 10 November 1324,[25] in which he declared that it cannot be inferred from the words of the 1279 bull that Christ and the apostles had nothing, adding: "Indeed, it can be inferred rather that the Gospel life lived by Christ and the Apostles did not exclude some possessions in common, since living 'without property' does not require that those living thus should have nothing in common." In 1328 Michael of Cesena was summoned to Avignon to explain the Order's intransigence in refusing the Pope's orders and its complicity with Louis of Bavaria. Michael was imprisoned in Avignon, together with Francesco d'Ascoli, Bonagratia and William of Ockham. In January of that year Louis of Bavaria entered Rome and had himself crowned emperor. Three months later, he declared John XXII deposed and installed the Spiritual Franciscan Pietro Rainalducci as Pope. The Franciscan chapter that opened in Bologna on 28 May reelected Michael of Cesena, who two days before had escaped with his companions from Avignon. But in August Louis the Bavarian and his pope had to flee Rome before an attack by Robert, King of Naples. Only a small part of the Franciscan Order joined the opponents of John XXII, and at a general chapter held in Paris in 1329 the majority of all the houses declared their submission to the Pope. With the bull Quia vir reprobus of 16 November 1329,[26] John XXII replied to Michael of Cesena's attacks on Ad conditorem canonum, Quum inter nonnullos, and Quia quorundam. In 1330, Antipope Nicholas V submitted, followed later by the ex-general Michael, and finally, just before his death, by Ockham.[14]

Separate congregations

Out of all these dissensions in the fourteenth century sprang a number of separate congregations, almost of sects. To say nothing of the heretical parties of the Beghards and Fraticelli, some of which developed within the order on both hermit and cenobitic principles, may here be mentioned:


The Clareni or Clarenini, an association of hermits established on the river Clareno in the march of Ancona by Angelo da Clareno after the suppression of the Franciscan Celestines by Boniface VIII. It maintained the principles of Olivi, and, outside of Umbria, spread also in the kingdom of Naples, where Angelo died in 1337. Like several other smaller congregations, it was obliged in 1568 under Pope Pius V to unite with the general body of Observantists.

Minorites of Narbonne

As a separate congregation, this originated through the union of a number of houses which followed Olivi after 1308. It was limited to southwestern France and, its members being accused of the heresy of the Beghards, was suppressed by the Inquisition during the controversies under John XXII.

Reform of Johannes de Vallibus

Franciscan convent at Lopud in Croatia

This was founded in the hermitage of St. Bartholomew at Brugliano near Foligno in 1334. The congregation was suppressed by the Franciscan general chapter in 1354; reestablished in 1368 by Paolo de' Trinci of Foligno; confirmed by Gregory XI. in 1373, and spread rapidly from Central Italy to France, Spain, Hungary and elsewhere. Most of the Observantist houses joined this congregation by degrees, so that it became known simply as the "brothers of the regular Observance." It acquired the favor of the popes by its energetic opposition to the heretical Fraticelli, and was expressly recognized by the Council of Constance (1415). It was allowed to have a special vicar-general of its own and legislate for its members without reference to the conventual part of the order. Through the work of such men as Bernardino of Siena, Giovanni da Capistrano, and Dietrich Coelde (b. 1435? at Munster; was a member of the Brethren of the Common Life, died December 11, 1515), it gained great prominence during the fifteenth century. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Observantists, with 1,400 houses, comprised nearly half of the entire order. Their influence brought about attempts at reform even among the Conventuals, including the quasi-Observantist brothers living under the rule of the Conventual ministers (Martinianists or "Observantes sub ministris"), such as the male Colletans, later led by Boniface de Ceva in his reform attempts principally in France and Germany; the reformed congregation founded in 1426 by the Spaniard Philip de Berbegal and distinguished by the special importance they attached to the little hood (cappuciola); the Neutri, a group of reformers originating about 1463 in Italy, who tried to take a middle ground between the Conventuals and Observantists, but refused to obey the heads of either, until they were compelled by the Pope to affiliate with the regular Observantists, or with those of the Common Life; the Caperolani, a congregation founded about 1470 in North Italy by Peter Caperolo, but dissolved again on the death of its founder in 1481; the Amadeists, founded by the noble Portuguese Amadeo, who entered the Franciscan order at Assisi in 1452, gathered around him a number of adherents to his fairly strict principles (numbering finally twenty-six houses) and, died in the odor of sanctity in 1482.


