The Capuchins in France




(1575 – 1638)

edited by




from I Frati Cappuccini, a work of Costanzo Cargnoni, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, 1992, volume IV, pages 25-44.

(Access digital version of original text in I frati cappuccini here)

Translated by Lam Vu OFM Cap

Table of Contents

Selected texts on the Capuchins in France


The end of the 16th Century and the first half of the 17th Century are essentially an era of transition. There appears a prodigious richness of interior life, that is of holiness at a time when the last glimmers of the Renaissance with its luxury, sensual life and cult of man are still seen shining. It is therefore a France full of contrasts that witnesses the coming and way of life of the Capuchin friars in a time eager for holiness and mystical experience, but when religious life is fading; an era in turmoil with its political crises that already bear the sign of a true intellectual upheaval.

When the Capuchin friars arrived in France, the Gallican church was going through a very critical situation: wounded by the religious wars that had desolated the country for 40 years, stripped by a king who did not hesitate to alienate many church properties to support it in the war against the Protestants; and, moreover, many places of worship, churches and monasteries had been destroyed, causing the irreparable loss of countless works of art. And, no less important, the Church, at the decline of the 16th Century, was deprived, in practice, of any intellectual and moral prestige that could ensure a prospect of secure renewal.

Thenceforth, the Christians had been divided into two groups, so much so that some, exasperated by the promises of reform, adhered to the principle of free thought and aspired to a renewal of the Church structures and doctrines; others, however, more sensitive to the need for encounter with God and with Christ, intend to remain faithful to the traditional Church, while also aspiring to an interior renewal, a phenomenon which was gradually expanding and giving to France a magnificent spiritual renewal. And it is precisely in this context that the first Capuchin friars made their appearance.[1]

Remarkable geographical expansion of friaries in France

From the beginning they experienced rapid expansion. This geographical dissemination of Capuchin settlements in France required a period of more than 130 years of successive transformations as consequences of political and religious interference. From 1574, when the Capuchins arrived in Paris, until 1715, the French Capuchin friars, thanks to their way of life and their multifaceted apostolate of charity in the popular nuclei of French society, were able to establish as many as 405 friaries spreading over 13 provinces.[2]

Here is a summary breakdown of this development:

From 1574 to 1590:

Province of Paris:13 Friaries
Province of Lyon:7 Friaries
Province of Provence:6 Friaries
Province of Aquitaine:5 Friaries
31 Friaries in 16 years

From 1580 to 1610, following the addition of the Commissariat of Lorenza to the Province of Lyon (1599), its declaration as an independent province (1606), and the formation of the Province of Touraine at the expense of the Province of Paris (1610), the picture changed as follows:

Province of Paris:23 Friaries
Province of Lyon:34 Friaries
Province of Provence:20 Friaries
Province of Toulouse:22 Friaries
Province of Lorenza:13 Friaries
Province of Turenne:16 Friaries
128 Friaries

An increase of 97 foundations is noted in 21 years.

From 1610 to 1624 other provinces were erected: those of Savoy (1611) and Burgundy (1618), at the expense of the Province of Lyon. In this period the Capuchin settlements multiplied incessantly: Paris gained 35 friaries, Lyon 7, Provence 8, Toulouse 21, Lorenza 21, Turenne 34; so that in 1624 we have this picture:

Province of Paris:58 Friaries
Province of Lyon:41 Friaries
Province of Provence:28 Friaries
Province of Toulouse:43 Friaries
Province of Lorenza:23 Friaries
Province of Turenne:50 Friaries
Province of Savoy:2 Friaries (but not in France)
Province of Burgundy:15 Friaries
260 Friaries

In the space of 14 years, 132 friaries!

From 1624 to 1643 three new provinces were founded: Brittany and Normandy (1629), detached from the Provinces of Paris and Turenne. In 1640 the Province of Aquitaine was divided into two territories: the older part took the name of the Province of Toulouse (25 friaries), the other would become the Province of Guyenne with 28 friaries, so that in 1643 the situation was as follows:

Province of Paris:39 Friaries
Province of Lyon:53 Friaries
Province of Provence:36 Friaries
Province of Toulouse:25 Friaries
Province of Lorenza:31 Friaries
Province of Turenne:29 Friaries
Province of Savoy:3 Friaries
Province of Burgundy:18 Friaries
Province of Normandy:27 Friaries
Province of Brittany:27 Friaries
Province of Aquitaine:28 Friaries
316 Friaries

In 19 years, 56 new friaries.

From 1643 to 1715, two other new provinces arose: that of Champagne (1662) and Lille (1671), detached from the Belgian Province. To these we must add the two friaries of Bar-sur-Aube and Wassy which would form the Custody of Ireland.

Province of Paris:42 Friaries
Province of Lyon:56 Friaries
Province of Provence:38 Friaries
Province of Toulouse:31 Friaries
Province of Lorenza:48 Friaries
Province of Turenne:31 Friaries
Province of Savoy:3 Friaries
Province of Burgundy:22 Friaries
Province of Normandy:27 Friaries
Province of Brittany:30 Friaries
Province of Aquitaine:42 Friaries
Province of Champagne:15 Friaries
Province of Lille:18 Friaries
Province of Lille:2 Friaries
405 Friaries

In 72 years, another 89 friaries, to which we should add 6 friaries in Roussillon, united to the kingdom of France by the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1660).

It should be noted, then, that the Province of Paris, taken here as an example, from 1643 counted 42 friaries until the French Revolution, a number that remained unchanged until the end of the Ancien Régime. In 1790 France would include as many as 15 provinces with a total of 379 friaries.

Looking at this allocation of Capuchin friaries in France, one can sense how certain regions lack them, while they abound in other parts of the country. Inland Brittany, for example, is completely devoid of friaries, except for Rennes, an administrative city. It is noticeable that all Breton friaries are scattered along the coasts, so it is clear that an economic factor of some importance played there. The Capuchins, a mendicant Order, whose members lived by begging, could not settle in poor regions or those already occupied by houses of other mendicant Orders, while on the coasts the population lived mainly by fishing and these religious could beg without prejudice to anyone.

On the other hand, the allocation of friaries acquired a notable density in regions such as Poitou, a mission country, where Protestants were particularly numerous. For this reason, the missions organised by Richelieu and Father Joseph of Paris naturally led to the foundation of many houses. The same phenomenon will be repeated later in the Cévennes and for the same reason.

Numerous Capuchin houses were also found on the Mediterranean coasts for the same reasons seen in Brittany, and especially in the South-West, probably due to the small and very dispersed clergy, but also due to the presence of many Protestants in those areas. The kingdom of Navarre had, effectively, passed through the reform and the South-West did not shine with a particularly fervent Christian life. Furthermore, in Languedoc, a rather religiously cold region, the memory of the old Cathar heresy and the Inquisition which had imbued the mentality of the inhabitants still survived; hence the numerous friaries as if to counterbalance that religious indifference.

Other causes were added, sociological and religious: the Christian life in the process of renewal required preachers and therefore friaries to house them. There was also the friendship of the princes and in the first approaches, the influence and protection of the queen mother Caterina de Medici who, being Italian, could only welcome a religious Order of Italian origin (cf. docs. 3, 12, 14, 17/2, 19). Moreover, it was also the era in which large Italian families were about to settle in France, such as the Gondi who gave three bishops to Paris, or the Duke of Nevers, founder of the friary of Reims, who belonged to the Ducal family of Mantua.[3]

The friendship of certain bishops and municipalities also had its importance (e.g. docs. 2 and 15). They saw in the Capuchins both preachers for their dioceses, nurses, and benevolent chaplains, always available in the event of an epidemic, since until around 1645-1650 epidemics in France dominated in an endemic state. There was also the gratitude shown by some cities which were struck by a plague and having received the charitable service from the Capuchins, wanted to find a friary for them.[4]

Thus, two periods can be established in the chronology of the foundations of the friaries. The first corresponds to the end of the 16th century and has as determining factors: 1. The rise of the Capuchin Reform with rapid and sudden development; 2. The intense religious need that Catholics felt for an energetic and new pastoral care during the wars of religion and immediately afterwards, as well as the need to support and organise the spontaneous and strong religious renewal at the beginning of the ‘Grand era.’

The second period (following the chronological scope that we have established) concerns, at least in the outskirts of Paris, the case of many friaries corresponding to particular needs, especially the pastoral care of the court of Versailles and of the King’s soldiers barracks around the Castle and up to Courbevoie, the chaplaincy of the servants of the large and small stables, etc.

