INSPIRATION AND INSTITUTION
WAY OF LIFE
CUSTOMS OF THE PROVINCE
(1536 – 1641)
CAPUCHIN LIFE AS IT WAS DESCRIBED
IN DOCUMENTS GRANTING AN OBEDIENCE,
ASSIGNING WORK TO THE FRIARS,
AND IN LETTERS OF AFFILIATION
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION FOR PILGRIMS, THE POOR, BENEFACTORS AND FORMS RELATING TO WOOL MILLS AND CONSTRUCTIONS
from I Frati Cappuccini, a work of Costanzo Cargnoni, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1991, volume I, pages 1721-1734.
Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap
Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni
Letters of recommendation are not just a phenomenon of our times, but were already used in the past, even in our Order. But they were especially in favour of people outside the Order, such as pilgrims, the poor or benefactors of the friars. Not that there was a lack of recommendations for the friars. Generally, the general or provincial ministers used, in obediences for travel, to add a short recommendation at the end of the document, praying to those ecclesiastical or secular people where the itinerant friars would end up, to show charity and give them a good welcome. Here, however, it is the opposite: these are forms that have the main purpose of recommending particular people to the superiors of the friaries and the friars of the Order.
We have collected some examples of this type of letter: one, issued by the general minister, for pilgrims in the Holy Land, who, having chosen, by vow, to live as beggars to “acquire greater merits”, are recommended and benevolently welcomed into the friaries located along the route as guests “in the hospice of charity” (doc. 86); another, however, used in the past by the provincial curia of Bologna, but also, probably, by other provinces, is in favour of poor travellers, so that they too are welcomed “lovingly” and housed “as Christian charity requires and involves our poverty”, to follow in this the example of Saint Francis who “loved the poor greatly and served them with his own hands” (doc. 87).
If for pilgrims the validity of the recommendation is extended for one year from the date of the letter, for poor travellers, however, it is valid only along the route they have to take and not elsewhere and for a limited period of time.
Other recommendations were signed by the provincial superiors for the benefactors of the friars who had to travel both within the borders of the province (doc. 89, 1) and to other provinces (doc. 89, 2). In this context, we have a document from the general minister Silvestro d’Assisi from 1605 in favour of the servant of God Gianbattista Vitelli valid for all Capuchin places (doc. 88). These benefactors of the friars, having arrived at a friary, showed the letter from the father provincial (or the general) with which they easily found accommodation for a day or a night, avoiding staying “in the inns”, where they would not have had “quiet and satisfaction”.
By writing one provincial to another, they exchanged good wishes and thoughtfulness and prayers, but also, delicately and… diplomatically, they insinuated the commitment of reciprocation, which could mean, negatively, even a benevolent threat, if their recommended were not well served (doc. 89).
The benefactors, so well treated by the friars, could afford some privileges: they could ask to be confessed by the friars and to be buried, dressed in the Capuchin habit, in the friary cemetery. But this license was the responsibility of the general minister (doc. 90); or request to be spiritually affiliated with the Order (see letters of affiliation below).
For their part, the friars were more assured of their benefactors by naming them, naturally if they gave “express consent”, “spiritual friends” and “apostolic auditors” of some friary to handle “pecuniary alms” prohibited to the friars by the Rule (doc. 91). Or, with humble cunning, they named them “fabricants and supervisors” of the factory of a friary (doc. 95) or “auditors of the provincial wool mill”. We report the nomination form used by the province of Bologna. The “apostolic auditor” was, in practice, the director of that sort of family industrial self-management of the friars who solved the needs of their own religious clothing by working the wool themselves to make the cloth suitable in colour and thickness. He was authorized to “sell the wool, waste of said wool and other things from the wool mill which were not necessary in order to exchange them or use the income for something more necessary”; in short, to increase the small friar “company”, a task that was certainly more onerous (“inconvenient”) than honorific (doc. 92), as was the appointment as “fabricator”.
By association of ideas, we have added two other forms of provincial circulars relating to the wool mill and clothing of the friars.
The friar priests had to apply twelve masses. The relevant “offering” was used to “obtain supplies of wool” and had to be delivered to the auditor’s hands “in gold coin not falling to the value of the correct rate” (doc. 93). The provincial, on the other hand, inquired, during the canonical visit, “of each individual’s need for clothing”; but if he had sometimes been unable to visit a friary, then he would inquire by letter via the father guardian (doc. 94). And here it presents itself as a little picture or snapshot of a friary from times gone by. The guardian gathered the friars of the community, listened to “the requests of each of the religious”, but at the same time “observed their respective clothing” to verify whether the request was “right”. It was not possible to ask for a new habit each year, but, after a “competent time”, the worn habit, the “old rag” was handed over to a community worker who probably recycled it for other uses and consumption. The same was true for the “winter mantle”, that is, which was used during the cold winters. Finally, the superior sent the provincial the authentic list of “what was desired” by his community.
86 A letter for pilgrims in the Holy Land
1706 Br N. di N. who belongs to the Capuchin Friars Minor of St Francis sends greetings in Christ who is our salvation to N. who are Guardians and friars in the same order.
Christian charity prompts us to provide all the loving assistance that we can to pilgrims. Therefore, now that N. di N. have made a vow to visit the overseas Holy Places and the Tomb, even if they could readily afford it, so that they can gain more merit by living like beggars. I suggested that they live as guests in one of our places. I ask you to receive them kindly as guests out of charity so that they may make such a pilgrimage.
In support of this I have given them this letter signed by me and sealed with my official seal. We want it to be valid from now for a year.
Given at etc.
- Cf. Const 1536, n. 53 and 78. Concerning hospitality see ibid. n. 93, (cf. nn. 237, 265, 295). ↑