Projects for a union between the two main branches of the order were put forth not only by the Council of Constance but by several popes, without any positive result. By direction of Pope Martin V, John of Capistrano drew up statutes which were to serve as a basis for reunion, and they were actually accepted by a general chapter at Assisi in 1430; but the majority of the Conventual houses refused to agree to them, and they remained without effect. At Capistrano's request Eugenius IV put forth a bull (Ut sacra minorum, 1446) looking to the same result, but again nothing was accomplished. Equally unsuccessful were the attempts of the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV, who bestowed a vast number of privileges on both the original mendicant orders, but by this very fact lost the favor of the Observants and failed in his plans for reunion. Julius II succeeded in doing away with some of the smaller branches, but left the division of the two great parties untouched. This division was finally legalized by Leo X, after a general chapter held in Rome in 1517, in connection with the reform-movement of the Fifth Lateran Council, had once more declared the impossibility of reunion. The less strict principles of the Conventuals, permitting the possession of real estate and the enjoyment of fixed revenues, were recognized as tolerable, while the Observants, in contrast to this usus moderatus, were held strictly to their own usus arctus or pauper. All of the groups that followed the Franciscan Rule literally were united to the Observants and the right to elect the Minister General of the Order, together with the seal of the Order, was given to this united grouping. This grouping, since it adhered more closely to the rule of the founder, was allowed to claim a certain superiority over the Conventuals. The Observant general (elected now for six years, not for life) inherited the title of "Minister-General of the Whole Order of St. Francis" and was granted the right to confirm the choice of a head for the Conventuals, who was known as "Master-General of the Friars Minor Conventual"—although this privilege never became practically operative.


In 1525, Matteo Serafini (Matteo Bassi, Matteo da Bascio), an Observant friar, felt himself called to an even stricter observance of Franciscan austerity. After many tribulations, the Capuchins, as they were called from their habit's long hood, became a separate order in 1619.

New World missions

Modern times

Distinguished Franciscans

Roger Bacon (c1214-1294), statue (19th century) in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
Bernardino of Siena (1380-1440), painted by Jacopo Bellini (c1400-c1470).

The Franciscan order boasts a number of distinguished members. From its first century can be cited the three great scholastics Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, and John Duns Scotus, the "Doctor of Wonders" Roger Bacon, and the well-known mystic authors and popular preachers David of Augsburg and Berthold of Regensburg.

During the Middle Ages noteworthy members included Nicholas of Lyra, the Biblical commentator Bernardino of Siena, preachers John of Capistrano, Oliver Maillard, and Michel Menot, and historians Luke Wadding and Antoine Pagi.

In the field of Christian art, during the later Middle Ages, the Franciscan movement exercised considerable influence, especially in Italy. Several great painters of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, especially Cimabue and Giotto, who, though they were not friars, were spiritual sons of Francis in the wider sense, and the plastic masterpieces of the latter, as well as the architectural conceptions of both himself and his school, show the influence of Franciscan ideals. The Italian Gothic style, whose earliest important monument is the great convent church at Assisi (built 1228–53), was cultivated as a rule principally by members of the order or men under their influence.

The early spiritual poetry of Italy was partially inspired by Francis himself, who was followed by Thomas of Celano, Bonaventure, and Jacopone da Todi. Through a tradition which held him to have been a member of the Franciscan Third Order, even Dante may be included within this artistic tradition (cf. especially Paradiso, xi. 50).

Other famous members of the Franciscan family include Anthony of Padua, William of Occam, François Rabelais, Alexander of Hales, Giovanni da Pian del Carpini, Pio of Pietrelcina, Maximilian Kolbe, Pasquale Sarullo, Mamerto Esquiú, Gabriele Allegra, Junipero Serra, Father Simpliciano of the Nativity, Mychal F. Judge, Fray Angelico Chavez, Anton Docher, Joseph of Cupertino, and Benedict Groeschel.

During the "spiritual conquest" of New Spain, 1523-1572, the arrival of the first group of Franciscans, the Twelve Apostles of Mexico, included Fray Martín de Valencia, but more prominently for his corpus of writings on the earliest years was Fray Toribio de Benavente Motolinia. Other important Franciscans are Fray Alonso de Molina, Fray Andres de Olmos, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, who all created texts in indigenous language of Nahuatl to aid friars in the evangelization of Mexico. Fray Geronimo de Mendieta, Fray Augustin de Vetancourt, and Fray Juan de Torquemada are important contributors to the history of the Franciscans in central Mexico.[27]

Poor Clares

The Poor Clares comprise several monasteries of nuns in the Catholic Church. The Poor Clares were the second Franciscan order to be established by Saints Francis of Assisi and Clare of Assisi.