It is also worth underlining the importance of the geographical points of settlement. Here the condition of the communication routes certainly appears, and we have evidence of this in the religious houses located on the banks of the rivers at the time used as a waterway, and on the roads that reach Paris and other important cities. This is proven by a small travel notebook of a questing brother of the friary of Montfort-L’Amaury, Brother Joseph of Pernes, chosen as a companion of Father Charles of Bapaume, custodian for the General Chapter of 1782.[5] Now this questing friar, having narrated the main facts of the journey, gives a list of the friaries he passed through with an indication of the distances between them, which a traveller could cover in a day’s journey, and they varied from 12 to 30 km. Therefore, the friaries had been spread out in such a way as to facilitate the journeys of the friars, always made on foot.

Another reason for the proximity of the various friaries was the division of the territory of the Parisian periphery, at the time divided into five dioceses (Beauvais, Chartres, Paris, Rouen and Sens), which consequently required a sustained movement of religious applied to the preaching ministry. Being preachers, they needed friaries from which to start their apostolate, since each friary, if it was a centre of spiritual life – and it should be noted here the important role played by the fraternities of the Third Order in an era when clusters were religious and not political – was also a centre of irradiation at the service of parishes and chaplaincies. In Poissy, for example, whose market was one of the most important in the Paris region, the Scabins wanted to have the Capuchins as chaplains to the butchers. As a result, the religious had very frequent contact with the merchants who came to the city. In Étampes, then in the Diocese of Sens, they were very active among the people and helped the local clergy while safeguarding their friary life.[6]

We can then conclude that their contribution to the formation and preservation of a living Christianity in the dioceses where they were welcomed was notable. From that moment on, these religious houses carried out a very intense spiritual life which animated their apostolate until the end of the Ancien Régime.

Vocational growth and social background of the first French Capuchins[7]

But what social background were the inhabitants of these friaries? Having overcome the difficulties of the beginning due to the novelty of their way of life and the opposition of the Gallican Parliament, especially after the plague of 1580, which was their testimony of selfless loyalty, there was a continuous growth in their recruitment. Among them there were humanists, nobles, beneficiaries, professors of the Sorbonne, etc.

Even if we only take a quick look at the number of novices (there were many novitiates operating at the same time in the province of Paris) and to the extent that these lists have come down to us, we can see that the numbers of professed that we can know are nonetheless impressive and grew continuously until the beginning of the 18th Century, as this diagram shows:

Province of ParisFriariesReligious

A black and white drawing of a person Description automatically generated

Fig. 1. The first Capuchin provinces in France in 1632

“Figure and site of the whole of France, which contains 10 provinces.” This is how Silvestro Pepi of Panicale († 1641) titled the geographical map of France, drawn in pen and coloured with watercolour, in his Capuchin Atlas. The provinces marked here are: Paris, Normandy, Brittany, Turenne, Toulouse, Lyon, Provence, Savoy, Burgundy and Lorenza and outline the expansion of the Order on French territory in just over fifty years of history.

(Cf. Atlante Cappuccini. Opera inedita di Silvestro da Panicale. 1632, edited by S. Gieben. Roma, Istituto Storico dei Cappuccini, 1990, 20 – 22x29cm.)

In relation to the Order as a whole, a continuous progression can also be seen here until the beginning of the 18th Century, both in terms of the number of provinces and friaries as well as of religious, as seen in this other table.

General ChaptersProvincesFriariesReligious

Who do we find among these novices? Certainly, people belonging to the class of nobles whose vocation can be considered as a reaction to the luxury and corruption of the Valois Court and at the same time a protest against the libertinism and immorality of the time. The austere life of the Capuchins generally attracted upright and sincere hearts. We mention Duke Henry de Joyeuse, who became Father Angelo de Joyeuse, who had to temporarily leave the Order following political events, to become Governor of Languedoc for the League and Marshal of France, before taking up the rough Capuchin habit again in 1599. Or Father Heliodorus of Anvers who came from a noble Flemish family; Father Henry de La Grange Palaiseau, who descended from the Lords of Arville, Marquis of Palaiseau; Bernardine of Paris, spiritual writer and natural son of Henry IV and Gabriella of Estrées; the famous Joseph of Paris, friend of Richelieu, descendant of the Mothier-La Fayette family; Athanasius of Mesgrigny, Baron of Lorme and Chamesson and Lawyer in Parliament; Angelo of Lhéry and Louis of Juilly of a noble family of Champagne and many other nobles of the sword.

But even among the “noblesse de robe,” that is, among magistrates and courtiers such as parliamentarians and those in the chambers of accounts, the Capuchins were widely represented, and this from the earliest years of their arrival in France. And so it came to pass that during the heroic period of the Poor Hermits of Picpus, one saw a Lawyer in the Parliament of Paris, a Doctor of Canon and Civil Law and holder of a Chair at the Sorbonne, solicit admission into the Order, becoming Father Joseph of Donchery, and this was no exception.

Theologians were also noticed, such as Father Antoninus of Chartres who was a member of the Cathedral Chapter. A preacher, he was admired and in demand just about everywhere. The Spirit of God gave such a powerful and penetrating anointing to his words that he converted the most hardened hearts. Father Eusebius of Merlon also held two canonries in Saint-Quintin and Boulogne. In contrast, Father Sempliciano of Chaumont had been a doctor of the theological faculty of Paris.

Most of the vocations, however, came from the middle and working class. This contribution undoubtedly reflects the advance of the bourgeois class at the time which, of mercantile origins, experienced continuous enrichment to the point of surpassing and crushing the noble class itself with its glamour. It was the era in which the luxurious hotels of Marais were being built in Paris.

These families of wealthy merchant drapers, goldsmiths and others were deeply religious. They knew how to defend themselves behind a certain shield of austerity and formed themselves to an intense Christian life. Their members belonged to the famous Company of the Holy Sacrament; the Port-Royal movement exerted a profound influence on them. It is noticeable in these families that they not only dedicated Sundays and feast days, but loved to participate in parish services, while their parents delighted in reciting a devotional office. They founded chapels, became patrons of works of art by ordering those magnificent stained-glass windows from glass masters where they were represented as donors. We therefore moved in an atmosphere full of religious fervour.

Now it was from these families that Capuchins in particular were recruited. We can cite, as an emblematic example among many, Father Honoré of Paris, whose cousin would become Saint Louise de Marillac. He will also have a brother who will become a Carthusian monk, while his father, widowed, will enter the Carthusian monastery in Paris; or again Father Gabriel of Paris who belonged to the Cramoisy family of booksellers and publishers, whose father, Sebastian Cramoisy, was the publisher of the famous Arnauld and the Lords of Port-Royal.

There were also vocations among the soldiers of the time, both officers and simple soldiers. Thus Fr. Victor of Evreux, former Captain of the League and later Lieutenant General of the imperial armies. Others had become friars as a result of a vow taken on the battlefield, where they were wounded, such as Br. Onofrio of Paris and many others. There was also a knight from Malta, Fr. John Mary of Treslon.

There was no shortage of vocations from Protestant converts, although they were almost always foreigners, particularly English, such as George Leslie, Archangel of Pembrock, Angel of London and, most famously, Benedict of Canfield.

Finally there were vocations coming from the working classes, from manual workers and they were numerous, but since the registers of the vestments and professions of the novitiate convent of the Parisian suburb of Saint-Jacques were destroyed in the fire of the Hotel de Ville, set by the Commune in 1871, it remained practically impossible to even briefly indicate the number or the work carried out by the relatives. I have tried to fill this gap by researching and examining the wills or donations among the living made by the novices on the eve of their profession, texts full of information, the minutes of which are preserved in the notarial registers of Chatelet and Paris. Thus, one finds, among these young men, sons of popular magistrates, saddle makers, drapers, pharmacists, merchants, humble day laborers, vegetable gardeners and old soldiers, who lived the same life, animated by the ideal of being conformed to Christ in the school of Saint Francis.[9]

Main reasons for the great success of the Capuchins in France

The reason for this growing vocational success must be sought in the witness of their lives and the strictness of their observance, for it is clear that until 1610 their apostolate was above all that of example. This represented the only means of propaganda and apostolate. Their penitent life, austerity of habit, poverty, and preaching attracted ever more numerous souls to them, eager for perfection and yearning for an authentic spiritual life. Now, in those early years, the Capuchins did not yet exercise an active ministry and many among them led a life of a contemplative nature. But for this reason, above all those Christians found an answer to their aspirations for a perfect life. Purely hermitic at the time of their stay at Picpus, the life of the Capuchin friars, except for a small number of preachers, was truly immersed in an atmosphere of contemplation (docs. 1 and 9).

