Letters of spiritual affiliation








(1536 – 1641)








from I Frati Cappuccini, a work of Costanzo Cargnoni, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1991, volume I, pages 1739-1762.

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

Table of Contents

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni

98 Spiritual affiliation to the Capuchin Order of the Fabiani family

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni

The typology of these documents in the Franciscan Order has a history which, according to Salimbene, begins with Giovanni Buralli of Parma, who was general minister from 1247 to 1257.[1] But this monastic tradition must have already been in use before Buralli, as says Gratien de Paris.[2] We also have some examples in St. Bonaventure in 1269 and in Bonagrazia from S. Giovanni in Persiceto in 1282.[3] It then becomes a frequent use throughout the Order. Even among the Capuchins.

In the absence of material goods, the friars felt, as Saint Francis says, rich in poverty, “made poor in things and sublime in virtues”[4] and spiritual goods. They leveraged these assets to compensate their most illustrious benefactors, devotees and friends, as well as the civil and religious authorities from whom they expected defence and support for the development of their reform. If they were drastic in rejecting every privilege relaxing the observance of the Rule, they were equally hungry for spiritual privileges: indulgences, relics, suffrages, pious works, devotions, etc. for this comprehensible compensation.

The controversy of indulgences with the denigration, by the Protestant Reformation, of all forms of devotion and of the ceremonies of worship and sacraments and of the rules of Catholic religious life, had stimulated in the Capuchins the exercise of all these pious practices and observances.

However, in vain we looked for examples of these letters in the first decades of the reform. Certainly, with so many benefactors and defenders of their reform, the first general vicars will have made these lay or ecclesiastical personalities share in the spiritual goods. However, the first document we found dates back only to 1572, 44 years after the founding bull of the Order, and is signed by Mario da Mercato Saraceno (doc. 98).

The letter, in Italian, is intended for Fabiani’s parents who had asked their son for this favour for some time. Love for one’s forebears pushed in 1730 a descendant of the Fabians, a certain Diotallevi Fabiani Giuseppe, compiler of a devout biography on Mario da Mercato Saraceno, to transcribe this document and thus saved it from oblivion. The formula already appears rather stereotyped, a sign of frequent use. The scope of the spiritual grace granted is well defined, which is an affiliatio, but in the more precise sense of aggregatio to the Order, because it is not only participation in all the good works of the friars (“mere societas meritorum”), but also a communication of indulgences and spiritual privileges.[5] Everything is based on the privilege granted to the generals by Pope Urban V. An exhortation to pray for the Church, for the Capuchin Order and for its general vicar is added to the final corroboratio. The document has a familiar and intimate tone, having been drawn up in Fabiani’s hometown; and, beyond the apparently neutral words, the great affection of the first Capuchin chronicler towards his parents shines through.

Along with parents, popular figures of saints, individual benefactors and noble families friendly to the Capuchins, or entire monasteries, congregations, brotherhoods, bishops and cardinals are also affiliated with the Order. It is a range of cases or possibilities that our collection wants to take into consideration. For example, there is the Capuchin Confraternity of laity who were lay brothers of S. Maria delle Torricelle, approved by the Theatine bishop of Piacenza, Blessed Paolo Burali on 29 June 1576. It recruited members from the most noble families of Piacenza and had a Capuchin-style liturgical-eucharistic and penitential spirituality. In the processions the brothers dressed in sackcloth with a rough cloth robe and a cape and cord in the Capuchin style and collected alms for the poor and miserable people of the city. This link with the Order was made official through a solemn letter of spiritual affiliation, among the oldest we know, dated 1 June 1576, which seals the regulations of the Brotherhood and is signed by the general minister Girolamo da Montefiore (doc . 99).