Third Order

The Blessed Luchesius Modestini, honored as the first Franciscan tertiary

The Third Order of St. Francis, The Secular Franciscan Order, was founded by St Francis. Other movements of the Penitents also existed at that time. These were people who desired to grow in holiness in their daily lives without entering monastic life. After founding the Friars Minor and seeing a need, Francis created the Secular Franciscan Order, also known as Brothers and Sisters of Penance.

During his lifetime, many married men and women and even clergy and hermits were drawn to the vision of life offered by Francis, but due to their life commitments, they were not able to enter the Friars Minor or the Poor Clares. For this reason, he founded a way of life to which married men and women, as well as the single and the secular clergy, could belong and live according to the Gospel. According to the traditions of the Order, the original Rule was given by St. Francis in 1221 to a married couple, Luchesius Modestini and his wife, Buonadonna, who wished to follow him but did not feel called to separate as a married couple.

Secular Franciscan Order

Members of the Order live according to a Rule composed by St Francis in 1221. The Rule was slightly modified during the centuries to be adapted to the changing times and replaced at the turn of the 20th century by Minister General based in Rome.

Third Order Regular

Blessed Mary Frances Schervier (1819-1876) was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis who became the foundress of the Poor Sisters of St. Francis, founded to serve the needy.

Within a century of the death of St. Francis, members of the Third Order began to live in common, in an attempt to follow a more ascetical way of life. The Blessed Angela of Foligno (+1309) was foremost among those who achieved great depths in their lives of prayer and service of the poor, while living in community with other women of the Order.

Among the men, the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance[28] was formed in 1447 by a papal decree that united several communities of hermits following the Third Order Rule into a single Order with its own Minister General. Today it is an international community of friars who desire to emphasize the works of mercy and on-going conversion. The community is also known as the Franciscan Friars, T.O.R., and They strive to "rebuild the Church" in areas of high school and college education, parish ministry, church renewal, social justice, campus ministry, hospital chaplaincies, foreign missions, and other ministries in places where the Church is needed.[29]

Following the formal recognition of the members of religious tertiary communities, the following centuries saw a steady growth of such communities, across Europe. Initially, the women's communities took a monastic form of life, either voluntarily or under pressure from ecclesiastical superiors. The great figure of this development was St. Hyacintha Mariscotti, T.O.R. As Europe entered the upheavals of the modern age, new communities arose, which were able to focus more exclusively on social service, especially during the immediate post-Napoleonic period, which devastated much of Western Europe. An example of this is the Blessed Mary Frances Schervier, S.P.S.F.

This movement continued in North America, as various congregations arose from one coast to another, in answer to the needs of the large emigrant communities, flooding in the cities of the United States and Canada.

Franciscans International

United Nations, uniting the voices of Franciscan brothers and sisters from around the world. It operates under the sponsorship of the Conference of the Franciscan Family (CFF) and serve all Franciscans and the global community by bringing grassroots Franciscans to the United Nations forums in New York and Geneva. It brings the spiritual and ethical values of the Franciscans to the United Nations and international organisations.

Franciscans not of the Catholic Church

One of the results of the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church during the 19th century was the re-establishment of religious orders, including some of Franciscan inspiration. The principal Anglican communities in the Franciscan tradition are the Community of St. Francis (women, founded 1905), the Poor Clares of Reparation (P.C.R.), the Society of Saint Francis (men, founded 1934), and the Community of St. Clare (women, enclosed). There is also a Third Order known as the Third Order Society of St Francis (T.S.S.F.).

A U.S.-founded order within the Anglican world communion is the Seattle-founded Order of Saint Francis (OSF) an open, inclusive, and contemporary expression of an Anglican First Order of Friars. There is also an order of Clares in Seattle (Diocese of Olympia) The Little Sisters of St. Clare, where the OSF is officially headquartered.

Another officially sanctioned Anglican order with a more contemplative focus is the order of the Little Brothers of Francis in the Anglican Church of Australia.[31]

The Company of Jesus Community, of both Franciscan and Benedictine inspiration, is under the episcopal oversight of a bishop of the Episcopal Church (United States), but accepts any baptized Christians as members.[32]

There are also some small Franciscan communities within European Protestantism and the Old Catholic Church.

There are some Franciscan orders in Lutheran Churches, including the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, and the masculine branch of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, the Evangelische Kanaan Franziskus-Bruderschaft (Kanaan Franciscan Brothers), follows a Franciscan tradition.