Those who came to follow their lives belonged not only to the middle and working classes, but also to the nobility and the Parisian or Lyonnais upper bourgeoisie. Indeed, it could be asserted that most of them came from the bourgeoisie class of the first half of the “Great Century”. If the nobility was represented by the Joyeuse, the Crèvecoeur, the judiciary, in turn, was represented by the Bochard de Champigny, the Brulart de Sillery. And there was no shortage of intellectuals among them at the beginning. Later Yves de Paris would appear, but also Benoît de Canfield, Laurent de Paris and others, all of noble or bourgeois origin. So too, old officials, gentlemen, jurists, professors of the Sorbonne found themselves together in their ranks and fraternised with humbler members, as we mentioned above.

What were the causes of this exceptional development of the Capuchins? They were essentially the witness of their life, their zeal, their humble and prompt availability for every service (cf. doc. 21, 23-24). Like other new Orders of the time, they originated a movement of reform of friaries, a renewal of religious life. But the aspect that made the Capuchins true initiators was above all their conventual life, punctuated by the divine office recited in common. For the rest, the preachers were busy with their ministry, the lecturers and students in their studies, and the priests were busy themselves with various services and jobs. It should be noted that the ‘licensed’ preachers even in France were a small number, but well-chosen. Most priests were content to give themselves to the contemplative life, manual labour, or pastoral ministry in the city. Thus, a large part of choral life and silent prayer tempered the more apostolic and active elements.

But it is of great interest to try to grasp the spirit that oriented and enlivened this life, that is, union with God, which is echoed in a booklet that appeared rather late, in times subsequent to the period we are studying. Its author was able to collect with great suggestion the main themes of Capuchin spirituality and summarise the broad lines of their spiritual life, which is life in God, interiority, and searching, following and conforming to Christ and the will of the Father. This small book was the Conduite intérieure of Father Giuseppe of Dreux and represented the most characteristic synthesis of the spiritual life of the Capuchins in France.[10]

An important element is also the observance as much as possible to the letter of the Rule considered as the synthesis of the Gospel, with this clarification that what is most striking in the legislation of the Capuchins is not so much their fidelity to the letter of the Gospel, but their desire to animate this observance with the Spirit of Christ discovered and perceived in the Gospel. Hence the importance given to the life of prayer, and this is probably the aspect that must have struck contemporaries above all.

Another peculiarity that recalls their eremitic origins is that the Capuchins of this era, faithful to their ideal of solitude, had always carefully tried to remember in their Constitutions the need to keep one or two cells in their friaries for those who wanted to live a few days or a few weeks and even longer in an eremitic experience of life. Thus, in the great Parisian friary of Saint-Honoré even in the middle of the 18th Century, as attested by a plan from 1741, which includes some cells intended for ‘solitary people.’ We can clearly see the eminently eremitic imprint of Francis and his first companions, which the Capuchin friars were keen to preserve, even in the Century of Enlightenment. In this anxiety for the eremitic, contemplative and and pauperistic-penitential aspect must be placed the attempt at reform carried out, but apparently unsuccessfully, by Father Nathanael of Pontoise in the last years of the Sixteenth Century in France, not even twenty years after the arrival of the Capuchins (doc. 30).

Another testimony that also attracted the attention of Christians in the late 1500s and early 1600s was the poverty manifested in their habit, which, from being an object of ridicule in the early days, became an object of true veneration; a poverty that their contemporaries observed in Capuchin friaries, and which contrasted with other religious houses (doc. 25). This poverty was put by the Capuchin friars at the service of all, because, detached from everything, they found themselves available to serve the poor, the destitute and especially the sick. Indeed, it was this detachment and selflessness of theirs that was the cause of their popularity among city and country people (cf. doc. 20). As itinerant hermits, they were in close contact with the people who came to them with trust, nor could they fail to notice the needs of the people.

It must also be emphasised that the questors, by reason of their work and their relations with the people, carried out a true voluntary apostolate towards the sick and the people with their advice and the eloquent witness of their example. The Chroniclers have left the vivid portraits of some of these friars, and although they have added ornamental brushstrokes, it remains no less true that we are dealing with friars of great spiritual stature.

Thus, one Father Epiphanius, though he was a Guardian, went out to quest: “Being a Guardian in Meudon, he would set out from his friary, walk two leagues on an empty stomach, then return, having finished questing, without drinking or eating and without having asked from door to door for a piece of bread. Finally, at the friary, he would be content with a bit of bread and fresh water. His companions, lay brothers, could not imitate him, although they were stronger than him.”

The testimony of their lives was also manifested in their liturgical prayer. Even in this field, the Capuchin friars were innovators and initiators for their contemporaries who were struck by certain customs, hitherto unknown: the presence of a fixed tabernacle, the custom of placing flowers on the altars. Thus, their monotonous and solemn chanting of psalms, which was strangely surprising, but then ended up becoming pleasant; or the performance of very simple ceremonies in the austere setting of their little churches which encouraged them to do the same.

These liturgical innovations then had their own reason for being because they took away the opportunity for Protestants to lash out at the luxury of churches. The same applies to singing. The ‘simple and mournful’ way of chanting the psalms seduced not only priests and religious, but was also an opportunity to curb polyphonic excesses, the abuses of which had been rejected.

Finally, and above all, the Capuchins were surprising with their method of doing mental prayer in common in the choir. They came to Saint-Honoré to spy on them, to observe them secretly, and they themselves spread the practice of prayer among their disciples.[11] Everyone wanted to learn this new way of praying, and it was an aspiration that corresponded well with the thirst for interiority that characterised spiritual renewal in that era.

We must also note the influence of the Capuchins in animating Sacramental life, their efforts to spread among the faithful the practice of Sacramental Communion and the devotion of the Forty Hours, of Italian origin, which was to be widely used by the Capuchins at the beginning of their missions; the worship of the Passion particularly of the Sacred Heart that was to blossom, of which the Capuchins became propagators already in the first years of their arrival in France. Their influence was therefore enormous, so much so that the author of the Chronicle of the friary of Marais was able to write: “We became aware of the good that our religious worked by their spiritual services rendered after settling in the city, by their good examples, the holiness of their lives, their frequent exhortations to the libertines, their care for the sick and dying, their visits to convicts, prisoners and hospitals, their catechism in their churches for children and maidens and in the cloister for the pages, their sermons by which they shook consciences and their passionate manner of speaking… which caused wonderful conversions every day, and, finally, the introduction of Confession and the use of frequent Communion. Even greater, all this caused a complete change in the way of life.”

It was also through their preaching ministry and missions that they had a great influence on their times. The first real missions among rural populations did not begin until 1630. Previously there were isolated preaching or anti-Protestant missions, especially in Poitou. Once the turbulent period of the late Sixteenth Century and the reactions to the Edict of Nantes were over, the Capuchins appeared as preachers in the main churches of the big cities, and their preaching can be considered in those circumstances as a Catechesis or refreshing of the great Christian truths.

The apostolate in the countryside that began in the early Seventeenth Century appeared even more necessary as Christian education was commonly neglected (doc. 27). Despite the requirements of the Council of Trent, Sunday preaching was conducted very irregularly, and so rural people wanted to hear preachers and sought them out. That was why these early missionaries were so successful. Here, for example, Father Eusebius of Merlon who took care of adults, but also of children: “He preached sometimes in five different villages and there were days when he preached up to eight times…. As soon as he came across a villager or a commoner, he would question them about the mysteries of the faith, about their faith, to prompt them to make a good confession.” In nine or ten years of itinerant preaching he did, at least as his superiors estimated, five thousand sermons. “Arriving in the evening in some village, he would ring the bell to preach, and the people of the village, having returned from their work in the fields, would rush to the church to hear him, and the next morning he would do the same before the people went back to work. And he was content with the hospitality he received, even if it was in a barn. He also went to shepherds’ huts, caves, rustic houses, farms, and woods. And when he met the shepherds, he would gather them together and give them a little exhortation.”[12]

In the large cities the friars organised catechism lessons for the people several times a week; further catechesis was given to the lackeys, pages, and servants of the court and of noble families, and “this increased devotion so much – writes a Chronicler – that the people, assiduous at our church, out of gratitude did not let the friary lack anything.”

The life of the missionaries was, therefore, effective preaching. They went everywhere, even to the poorest homes. It would be enough to remember, for example, the paintings depicting the interiors of farms and villages painted by Le Nain, to get an idea of what the standard of living and manner of dress of those people who loved to hear the Word of God explained by the Capuchins was then. Father Angelo de Joyeuse, for example, mingled with the poor of the capital and catechised them outdoors, on the streets where a large bonfire was lit during the cold month of December in 1599: “He mingled among the beggars of the city, warmed himself at the fire with them, and evangelised them” (doc. 26).