Then there is the radiant image of Saint Philip Neri, friend of Saint Felice da Cantalice, who wanted and obtained affiliation from the general minister himself on 25 August 1576 (doc. 100). Two reasons above all push Girolamo da Montefiore: because “Monsignor Filippo” is “devoted and a benefactor”. His devotion is beyond doubt. That he is, then, a “benefactor” of the Capuchins is well known, both for his spiritual relationships with the Order, and for the many vocations that he diverted there, but also for the concrete help given to people recommended by the friars. For example, there is a letter from Mario da Mercato Saraceno, who recommends a priest from Ancona to Saint Philip and which dates back four years earlier.[6] The spiritual goods and indulgences are no longer mentioned generically here, but specifically listed, and this will always be the case in the successive formulas.

The list will vary in more or less detailed examples, from a minimum of five particular good works to a maximum of fifteen. It is like a stylized description of the spiritual and ascetic life of the Capuchin reform. Here in the document to Saint Philip it only references indulgences, prayers, fasting, disciplines, pilgrimages, obediences, Masses and Offices; but in other formulas new clarifications will be added: meditations and contemplations, or “spiritual exercises” or “vigils” will be added to the prayers; at the Masses and “Offices” the “sacrifices” or “holy sacrifices”, and then the “suffrages”; fasting will also be called “Lent” and “abstinence” and “mortifications” will be added; the “disciplines” will be specified with the specification of “corporal mortifications”, “penances” or “austerities”; the “pilgrims” will be completed with “efforts and travels”: to the “obediences” will be added the “merits of obediences”, or the “resignations” or “regular observances”. Some forms will also mention silence, good examples, pious works. The merits of preaching are listed in at least eleven documents.

However, it is not a proud incensing and exaltation of one’s own “good works”, opposed by the reformed beyond the Alps, but all the credit goes to the “grace of Jesus Christ”, as we read in the affiliation of Saint Philip, or to “divine grace (or of God)”, “God’s mercy”, or “God’s goodness”.

It certainly can makes us smile when we read that the good Girolamo da Montefiore exhorts Saint Philip “to live christianly”; but the humility of the saint will have treasured it. It was a stereotyped formula which is also repeated in other documents, with the addition, especially when it comes to lay benefactors, of “attending the holy sacraments”, as he wrote to Mr. Marco Attilio da Fermo the general minister Girolamo da Castelferretti (doc. 101); but even more precise are those of Saint Lawrence of Brindisi in some of his letters of affiliation reported here, even if one is in French (doc. 102) and the other two in Spanish (doc. 103-104) which we have not translated into Italian so as not to repeat the same texts.

Saint Lawrence of Brindisi was very considerate towards those who wished to be made partakers of the spiritual goods of the Order. At least four affiliations of him are known: one in Belgium, in Arras, at the beginning of October 1602 to the brothers and sisters of the «Sainte Miséricorde» of Liège, who for this reason he exhorts to persevere in the virtues and Catholic faith according to their baptismal promises ; two in Spain, to the Jalpi family on 2 May 1603 in S. Salonio, and to the Palà family of Torroella on 18 June of the same year in Barcelona. Here the saint exhorts the frequency of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist with a Christian life in the fear and love of God. He would have granted another affiliation in Umbria to the humanist and poet Marcantonio Bonciari, towards the end of 1604, but the document has been lost.[7]

These documents, in the early days were humble, handwritten on parchment or plain paper, without ornaments. But precisely in Spain, towards the end of the 17th century, as Filippo Bernardi di Firenze narrates in his Relazione del viaggo [travels report], another Capuchin general, Fr. Bonaventura d’Arezzo, visiting the province of Castile, offered the king an artistic “carta de hermandad” in very fine parchment and with the king’s name in gold letters and with ornamental designs depicting on the four sides episodes of the life of Saint Francis, formed “by the point of a penknife on the same parchment, with such excellence, delicacy and art that, with a pale taffeta that he held underneath, his works stood out so that they attracted everyone’s eyes”.[8]