In addition, there are associations of Franciscan inspiration not connected with a mainstream church and describing themselves as ecumenical or dispersed.

The Free Episcopal Church in the USA sponsors the Order of Servant Franciscans, whose members are committed to "the process of becoming" ministers of Christ's message of reconciliation and love, as demonstrated by the holy lives of Saints Francis and Clare. [33][34]

The Mission Episcopate of Saints Francis and Clare, "an autocephalous (self-governing) ecclesial jurisdiction", sponsors the Order of Lesser Sisters and Brothers, open to Christians male or female, married, partnered or single, clergy or lay.[35]

The Australian Ecumenical Franciscan Order is a community of the United Ecumenical Catholic Church.

The Companions of Jesus, founded in the United Kingdom in 2004, is "a Franciscan Community of Reconciliation".

The United States Order of Ecumenical Franciscans adopted its Rule on 22 November 1983.[36]

The Order of Lesser Sisters and Brothers is a dispersed ecumenical Franciscan community similar to the older Third Order model under which most members live their everyday life in the world. They may be male or female, married, partnered or single, clergy or lay. There is no discrimination of any sort, save as to minimum age.

The Ecumenical Franciscan Society from Eastern Europe has Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and free Protestant members.

Visions and stigmata

The stigmatisation of St. Francis

Among the many Catholic orders, Franciscans have proportionally reported higher ratios of stigmata and have claimed proportionally higher ratios of visions of Jesus and Mary . Saint Francis of Assisi himself was one of the very first reported cases of stigmata, and perhaps the most famous stigmatic of modern times is Saint Padre Pio, a Capuchin, who also reported visions of Jesus and Mary. Pio's stigmata persisted for over fifty years and he was examined by numerous physicians in the 20th century, who confirmed the existence of the wounds, but none of whom could produce a medical explanation for the fact that his bleeding wounds would never get infected. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, his wounds healed once, but reappeared.[37] According to the Columbia Encyclopedia[38] some medical authorities who examined Padre Pio's wounds were inclined to believe that the stigmata were connected with nervous or cataleptic hysteria. According to[39] the wounds were examined by Luigi Romanelli, chief physician of the City Hospital of Barletta, for about one year. Dr. Giorgio Festa, a private practitioner also examined them in 1920 and 1925. Professor Giuseppe Bastianelli, physician to Pope Benedict XV agreed that the wounds existed but made no other comment. Pathologist Dr. Amico Bignami of the University of Rome also observed the wounds, but made no diagnosis.

Custody of the Holy Land

After an intense apostolic activity in Italy, in 1219 Francis went to Egypt with the Fifth Crusade, to announce the Gospel to the Saracens. He met with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil, initiating a spirit of dialogue and understanding between Christianity and Islam. The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land started in 1217, when the province of Syria was established, with Brother Elias as Minister. By 1229, the friars had a small house near the fifth station of the Via Dolorosa. In 1272 sultan Baibars allowed the Franciscans to settle in the Cenacle on Mount Zion. Later on, in 1309, they also settled in the Holy Sepulchre and in Bethlehem. In 1335 the king of Naples, Robert of Anjou (Italian: Roberto d'Angiò), and his wife, Sancha of Majorca (Italian: Sancia di Maiorca), bought the Cenacle and gave it to the Franciscans. Pope Clement VI, by the Bulls "Gratias agimus" and "Nuper charissimae" (1342), declared the Franciscans as the official custodians of the Holy Places in the name of the Catholic Church.

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land is still in force today.[40]


The Franciscans established the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum as an academic society based in Jerusalem and Hong Kong for the study of scripture. The Hong Kong branch founded by the Blessed Gabriele Allegra produced the first complete translation of the Catholic Bible in Chinese in 1968 after a 40 year effort.[41] The Studium Biblicum Translation is often considered the Chinese Bible among Catholics.

The early efforts of another Franciscan, namely Giovanni di Monte Corvino, who had attempted a first translation of the Bible in Beijing in the 14th century provided the initial spark for Gabriele Allegra's 40 year undertaking, when at the age of 21 he happened to attend the 6th centenary celebration for Monte Corvino.