Father Joseph de Morlaix, an old Provincial from Brittany, will imitate him. Preaching in Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois, Paris, he would gather all the servants, pages, grooms, and little servants, entertaining them on the Gospel, the frequency of the sacraments, and how to go to confession.[13]

Another aspect that transformed their era and for which they revealed themselves as witnesses of the Gospel is the testimony of their charity which was manifested especially during the epidemics caused by the Thirty Years’ War. It is difficult to imagine today the reality of that dramatic phenomenon, with all its demographic and social consequences. When the contagion appeared, the inhabitants of the cities fled, leaving the sick, dying and nurses to their sad fate. The only ones who remained, stoically, were the judges who continued to administer the cities and organise relief efforts. But who took care of the sick? They were the Religious Orders and, at the forefront, the Capuchin friars (cf. doc. 23).

This was clearly seen in Troyes, when the entire townspeople came to the friary to ask for their help. The judges expected, if not a refusal, then at least an exception of inadmissibility because they had made a world of trouble to receive them in the city and, up to that point, it was not as if the clergy and the inhabitants had recommended the friars for their generosity. The Father Guardian gathered the community in the refectory, and the mayor explained the purpose of that visit. Now it was a surprise for the visitors when all the Capuchins offered themselves, as one united person, after their superior had asked for a few volunteers. He assured the city authorities that, after them, others would offer just as generously to take their place, if necessary.

In 1622 in Rouen, 19 Capuchins succumbed, as also happened in other cities of Normandy. Equally in Nantes, and especially in Amiens, Lyon, Paris, where they performed the functions not only of chaplains but also of nurses, aware of facing death many times.

To the apostolate of charity in times of plague, one must add the ministry of visiting the sick in the city, which was provided by all the friaries. Even more, in places of some importance many people came to be anointed by the friars and to receive medicines, although, let it be said in passing, this was not a specialty of the Capuchins alone: religious men and women actually made ointments and syrups. But it is to say the great influence that these nursing friars had among their clients, and the same goes for those who visited the sick. Some, like Father Simon of Soissons, not only specialised in caring for the marginalised, but also in visiting the sick, the rich, water sellers, court servants and pages. As for Father Elzeario, he would rush to anyone who requested him or whom he knew to be ill. He even woke up in the middle of the night for cases of the dying and he “gave himself immediately, without wasting time and never refusing with excuses, even if he had legitimate reasons.”

We still come across Capuchins as military Chaplains, especially during the Thirty Years’ War, requested by Louis XIII and Richelieu. The King was concerned about the spiritual welfare for soldiers and appealed particularly to religious: Recollects, Observants, Capuchins, and Jesuits because bishops hesitated to respond to petitions from Army Captains, and also because this ministry had often been poorly carried out; hence religious were preferred.

The Rules of life remained the same for these naval chaplains, who therefore accepted deprivation in food, the inconvenience of housing, sicknesses, and the pain of war for the spiritual wellbeing of the soldiers. In particular, thanks to them and their encouragement, the French soldiers who were defending the Isle de Ré, were able to resist and ensure that the English did not approach the fortress. This is the case of Father Louis de Champagny who “always gave the soldiers hope, preventing them from surrendering to the enemy day after day.”

It would be monotonous to cite facts. It is sufficient to look at Father Claudio de Paris, Chaplain of the King’s armies in Alsace, and confidant of all. “Having arrived at the military barracks, they were divided amongst the soldiers; by order of the King, he stayed in the army hospital where there were many wounded and sick soldiers. Here with his companions, he exercised his zeal, his charity, keeping vigil day and night, going from bed to bed and giving the Sacraments after Confession, to others with words of encouragement.” The missionary, with this rhythm of life, soon fell victim to his zeal and was buried “in the house of the Jesuit fathers who profited from his written sermons and made good use of them.” Father Umberto of Thouars was also notable, as he “went to confess soldiers as far as the trenches, paying attention to those who were still breathing in order to impart absolution to them, not taking into account the continuous shooting on both sides, and he was never hit, despite the fact that many around and behind him fell, wounded and others died on the spot.”

One last ministry was carried out by the Capuchins and that was to visit prisoners in the large cities of France and particularly in Paris at the great and small Chatelet, at the Palace prisons or among the galley slaves waiting for the departure of the galley. Other friars collected alms to ransom prisoners imprisoned for debts.

Thus, they bore the witness of charity and apostolate in their time, leaving an example and message for future generations. They were eminent people, initiators, pioneers in an essentially vital, turbulent era, in an era-certainly one that was already hinting at a new period. They created a perspective of spiritual and apostolic life. These early Capuchins give us the gift of a message: a life of prayer and apostolate. They knew how to insert the Christians of that time into the life of the Church in an age of renewal and developed a truly creative activity with an unrivalled fidelity to the Church of their time.[14]

Selected texts on the Capuchins in France


Br. Pietro Deschamps, an Observant Friar Minor in the large convent of Paris, dissatisfied with the life led there, fled to Italy, having heard of the reform of the Capuchins, donned their habit, returned to France and founded the hermitage of Picpus thanks to the protection of Aymeric de Rochechouart, bishop of Sisteron, and with the help of a Parisian merchant named de Villecourt.

Source: Matthias a Salò, Historia capuccina. Pars altera, in lucem edita a P. Melchiore a Pobladura (MHOC VI), Rome 1950, 330-332.

9084 It was also ordered (in the said Chapter of Ancona) that friars should be sent to France to establishe places in that kingdom. It seemed to be having a very weak and paltry beginning, but progress then had it declared that it was God’s plan. It began therefore in this way. There was a Br. Pietro Chempis, a cleric,[15] among the Cordillera (as the Friars Minor are called in France)[16] in Paris, who apostatising from the Order, went wandering through Spain and Italy, beyond France. And seeing that the Capuchins were held in great regard in France, he thought to return to France and put on the habit. He did on his own without any authority and without the consent or even knowledge of his superiors. And he took for a companion a simple old hermit, whose name was Br. Michele,[17] to whom he also gave the Capuchin habit, and a merchant called Villevor,[18] accommodated them in a house outside the city in a place called Piquepus,[19] where there was a chapel. And within the space of four months three others joined them, and to whom Br. Pietro also gave the Capuchin habit.

9085 Two years later, that is, the year 1572, the merchant died and that house being put up for sale, was bought by the bishop of Cisterone in the name of the fore-mentioned friars.[20] He was good and simple person, who, having been a man of recreation and amusement for the king in the royal court, was rewarded by that bishopric. But as he was a person of good mind and loyal simplicity, he had a great love for these friars, who all, with the exception of Br. Pietro went about simply thinking about how in their religious life to give grateful service to God; and the bishop helped them in their needs. And it was a good way for them to obtain favours in the royal court when they had need of them.

Some good people who loved and helped Br. Pietro and his friars, were very devoted to them. And therefore, with the help of the said bishop and other people, they built a church in that place, calling it S. Maria delle Grazie; but all without the necessary permissions, without which Br. Pietro was thus apostate, being an ordained priest and celebrating and performing the divine office. Seeing this, the Curate of St. Paul’s (the saint the Parish named after), a very learned and zealous man, who later became bishop of Narbonne, sought with the help and authority of the bishop of Paris, at the time Cardinal Gondio, to prevent him by forbidding him to celebrate. So, Br. Pietro, finding no other means, said to that reverend Curate: “I will go to Italy and get the Capuchins to come.” To which he gave this response: “Go, and even if you are sad, you will be doing a good work.”


Subpoenaed by Simon Vigor, Parish Priest of Sant-Paul and by Pietro de Gondi, Bishop of Paris, Pietro Deschamps and his companions, always protected by the bishop of Sisteron, had the good fortune of receiving a visit from Queen Caterina de’ Medici, who promised to assist them through her son King Charles IX.

Source: Paris, Bibl. Mazarine, ms. 2879: Annales des Révérends Péres Capucins de la Province de Paris, la mére et la source de toutes celles de deca les monts, en 1574, f. 20 – Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents pour servir à l’histoire de l’établissement des capucins en France (1568-1585), Paris 1894, 6s.

9086 The Queen of France, Caterina de’ Medici, mother of many kings,[21] was inspired to go to her castle in Vincennes accompanied by her court who was in the meantime having a hunting game there. Finding herself in the countryside and having fun hunting, she suddenly heard by chance, or rather judging by the Providence of God, the tolling of our little bell: it was the usual time for Compline and then followed by meditation that the religious did before dinner, and they were very faithful to these times of prayer.