Two other letters of affiliation in our collection are written in French, for two families from Beauvais, devotees of the Capuchins. One was granted by the general defintor Leonardo Favre of Paris (t 1641), former councillor of the Parliament of the kingdom of France, to the family of John of Regnonval, a rich merchant of the city, given from the friary of St. Quintin in Vemandois 25 June 1634 ( doc. 106); the other affiliation is signed by the general minister Giovanni da Moncalieri in favour of three noble families and benefactors of the friars, also from Beauvais, dated Paris 15 July 1638 (doc. 107). Fundamentally identical, these two letters have their own different formal elegance: the first, entirely handwritten, with the seal of the vicar provincial of the Capuchins of Paris which depicts Saint Francis receiving the stigmata and underneath the coat of arms of France with the three lilies; the other is printed, except for the names and the date, and entirely framed by a faint black ornament. At the bottom under the panel there is a fine representation of Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, with the particularity that it can be folded so that the saint’s head touches the text. The seal is that of the general minister and depicts Saint Francis at the feet of Mary holding the Baby Jesus in her arms, with the letter T and, divided on both sides of the saint, the date of the start of the Capuchin reform: 1525.[9]

We have reported two other letters of affiliation from Giovanni di Moncalieri, in Italian, dating back to 1640 and 1641. One of these is, as usual, addressed to a benefactor, a certain Nicolò Calvucci and family, dated from Fermo 14 February 1641 (doc. 109), the other is an example of affiliation of an entire monastery of nuns with their borders, a probably Roman monastery called of S. Margherita, certainly not of Capuchins. It bears the date: Rome 20 November 1640 (doc. 108). Both of these texts are on printed forms with friezes and decorative figures. We are, after all, already fully in the 17th century.

The affiliations, pertaining to the general, could also be granted by the other general superiors or provincials, if however they had special permission. We have also reported an example of an affiliation signed by a minister provincial, Fr. Zeno da Bergamo, of the Venetian province, in favour of the counts of Arco, generous benefactors of the friars (doc. 105).

To complete the picture of the formulas, some modules are proposed again which have a particular interest for the play of literary and formal variations and for the diversity of the recipients.

The motive is always the request on the part of “devoted and loving benefactors”, as Giovanni Maria da Tusa writes in his handwritten Manuale (doc. 110) and appears, more or less, also in other forms (doc. 112-113). New, however, is the formulation adapted by a vicar provincial, especially in the final part of the text where the stereotyped exhortation to pray for the Church and for the Capuchins is revived with new spiritual and devotional advice: “say for your devotion every day 5 Our Fathers and Hail Marys in memory of the sacred stigmata of our father Saint Francis, living memory of the sacred wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ” (doc. 111).

Finally, the affiliations granted to congregations or confraternities are also characteristic (another example in doc. 115), and those in favour of bishops with the faculty of confessing to the friars (doc. 114), a custom that has remained up to the present day in some places.

Many bishops and cardinals received letters of affiliation. We do not know about Saint Charles, but it is very probable, as he was very thirsty for spiritual indulgences and linked to the Capuchins. However, we know about his cousin Cardinal Federico Borromeo who received this spiritual favour on 11 July 1629 from the general minister Giovanni Maria da Noto with an accompanying letter which we report here as the conclusion of this presentation:

Most illustrious and my most reverend ever most kind master.

Brother Modesto di Milano having informed me that your most illustrious lordship would be grateful for the letter of participation in the merits of our Order, I gladly embrace the opportunity to extend this humble reverence to you and to thank you for being pleased to make use of our Order in anything, which is a sign of the goodwill it brings you. I am therefore sending you this letter together with the said paper, which will serve as a testimony of our observance; and with my most devoted servant in mind, I remain praying to God to grant your most illustrious lordship very long years for the benefit of his Church and the fulfillment of all his holy desires.

From Paris, the 11th of July 1629.

From your most illustrious and most reverend lordship

most humble servant

Fra Giovanni Maria da Noto, general of the Capuchins[10]

Cf. Arch. Borromeo Isola Bella (Lago Maggiore), Borromeo family: card. Frederick III archbishop of Milan – Correspondence 1629 (f.n.n.).

98 Spiritual affiliation to the Capuchin Order of the Fabiani family

[page 1746]

1719 Because you Battista Fabiani, our Father, with our Mother and all your children, have been persistently asking me, Br Mario, the unworthy General Minister of the Capuchin Friars, to accept you as spiritual children of our Order, and to allow you to share in the merits of member of the Order and the indulgences granted to them by various Popes, I grant what you wished for as a faithful and Christian person for we do not want to deny what you are asking for.