See also


  1. ^ "The rule of the Franciscan Order from the Medieval Sourcebook". 1999-09-22. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  2. ^ Do the Franciscans have a coat or arms like many other religious orders?
  3. ^  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Seraphic Order", New Catholic Dictionary. 4 September 2006. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  6. ^  
  7. ^ Chesterton(1924), pp. 107–108
  8. ^ Galli(2002), pp. 74–80
  9. ^ Greyfriars in England
  10. ^ Pope Nicholas III. "English translation 2". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  11. ^ English translation 1; cf. English translation 2 and another translation in (Cambridge University Press 2006 ISBN 978-0-521-78291-3), p. 98.The Image of St FrancisRosalind B. Brooke,
  12. ^ "Tierney, p. 70". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  13. ^ a b "Klaus Schatz, ''Papal Primacy'' (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota 1996 ISBN 978-0-8146-5522-1) pp. 117-118". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f "History of the Franciscan Movement (3)". 2001-12-30. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  15. ^ Brooke, The Image of St Francis, p. 100
  16. ^ English translation 1; English translation 2
  17. ^ a b "Christopher Kleinhenz, ''Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia'' (Routledge 2003 ISBN 978-0-415-93930-0), vol. 1, p. 373". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  18. ^ , English TranslationQuia nonnunquam
  19. ^ Brooke, p. 100
  20. ^ , English TranslationAd conditorem canonum
  21. ^ Brooke, pp. 100-101
  22. ^ English translation 1; English translation 2
  23. ^ "Tierney, p. 181". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  24. ^ Brooke, p. 101
  25. ^ English translation 1; English translation 2
  26. ^ English translation
  27. ^ Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 13, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, pt. 2. Howard F. Cline, volume editor. Austin: University of Texas Press 1973, pp. 142-43; pp. 186-239; pp. 256-275.
  28. ^ "Third Order Regular". 2013-05-12. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  29. ^ Franciscan Friars, TOR. "The Franciscan Orders". Archived from the original on 2007-06-17. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  30. ^ "Franciscans International". Franciscans International. 2013-04-10. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  31. ^ "Little Brothers of Francis". 2012-04-28. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  32. ^ The Company of Jesus Community, Who We Are
  33. ^ "Tifpecusa". 2012-12-10. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  34. ^ "The Order of Servant Franciscans". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  35. ^ "Order of Lesser Sisters and Brothers OSFM". Retrieved 2004-11-26. 
  36. ^ "Order of Ecumenical Franciscans". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  37. ^ Britannica Online Encyclopedia, Padre Pio
  38. ^ stigmata. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07
  39. ^ "Padre Pio: Biography and Much More from". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  40. ^ "Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land". Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  41. ^ Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Hong Kong