The good queen, always pious, asked one of her chaplains what the little monastery was where the bell rang. The chaplain said to her: “Madam, your majesty will know that these are devout religious who have taken the habit of a new reform established in Rome almost 60 years ago, and these pious religious want to be part of this reform and they went to Rome for this reason without having been able to obtain from His Holiness to settle in France due to a prohibition of the Sovereign Pontiffs who have not wanted to allow them to expand beyond the mountains.

9087 His Eminence Cardinal de Guise[22] protects them from their enemies who are the bishop of Paris,[23] the Parish Priest of Saint-Paul[24] and several religious,[25] because they had no permission from His Holiness to settle; but they are apostolic people and are called Capuchins.”

The good princess asked to go there and having reached the door of the small monastery, she immediately came to visit the Blessed Sacrament in the small oratory and was very edified in seeing those poor orphans awaiting help from their father. And she said: “There is nothing new here, I have already seen them in Italy, and they are very holy religious and true sons of Saint Francis.” And she called the superior and asked him why they had not yet presented themselves at the Court. They humbly replied that since they had no one to introduce them to the foot of his throne, they had not had the courage to present themselves. And after a brief account of what we have already said, she ordered that this spiritual adventure be remembered when she arrived at the Louvre.


Blois, April 1572. – King Charles IX, son of Henry II and Caterina de’ Medici, authorises the “Poor Hermits” to build a church in Picpus and forbids the Curate of the Parish of Saint-Paul from persecute them.

Source: Paris, Bibliothéque nationale, Ms. fr. 25.044: Chronologie historique de ce qui s’est passé de plus considérable dans la Province de Paris depuis l’an 1574, p. 8-12. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 7-9.

9088 Charles, by the grace of God, King of France, to all present and future, greetings.

Our beloved and devoted religious orators and friary, called Capuchins, of the Order and Observance of Saint Francis, founded in the place of Picpus, Parish of Saint Paul, near our city of Paris, have very humbly informed us that they have begun recently to build a small church in the aforementioned place of Picpus, next to a chapel that had previously been built there, where the divine service is currently celebrated. They wish to carry forward and finish this construction with the help and alms of good people and good Catholics, so that they can continue their service with greater comfort than in the chapel and live, as they have vowed, according to the strict Rule of Saint Francis, patron and head of their Order, who prohibits them from having possession of any goods and income for their sustenance and food, except from the questing basket.

9089 But in this, they are disturbed and prevented by the Curate of the aforementioned Parish of St. Paul’s (under the pretext that their church or chapel has not been consecrated and therefore it is not permitted for these applicants to celebrate divine worship there, although for fifteen years, the curates of St. Paul have on several and various occasions sent priests to the said chapel to celebrate Mass there), the religious, the convent of the Franciscans and other mendicants of the city of Paris, who seek by all means to exterminate and ban this Order, claiming it to be a new practice never seen before in France, even-though it is approved by our Holy Fathers the Popes, and held and considered in Rome and other places in Italy as the true and legitimate Order and discipline of Saint Francis.

Wishing to provide for this, let them know that we, in the desire that divine worship be continued and increased in this kingdom, and that these Capuchin friars be welcomed and accepted for the good zeal and fervour that they have to preserve, observe and follow the strict rule of Saint Francis, head and founder of their Order, and to encourage and oblige them to pray to God for the peace, tranquillity and prosperity of this kingdom, we desire, declare, order and are pleased that they be maintained and preserved with the same rights and prerogatives that the other religious of their Order and Observance, approved in Rome … regarding their food and clothing and completion of their church, in the form and manner completely identical to what is used for the religious of the four Mendicant Orders of the city of Paris […].

9090 We therefore order our dear and faithful members of the Parliament of Paris,[26] the provost of the said place, the provost of the privileges of the University[27] and all others who belong to it, to let the aforementioned Capuchin fathers enjoy and use the present concession, and to cease to obstruct and to put an end to any turbulence and obstacle that might be placed against them, either by the Curate of St. Paul’s, or by the religious of the four mendicant Orders of the city of Paris and others […].

We also order the religious of the Franciscan friary not to do harm in any way, nor to take criminal action against Br. Pietro Deschamps, Guardian of the aforementioned Capuchins for the fact that he abandoned those Franciscans and joined these Capuchins so as to be able to lead a stricter and more austere life, since in this he did not contravene the decrees and concessions of our holy fathers, nor did he change Order, since both friaries were founded by the same patron and are of the same Order […].

Given at Blois in the month of April of the year of grace, one thousand five hundred and seventy-two, and the twelfth of our reign.


Rome, 25 November 1573. – The early Capuchins found another protector in Cardinal Charles de Lorraine, who spoke to the Queen on their behalf. But his intervention was not enough to remove the obstacles placed in the way of the establishment of the Capuchins in France.[28] The Apostolic Nuncio Antonio-Maria Salviati[29] was appointed to take charge of their religious interests. The Cardinal Secretary of State wrote to him the following letter.

Source: ASV, Nunziatura di Francia, vol. 283, f. 247. — Ediz: [René de Nantes], Documents, 92.

9091 Our Lord is informed that the Bishop of Paris is strongly against the Capuchin fathers because he does not want to introduce them into Paris where they are desired and called, and where they are given the convenience of staying, the bishop is saying that he wants a direct order from His Holiness, who therefore ordered me to write to him that he wishes not only to allow them to be introduced, but also to favour their affairs, since they are fathers of such goodness and such credit among the good Christians who help His Holiness in the service of his Church. Thus, Your Lordship will give the letter accompanying it with that office in the name of His Holiness that has been proposed to you in this regard, then also taking under protection the said fathers in what will have need of, and inform them of the office that you have been ordered to carry out […].


Rome, 25 November 1573. – The Cardinal Secretary of State wrote in the same manner equally to the Bishop of Paris so that the Capuchins could live in peace.

Source: ASV, Nunziatura di Francia, vol. 283, f. 249. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents cit., 92s.

Most Reverend Monsignor.

9092 The Congregation of the Capuchin fathers of the Order of St. Francis, informs our Lord that Your Lordship is making it difficult for them to stay in Paris where they are now being introduced, saying they wish to have orders from His Holiness. Thus, His Holiness has commissioned me to write to Your Lordship that the goodness of the said fathers and the religious life that they lead in service of God and in the edification of others is of such exemplary and fruitfulness in all the cities where they live, where they were not only being received willingly, but people try very hard to have them come where they are not, and therefore you should not have any difficulty in admitting them to Paris where they are wanted and called, and where they are offered the convenience of being able to stay, and further favour their affairs with that warmth that Your Lordship is accustomed to favouring good works […].


Paris, 13 March 1574. — The Nuncio Salviati faithfully fulfilled his office of protector by making the bishop of Sisteron aware of the poverty of the Capuchin hermitage of Picpus and asking the Queen to take them under her protection. In this regard he wrote to the Secretary of State.

Source: ASV, Nunziatura di Francia, vol. 7, f. 249. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 93.

9093 Having returned to Paris, I remembered that Your most illustrious Lordship had at other times commanded me to work for the Capuchin fathers; so I have been to their place, and found that they have been placed in a low, damp site, and very far from the city that it is almost impossible for them to last there in the long run. I advised them to move inside, or at least into the villages. They replied that Monsignor of Cisterone, who pays the expenses for the place where they are now, would hardly be satisfied with that. To remedy this, I was with the Monsignor of Cisterone and with such good luck that not only was he satisfied that we should work to get them to move to the city, but he also promised me to spend on them the capital of 300 lire of rent that he has on the villa, and 600 scudi in cash; which will amount to more than 4000 francs.

Then I asked the Queen to give them protection and she kindly promised to do so. The most illustrious of Lorena also favours them, which is of no small importance; so I hope that things will go well for them. And if there is anything else due to this matter, I will give notice to Your most illustrious Lordship, whose hands I kiss with all reverence.

From Paris, li xiij of March MDLXXIII [1574].


Paris, 24 April 1574. — The Nuncio Salviati responded to a letter from the Cardinal Secretary of State, praising the Bishop of Sisteron, on behalf of the Pope, for the help and protection granted to the Capuchins. The same Nuncio interceded with the King and Queen Mother on their behalf.

Source: ASV, Nunziatura di Francia, vol. 7, f. 326. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents cit., 94.

9094 When Your most illustrious Lordship wrote to me of the satisfaction that Our Lord has that Monsignor of Cisterone helps the affairs of the Capuchin fathers, I indicated to him that his enthusiasm was more than I ever expected. I also spoke to the Queen about them, who in any case wants to accommodate them in a very good and comfortable place. The matters of which are so on track and well-disposed that I hope that God will be served with honour, and these things not be too onerous on those making this effort.

Paris, xxiiij of April 1574.