Therefore, we accept you as part of our family and in accord with the privileges granted by Urban IV.[11] We grant you a share in the good works that we do by the mercy of God and the indulgences that we enjoy. We exhort you to pray to God to grant us an increase in faith and the way that we live our religious life. Pray for all of us.

Given at Mercatosaracino on 9th September 1572.

Signed Br Mario


  1. Salimbene da Parma wrote: “This brother John of Parma was the first general minister who received the devout and devoted brothers of the minors for the benefits of the Order, giving them letters sealed with his general seal… And the form of the letters he gave was like this, with the names of the persons changed, as it was appropriate: Beloved in Christ… And note that he did not want to give these letters except to the petitioners, and unless those who petitioned were truly devoted to God and the Order and primary benefactors, or arranged to be” (cf. Cronca, in MG SS, t. 32, 298s; Cronica. Nuova edizione critica, a work of G. Scalia, vol. 1, Bari 1966, 434s).
  2. Gratien de Paris, Histoire de la fondation et de l’évolution de l’Ordre des Frères Mineurs au XIII° siècle. Bibliography updated by Mariano D’Alatri and Servus Gieben, Roma 1982, 179 note 68.
  3. Cf. M. Bihil, Duae confraternitatis epistolae a Fr. Bonagratia ministro generali datae an. 1582, altera Vindobonae, altera Coloniae, in AFH 23 (1930) 242-45; idem, Duae confraternitatis epistolae canonicis Werdensibus (Kaiserswerth) a ministris generalibus Fr. Bonaventura an. 1269 et Fr. Bonagratia an. 1282 datae, in AFH 26 (1933) 231-233.
  4. Rb, 6, 5 (FF n. 90).
  5. Cf. Burchard Mathis von Wolfenschießen, Die geistliche Güter-und Ablaßgemeinschaft, Ingelboth 1935, 9; Marinus in Neukirchen, Aggregatio-filiatio, in Provinzbote (Bayern Cap.) 29 (1955) 48-50. – For other bibliography on letters of spiritual affiliation cf. F. Delorme, Neuf lettres de confraternité accordées à des bienfaiteurs ou amis de l’ordre Séraphique en France (1274-1571), in AFH 36 (1943) 108-116; D. Van Heel, Iets over de litterae confraternitatis in onze Orde, in Neerl. Ser. 14 (1940) 164-168; Hugolinus Lippens, De litteris confratermitatis apud Fratres Minores ab Ordinis initio ad annum usque 1517, in AFT 32 (1939) 49-88; and finally cf. Lexicon cap., 18.
  6. Cf. Roma, Bibl. Vallicelliana, Z 83 (24): Lettere scritte e sottoscritte da san Carlo Borromeo e santa Caterina de Ricci con alter lettere di diversi scritti a san Filippo. -The letter of Mario da Mercato Saraceno, 24a of the collection is dated: Ancona, 9 March 1572.
  7. Cf. Arturo da Carmignano, Il generalato di S. Lorenzo (1602-1605), in CF 29 (1959) 230.
  8. Cf. Philippus de Firenze, Itineramini generalis Bernardini de Arezzo (1691-1698). I: Per Hispaniam, in lucem edi Marianus D’Alatri (MHOC, vol XI), Romae 1973, 112.
  9. Cf. Jean Vinot-Préfontaine, Lettres de réception pour enfants spirituels de l’Orare de saint-François, in Rev. d’hist. franc. 4 (1927) 52-55. It the seal pictured here on the cover [of the volumes of I frati cappuccino].
  10. Cf. Arch. Borromeo Isola Bella (Lago Maggiore), Famiglia Borromeo: card. Federico III arcivescovo di Milano – Corrispondenza 1629 (f.n.n.).
  11. Urban Iv who was Pope at Avignon from 1362 to 1370. This is a reference to the Bull Beneficia sanctorum, that is mentioned in Firmament atrium Ordinum, Parisiis 1512, pars II, f. 2ra.