  • The Poor and the Perfect: The Rise of Learning in the Franciscan Order, 1209–1310 by Neslihan Senocak. (Cornell University Press; 2012) 280 pages; shows how Franciscans shifted away from an early emphasis on poverty and humility and instead emphasized educational roles
  • A History of the Franciscan Order: From Its Origins to the Year 1517 by John Richard Humpidge Moorman, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1988. ISBN 978-0-8199-0921-3
  • Origins of the Franciscan Order by Cajetan Esser, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1970. ISBN 978-0-8199-0408-9
  • The Leonine Union of the Order of Friars Minor by Maurice Carmody, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1994. ISBN 978-1-57659-084-3
  • Friars Minor in China: 1294 – 1944, by Arnulf Camps and Pat McCloskey, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1996. ISBN 978-1-57659-002-7
  • In the Name of St. Francis: A History of the Friars Minor and Franciscanism until the Early Sixteenth Century, by Grado Giovanni Merlo, translated by Robert J. Karris and Raphael Bonanno, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-1-57659-155-0
  • The History of Franciscan Theology, by Kenan Osborne, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1994. ISBN 978-1-57659-032-4
  • Friars Minor in Ireland from Their Arrival to 1400, by Francis Cotter, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1994. ISBN 978-1-57659-083-6
  • The Franciscan Spirituals and the Capuchin Reform, by Thaddeus MacVicar, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1986. ISBN 978-1-57659-086-7
  • Medieval Franciscan Houses, by John R. H. Moorman, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1983. ISBN 978-1-57659-079-9
  • A Poor Man's Legacy: An Anthology of Franciscan Poverty, by Cyprian Lynch, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1989. ISBN 978-1-57659-069-0
  • The Franciscan Concept of Mission in the High Middle Ages, by E. Randolph Daniel, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1992. ISBN 0-8131-1315-6
  • Peace and Good in America, A History of the Holy Name Province, Order of the Friars Minor, 1850s to the Present, by Joseph M. White, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2004. ISBN 978-1-57659-196-3
  • The Birth of a Movement, by David Flood and Thaddee Matura, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1975. ISBN 978-0-8199-0567-3
  • A History of the Franciscan Order: From Its Origins to the Year 1517 by John R. H. Moorman, Oxford University Press, Oxford, (1968) ISBN 0-19-826425-9; reprint: Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, IL (1988) ISBN 0-8199-0921-1
  • Franciscan Philosophy at Oxford in the Thirteenth Century by D.E. Sharp, Oxford University Press, London (1930); (a more recent ed.: ISBN 0-576-99216-X)
  • Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages (3rd Edition) by C.H. Lawrence, ISBN 0-582-40427-4
  • The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century After Saint Francis by David Burr. ISBN 0-271-02128-4
  • Francis and Clare: The Complete Works By Ignatius C. Brady, Regis J. Armstrong, Paulist Press, Mahwah, New Jersey, (1982) ISBN 0-8091-2446-7
  • The Fraternal Economy: A Pastoral Psychology of Franciscan Economics By David B. Couturier, Cloverdale Books, South Bend (2007) ISBN 978-1-929569-23-6
  • Francis of Assisi: Early Documents 3 Volumes. Edited by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv., and William J. Short, OFM. New York: New City Press. Copyright 1999, Franciscan Institute of Saint Bonaventure University, Saint Bonaventure, NY. ISBN 978-1-56548-110-7.
  • "The Franciscan Story" by Maurice Carmody, Athena Press Publishing Co. UK (2008). ISBN 1-84748-141-8 ; ISBN 978-1-84748-141-2
  • "Santo António de Lisboa - Da Ciência da Escritura ao Livro da Natureza", Maria Cândida Monteiro Pacheco, Imprensa Nacional casa da Moeda,Lisboa, (1997), ISBN 972-27-0855-4
  • "O Simbolismo da Natureza em Santo António de Lisboa", José Acácio Aguiar e Castro,Universidade Católica Portugesa- Fundação Engº António de Almeida, Porto, 1997, ISBN UCP 972-9290.13-X /FEAA 972-8386-03-6


  • Schmucki, Oktavian (2000) "Die Regel des Johannes von Matha und die Regel des Franziskus von Assisi. Ähnlichkeiten und Eigenheiten. Neue Beziehungen zum Islam" (pp. 219–244) in Cipollone, Giulio (ed.). La Liberazione dei 'Captivi' tra Cristianità e Islam: Oltre la Crociata e il Gihâd: Tolleranza e Servizio Umanitario. (CollectaneaArchivi Vaticani, 46.) Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Vatican City.
  • , Masha Halevi, Between Faith and Science: Franciscan Archaeology in the Service of the Holy Places, Middle Eastern Studies Volume 48, Issue 2, 2012pages 249-267

External links

Official websites

Three branches of First Order

  • Ordo Fratrum Minorum
  • Ordo Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum
  • Ordo Fratrum Minorum Conventualium

Regular and Secular Third Order

  • Tertius Ordo Regularis
  • Ordo Franciscanus Saecularis
  • Franciscan Community of Mercy, independent Franciscan website.
  • Brothers of the Poor of St. Francis of Assisi
  • Little Brothers and Sisters of Africa

Lutheran Franciscans

  • Order of Lutheran Franciscans
  • (German) Evangelische Franziskaner-Tertiaren in Germany.
  • (Swedish) Franciskus Tredje Orden in Sweden.
  • The Kanaan Franciscan Brothers
  • (Swedish) Helige Franciskus Systraskap
  • (Swedish) Franciskus-Sällskapet i Finland
  • (United States) The Franciscan Order of the Divine Mercy

Anglican Franciscans

  • Anglican Franciscans
  • Order of Servant Franciscans, Third Order (OSF).
  • Order of Saint Francis (OSF)
  • The Little Sisters of St. Clare
  • Franciscan Servants of the Holy Cross – Original Province (FSHC)
  • The Company of Jesus (CJ)
  • The Franciscan Order of the Divine Compassion
  • The Community of the Franciscan Way

Non-denominational Franciscans

  • Companions of Jesus, a non-denominational order.
  • Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, a non-denominational group.
  • Order of Lesser Sisters and Brothers , a dispersed ecumenical Franciscan community.

Research resources

  • Online guide to the Academy of American Franciscan History Microfilm Collection, 1526–1972, The Bancroft Library
  • Franciscan authors, 13th – 18th century
  • Digital Franciscans - Extensive list of Franciscan internet resources
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