Paris, 30 July 1575. — The Capuchins are worried about having incurred the criminal sanctions of Pius V’s bull, since inadvertently a woman entered their garden, and they beg the nuncio to free them of it, asking absolution from the Pope for them. Writing for this to card. of Como, the nuncio adds other small details about the first Capuchins in Paris.

Source: ASV, Nunziatura di Francia, vol. 8, f. 441. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 94s.

9095 Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Monsignor, most Observant Patron.

Other times I was commanded by Your Most Illustrious Lordship to have the Capuchins for protection. Which I have always done. And very often it happened that they came to tell me about their most familiar things. At present, by inadvertence, and not because there is any sort of disorder, it has happened that in that place they have outside of Paris, which is not yet built or repaired, a poor woman must have entered the garden to pick herbs or something similar. They have doubts about whether they have incurred the penalties of the Bull which prohibits women from entering religious monasteries. And so as not to remain in any sort of trap or scruple, they came to me to ask for absolution.

I, who do not have the authority, could only console them by promising to write to Your Most Illustrious Lordship. If it seems to you to obtain this faculty from His Holiness and he gives it in faith to you, to be used in vivae vocis oraculo [given verbally by the Pope or a heads of the dicasteries], I will not fail to make use of this charity. And because it is easy for similar things to arise at times, if the letter is in general terms, the greater will be the obligation that the fathers will have to pray to God for Your Most Illustrious Lordship. I cannot see that they are other than good men and good religious. So much so that their austerity amazes the Court and all these people. With the respect I owe you, I pay your Reverence.

From Paris, 30 July 1575.
Of your most illustrious and most reverend lordship
Most affectionate and humble servant

Bishop Salviati.


The opinions of contemporaries regarding the Capuchins who had recently arrived in France were quite varied. Many, due to a certain suspicion that the clergy had towards these newcomers, remained reserved. Others were rather sympathetic. The testimony given by Claude Hatton in his “Memoirs”[30] is very objective. He is content to report what he knows without any judgment of merit (1573).

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 11.575: Claude Haton, Mémoires, f. 562. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 21.

9096 In Paris around this year, a religious group called Capuchins, otherwise known as picche marce, came to settle, dressed in grey like the Franciscan friars, but in a different way; and the King or other persons provided their residence at a place outside the city of Paris, a location beyond the housing of the little Saint Anthony and beyond the gate of Saint Anthony of Paris, on the way to the forest of Vincennes.

I believe that these religious live like hermits in great poverty and beg for alms without having anything and do not sow for tomorrow and lead a very austere life. They seek their food from day to day and if they receive more than they can consume, they give the rest to the poor for the honour of God.

In their friary they perform divine service and celebrate Mass. I really don’t know if they too, like the Franciscans, preach the Gospel in their friary and elsewhere, since I have not been informed. They come from Italy, I think, and it is not long ago that, like the Jesuits, they took up residence in France. Many people of France, having observed the holy life they lead, have entered their Order by singular devotion for the honour of God. And that’s all for now.


The information reported here is collected from the exemplary Lives of Francesco Pizzetta da Venezia († 1655), who in turn obtained them from a manuscript by Father Leandro da Venezia, who was a companion of Fr. Pacifico during the trip to France and for which went guarantor. The difficulties encountered by the first group of Capuchin friars closely resemble many pages of the first expansion of Franciscanism.

Source: Venezia-Mestre, APC: Relatione delle vite exemplari d’alcuni padri capuccini, pp. 29-33 (from the Life and gestures of the father Br. Pacifico da San Gervaso diocese of Brescia).

9097 […] In the beginning of the year 1574 Br. Vicenzo da Monte dell’Olmo, General, died in the friary of Messina on the first day of Lent. Upon his death, Father Girolamo da Monte Fiore, first Definitor General of the previous Chapter, began to govern the Order. And at the same time, he established as General Commissioner Father Pacifico da San Gervaso Bresciano, a prudent and illustrious man of many virtues, as has been said, and assigned him to France, and he was the first general commissioner who went to kingdom of France.

How Father Pacifico took some friars with him and went to France, and what happened to him

9098 Because the commision to Father Pacifico to go into France was accompanied by a very broad authority to bring with him as many friars as he wanted from whichever province, of whatever rank, from whatever prelature, therefore he chose ten companions whose names are: Father Girolamo da Milano, Guardian of the place of Milan; Father Clemente da Napoli, Guardian of Arezzo in Tuscany; Father Antonio da Pisa; Father Francesco da Briga, from the province of Genoa; Father Lodovico Fiammingo; Father Pietro da Chempis[31]; Father Leandro da Venezia, with two lay brothers, namely Br. Remigio (a Milanese) and Br. Masseo (a French), and a cleric, namely Br. Lodovico (a Frenchman); all friars of probative life, these went with him to France.

One could not easily believe how many hardships they suffered [30] on that journey, because their new form of habit was not yet known to the people, who fled from them, like form troublesome men, nor was there anyone who wanted to shelter them or minister to them with things which they needed for living.

9099 In the manuscripts of the Province of Venice, it records an accident that happened to them in crossing the Alps, where they were not known in those countries. For three continuous days, they found no one who gave them bread to eat, except a little bread of animal fodder. It was so hard and sour that in eating it, it scraped their mouths and caused bleeding in their tongues and lips. So because of hunger and great weakness, they were not able to cross the Monte Alto della Gabiletta during the day, overwhelmed by the night with rain, thunder, and frightening lightning, where indeed it seemed that the air was full of demons to prevent this work, and so the ‘poverelli’ [poor little ones] were very tired and weak, walked until midnight, and there they came to an inn on the other side of the aforementioned mountain, where having neither wood nor fire to dry themselves, they stayed all night very wet without sleeping.

But it was a great thing to then see this good father with a cheerful face saying to his companions, “Brothers, sursum corda!” and thanking the Lord for that great affliction and that lavish dinner, which was nothing more than a shrivelled onion with a few pieces of black and vinegary bread. Arrived then near Lyons of France by Divine providence, they were picked up by a gentleman who immediately came before them in the middle of the road, as if foreseeing their coming, who leading them to one of his palaces washed their feet with his hands and gave them a good dinner with which they were somewhat refreshed.

How the father came to Lyon, and then went to Orliens

9100 At the same time that this blessed father arrived in Lyon with his little flock, Henry the Third, king of Poland, also arrived there, who was going to take possession of his kingdom of France; before whom the father was presented by the aforementioned Most Illustrious Cardinal of Lorena, together with his companions, who were received and much cherished by his Majesty and the Queen, and he promptly gave him permission to plant the Order of the Capuchins throughout his kingdom, granting him every help and favour, and from then on he became a very familiar father of the King and Queen, and of all the principal Princes and Lords of that kingdom.

The first place, therefore, which was taken in the kingdom of France was in the city of Lyon, called St. Maria de Forvier. After this, his royal majesty together with the Queen mother ordered the Capuchin friars to remain in Lyon for eight days, recovering from the hardships they had suffered, and for this reason were sent a certain amount of silver coins from the Father Rector of the Jesuits, so that they might be spent lavishly on the poor Capuchins in their house and college in Lyon, until they built the friary.

9101 Meanwhile, the Most Illustrious Cardinal Lord of Ghisa had a boat placed in Rouano on the Lucera River,[32] in which he had all the aforementioned Capuchin friars embark together with two Jesuit fathers who were responsible for providing for them; and after having sailed along the said river for the space of 300 miles, that is, one hundred leagues, they finally landed in the city of Orliens,[33] which a few days before had been taken over by heretics, who did much damage, and among these the main one was the burning down of all the Catholic churches [31].

Meanwhile the Capuchin friars were guided to the house of a Catholic person in secrecy, as they were not allowed to practice without great danger to their lives. And because it had been several days since the Father Commissioner had celebrated Holy Mass, he had a great desire to celebrate it; which he was very grateful to the guest who accommodated him, since he was a good Catholic. And so, having given orders with some of his confidants, they all gathered together after midnight in the main church (of which only a part was left standing) and there the good father celebrated mass with his utmost devotion and the consolation of those present.

9102 The father having been completely bathed in bountiful tears, which often occurred to him when he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and this was of great edification to those Catholics who were present, among whom a voice was raised which said loudly: “These are truly true servants of God and apostles of Christ who will defend and confirm the Catholic faith in the kingdom of France.”

When day broke, all the fathers returned to the house of their host, and the number of Catholics who gathered there to see the new kind of Order and austere habit was so great that the streets were full of people; and they heard nothing but sobs and tears of spiritual tenderness, and it seemed to them that Jesus Christ with the apostolic college had arrived in that city for their salvation, and with extraordinary genuflections and reverences they kissed their habits, asking them for something to keep as a relic and reverence for the holiness that they discovered in them.

But what was of greater importance and consideration, and which confirmed them the most with the positive opinion the people had of the Order of the Capuchins, was that everyone was offering them things, the comfort of horses, and as much money as they wanted, which all was rejected by the father with due gratitude saying: “Gentlemen, we have not come into this vast kingdom of yours neither for things, nor for money, nor for anything of this world, but only to acquire souls for Jesus Christ.”

9103 An illustrious fact is told about this fervent religious, and it is that, while staying several days in the city of Orléans, or as people say Orliens, he had the opportunity to dispute with a heretic about the real presence of the Body of Christ our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.

And the heretic, persevering in his stubbornness, and not wanting to return to the Scriptures and the doctrines of the Fathers, which Br. Pacifico cited against him in confirmation of this truth, he had to say: “It is so true let the top of that tree (pointing with his hand to a tall oak) touche the ground.” To which Br. Pacifico promptly replied: “And if the top of the tree bends so much that it kisses the ground, will you be captive to the truth of such a mystery?” “Certainly yes,” replied the heretic, believing that this could not happen in any way. Br. Pacifico then bent his knees to the ground and made a short prayer, he commanded the oak tree, [32] in the name of the Lord, that for the authenticity of the infallible truth of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, it should lower its head to the ground.

An event indeed renowned and wonderful! He had not yet finished the instruction, that immediately, though already very old and tall, it obediently bowed its head to the ground at the sight of the heretic, who moved by so great a miracle became a Catholic.[34]

Fig 2. Pacifico da S. Gervasio († 1575), first General Commissioner in France

In the early Chronicles of the Order, it is said that Father Pacifico converted a stubborn heretic from Orléans by causing the top of a large oak to bend to the ground. The prodigious event is interpreted iconographically by this valuable engraving of the Flores seraphici by Carlo d’Arenberg of Brussels.

(Cf. Carlo d’Arenberg, Flores seraphici, Coloniae Agrippinae 1640, 71 — Copy taken from the BCC)

How the father left Orliens and went to Paris and what happened to him.

9104 After the friars had rested for a few days in the city of Orliens, they set out on their journey to Paris; and near a castle called the Borgo della Regina, between Pansi and Orliens, on a feast day, our Lord God was pleased to give the poor friars some encouragement, because the people seeing the novelty of the habit and the friars going barefoot and beggars, there was no lack of some of those people, little lovers of virtue, calling them wolves, wild boars, Matloti of England, which means in our language ‘slaves who had escaped from prison,’ and others, taking them by the tips of their hoods, dragged them here and there like if they were buffoons, saying many insults to them, all of which were constantly and patiently borne by the said Father Pacifico and his companions.

Finally moved to pity, a bourgeois gentleman from that castle, who had seen everything, inspired by God, gathered the poor friars into his house, freeing them from so many outrages and treated them honourably and religiously. Once the friars had left that place, which was the solemn day of the holy apostles Simon and Judas, they arrived in Paris and when entering the city gate they were held back for a while by the watchmen, and in the meantime a large number of people gathered there on foot and on horseback to see this novelty of men dressed in such vile and despicable garb, so that the many people who had gathered there accompanied the friars to the hospice that had been assigned to them inside the city in the suburb of Saint Honoratus, having left the first place that was assigned to them outside, which was judged too inconvenient, and this was called Piquepus.

9105 In the meantime it pleased the Queen Mother, with the consent of her son the King, to give the Capuchin friars a palace, with a beautiful and very large garden, which belonged to Monsignor della Frimoglia who had fallen into difficulty with the tax authorities. On this occasion the Capuchins were greatly fussed over by Antonio Maria Salviati, Apostolic Nuncio to the most Christian king, and by Giovanni Francesco Morosini, ambassador of the Republic of Venice, who never stopped favouring them in every situation.

On the destined day for founding the church of the new place, those wished to be present at the laying of the foundation stone were the Queen mother Bianca, sister of the Caesarean majesty, and the Queen of Navar[r]a, the Most Illustrious Nuncio of his Holiness and the Lord Venetian Ambassador with many other Lords, Princes and Barons and most important Dames of the kingdom and innumerable people. The Queen Mother was pleased that the church of the Capuchins was named after her name of Santa Catarina, founding also thereafter two chapels, one above the other to hear Mass there at the good pleasure of her and of all the royals, which was carried out immediately, and they were furnished as soon as possible to the their great satisfaction and that of the entire great city, and the first monastery was founded there.

9106 And thenceforth the Father Commissioner began to negotiate with his usual skill to found other places. And therefore, he sent [33] Father Gasparo da Pavia, from the Province of Rome, to found the second place, that of Santa Maria in Forvier in the city of Lyons, as he was a very skilled father in such a business. The third place was built in the land of Modone, a league away from Paris, at the request of the Most Illustrious Cardinal of Lorena the old. The most serene Duke of Buonpensiero,[35] Prince by blood, made himself present to them and offered a place to the priest in his state, but due to the paucity of the friars, his request could not be accepted at the time, but was received later […].[36]


Mattia Bellintani’s Chronicle account of the very first propagation of the Order in France has great documentary value because the author was one of the main protagonists. We reproduce this page which continues the account of document 1.

Source: Matthias a Salò, Historia capuccina. Pars altera, in lucem edited by P. Melchiorre a Pobladura (MHOC VI), 332-336, 340-343, 345.

9107 Br. Pietro had letters of favour by means of the bishop of Sisteron in the King’s court, with which he went to Rome, whereby good fortune there was the great Cardinal of Lorena, brother of the Duke of Guisa, prelate of very great authority in the kingdom of France, and Cardinal Ramboglietto was also there.[37] Having seen the letters of the princes of the Court and having heard what Br. Pietro narrated to him in his own way, the Cardinal of Lorena decided not to miss this opportunity to have the Capuchins go to France; and therefore he embraced the business and did so much that the General, who was then in Naples, could not help but accept Br. Pietro and his companions under his obedience; and it did not seem right to him to send friars from Italy without the General Chapter, he made Br. Pietro as Guardian of those friars of his, with the precept, however, that he should not receive anyone [into the Order], and that he should come to the next General Chapter, so that the Chapter could decide on this fact.

9108 Having returned to France with this obedience, he was nevertheless harassed by the bishop and the aforementioned curate, since he had no papal bulls and considered that obedience to be surreptitious and of no value. He appealed to King Charles the Ninth, who wrote letters that greatly favoured his affairs. But because he had no firm foundation, he could not resist the ecclesiastical superiors, which was the reason that he had to go to the General Chapter, to which he perhaps would not have gone, since he was not yet obedient in not receiving others, because he received Br. Luigi, a cleric, with whom he came to the Chapter of Ancona in the year 1573, in which it was decided that friars from Italy should be sent to see and give information without innovating anything else, leaving firm the obedience made by the General, Br. Mario.

So two friars from the Province of Milan were sent, who had the names of the main patron saints of France, and they were Br. Dionigio da Milano, a priest, and Br. Remigio da Lodi, a lay brother. And the burden of that negotiation was left to the Procurator of the Order in Rome, who was Br. Tomaso da Castello, who had already been General Minister, who with frequent letters solicited Br. Dionigi that he should inform him, but he never received an answer; and Br. Dionigio nevertheless wrote often, but never received any letters, because Br. Pietro withheld both, so that his progress would not be discovered. Nevertheless the General sent two other friars in the month of August, promising to send a General Commissioner after them.

9109 Once there, the bishop of Cisturne [Sisteron] assigned them to a place in that church and friary with the consent of Br. Pietro; but the Italians resisted, but were unable to prevent them, they left the place with two Frenchmen, who followed them and stayed with them for three days, until the permission to stay only in that place was lifted, and they were received graciously into the house of the reverend Jesuit fathers. For this reason, the Italians insisted with letters to Rome that a commissioner be sent; but the letters, for the above reason, were not sent. With all that had happened, in November Br. Tomaso made Br. Francesco dalla Briga, of the Province of Genoa, Guardian.

The Cardinal of Lorraine soon returned to France, and the Cardinal of Urbino, protector, made him his vice-protector in France; and he gave the friars a house of his with a large forest in Medone, a place two leagues away from Paris, where he built a church, and it was there in the same year of 1573 that Br. Tomaso, procurator, made the aforementioned Br Dionigi the Guardian. And through the medium of this cardinal the letters began to flow freely. Through them the General Commissioner Br. Girolamo da Montefiore, the General having already died, sent as Commissioner to France Br. Pacifico da S. Gervasio, a Brescian, who had been Provincial in the Province of Milan and elsewhere, and was then Guardian of Mantua; and with him went Br. Girolamo da Milano, then Guardian of Brescia, with other friars.

9110 But before his departure, the friars had decided to leave the place of Pichepus, as it was not suitable for their purpose, and the Cardinal of Lorena wanted to find something within the city for them. And God provided for this in such a way that Queen Caterina, Mother of the King, in the year 1574 after Easter went to see the friars in Pichepus, and she wanted to see everything in detail. Therefore, considering well their poverty and simplicity, immediately she was taken by the love of the Order and decided to favour it. And soon she gave them a vegetable garden with the house that was near her large garden called the Tuglierie, in the suburb of S. Onorato, where the friars, having left the first place, came to live, and there they established the friary with the church.

Br. Pietro had already been called to Italy, and with the above-mentioned Commissioner he returned to France. The Commissioner sent Br Girolamo from Paris to Lyon in January 1575 to take up his place there; and that year, in the month of July, he took the place above S. Paolo, where the friars now live. And Br Pacifico died the following February in Paris, in the odour of sanctity; a little before Easter in that same year Br Girolamo was made Vice-commissioner.

9111 And at the General Chapter celebrated in Rome in the year 1575, a Definitor of the General Chapter was sent as Commissioner, who was Provincial in the Province of Milan,[38] who on his way took the place of Chiamberi, and in the month of March 1576, sent Br. Girolamo to take the place in Avignon. And in the same year he went to Paris and had the very Christian King Henry III and the Parliament of Paris accept the Capuchin congregation as sons of France, incorporating them into the kingdom, and all with the favour of the Queen Mother, from whom the friars have an obligation of two senators of the Parliament: one was called Monsu l’Arciero, the other was the brother of Cardinal Ramboghietto.

Then little by little we went on a tour expanding the Order to different places in France.[39]

9112 There appeared to be some things in this fact not unworthy of consideration. First, that the reform in France unfolded through a very humble and insignificant means. Next, that the first two brothers of the Order who went there had the names of the two main patron saints of that kingdom, namely, St. Dionysius and St. Remigius. And these two brothers went with Br. Pietro and Br. Luigi, finding themselves weakening on the journey before they reached Lyons because of hunger and, having nothing to eat, God provided for them in this way, that they began to find on the road some almonds, as if some mule had passed by that way loaded with them and perhaps the bage was torn, so they were scattered on the ground. So that, by walking along and finding them, they were able to happily make their way to Lyon.

Just as the first Commissioner sent by St. Francis to find places in those parts was called Br. Pacifico; and so, Br. Pacifico was snother first Commissioner. The Commissioner being sent with broad authority by the General Chapter observed that he entered the country of his jurisdiction on the same day as did St. Louis, King of France. In addition to this, it was with so much ease, given the turbulence of the times, the Order was accepted and incorporated in France, whereas some of the older Orders are still not accepted, even though their friaries have been there for so many years.

9113 When it came to lay the foundation stone for the church of the friary of Avignon, though the time was set over and over again, it was never agreed upon, but suddenly a resolution was made for the day of the Chair of St. Peter, which is 22nd February, and so on that day, the year 1577, it was laid; the founder is called Peter, the church was called St. Peter. A Cardinal of the Roman Church, Archbishop of Avignon, placed it with due solemnity and the assistance of two bishops, and it was considered by judicious people to be a sign that the father St. Francis had in those parts of France the Chair of St Peter as the foundation and support of his Order, maintaining therein the Roman Catholic faith and obedience to the Roman pontiff.

9114 […] When he [the General Commissioner] arrived in Lyon, he found the site taken, but not built; and he made the model to begin the work of construction, which was soon finished, with Brother Girolamo from Milan being its Guardian.

This was a man of holy life and most excellent example; he almost always went barefoot; he never wore anything other than a simple habit, still without patches, nor did he ever wear any new ones, but only ones that had already been used; nor did he add a light cloak when it’s cold; he often fasted on bread and water, and often ate bread and fruit. He devoted himself a lot to prayer, being very vigilant at night; rising again early for morning prayer, and at dawn he retired, when it was not too cold, to some place outside the cell, and staying uncomfortably in a very small space he gave way to a little sleep to refresh his body, and then he returned to the prayer. Nor, due to the fatigue of long journeys, did he stop getting up for morning prayer when he arrived at the place, or, when staying outside the friary, getting up for prayer, as was his custom; and in order to be awake at night to pray, in the evening he retired to his cell early; nor did he ever lie down while sleeping, but he always sat down on the bedding […].

9115 Now in Avignon a Monsu S. Sixtus,[40] having heard the fame of the Capuchins, desired to build them a friary, but because the journey from Lyon to Avignon was prevented by the heretical Huguenots, the Commissioner received letters of favour from the Duke of Savoy to Monsu d’Anvilla, Governor of Lingua di Hoca, who commended the Huguenots to give him the right of passage; but due to lack of means, he was not able to go. So the Commissioner decided to send Br. Girolamo, trusting in God, and having to go by water, the captain of the boat, a very pious person from Avignon, promised that if they could change clothes for two hours so that they could pass through the places of the heretics, he would gain them secure passage. The Commissioner did not want them to leave aside the habit, an abuse introduced by other religious in France due to heresies, but he said: “Go, God will help you; and I want the habit to bring honour to him.” They went, the captain having three or four empty boats with which he would carry the salt up the Rhone River, but they would be empty on the way back down.

9116 Having arrived near the place of the heretics, the two friars hid under the planks of the boat. But whereas the captain was thinking, as the custom was, they would pass by immediately, he was detained by the heretics that day and the next; and whereas they had always been peaceful, now they appeared very annoyed by saying that they had been warned that he was carrying pistols, that is, arquebuses. And with this excuse they diligently searched all those little boats. And although they were empty and they and looked over them several times down where the friars were, so much so that Br. Girolamo saw them when they looked; yet they could not see them, God and St. Francis took away from them the light of being able to see them, to the amazement of everyone and of Br. Girolamo himself, who could not help but have been seen by them with his companion.[41] Thus, they passed safely under divine protection, which miraculously overshadowed them.

When this became known in Avignon, it was considered a miracle and increased the devotion of the people; and Monsu S. Sixto, who was called Pietro, became more passionate about the work of the church and the friary, in which he never wanted anyone else to have a part, nor even in the provision of household utensils. […].

9117 In the year 1578, under Gregory XIII, Br. Girolamo [from Montefiore] convened the 16th general chapter in Rome, at Pentecost… At this chapter, two commissioners were sent to France: one to Paris, the other to Lyon, five places having already been taken on each side, with orders that they should hold their chapters, in which the provincials should be elected. And so began France, organized according to the custom of the Order […].


Queen Caterina de’ Medici, true to her promise, donated land in the suburb of Saint-Honoré[42] to the Capuchins of Picpus and herself laid the foundation stone of the friary church. The Order, led by Father Pacifico da San Gervasio, general commissioner in France,[43] arrived there at the end of July 1574. The facts are described with precision in the chronicle of Father Filippo da Paris.[44]

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 25.044: Chronologie historique, p. 26-29. Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 24-26.

9118 […] They were received by Queen Caterina, then reigning in France due to the death of her son Charles IX,[45] which occurred on the day of Pentecost, 31 May 1574, and because her other son who succeeded to the crown was absent, namely Henry III,[46] king of France and Poland. She received them with great tenderness, despite being in mourning. They arrived in time to perform the funeral duties of the deceased king, attending his funeral and burial with great devotion and edification of the Catholic people who did not yet know them, because, before their arrival, those who were in Picpus had almost never see because of the hostility that the religious beggars showed towards them, as we have already mentioned.

But this public act, in the presence of all the regular and secular clergy of Paris, of all the sovereign courts of Parliament and of the other bodies of justice of the city together with an endless of nobles and people, made them known for the first time. But there were not very many who welcomed them with the Queen in those early days, since the people, seeing these religious dressed so poorly, gave them many insults. But then, as soon as they knew the sanctity of their lives, their poverty and their selflessness, everyone wanted to see them and communicate with them. Many cities competed to give them places to live, they were so impressed by their fervour, devotion, austerity and above all by their poverty and submission to everyone.

9119 Providence did not reveal itself better than at the arrival of the Italian fathers, since if they had arrived the next day, those who were in the friary of Picpus would have left the next morning of the day they arrived and would have separated and left everything behind, as they could no longer suffer the persecution to which they were subjected […].

The aforementioned Fr. Pacifico da Venezia,[47] having arrived so happily in Paris for this small gathering with his holy troop, found lodging and dwelling right in the friary of Picpus until the month of July of the same year 1574, when the very Christian reigning Queen and mother of king gave them the place intended for them, where currently there is the friary of the street of Saint-Honoré, which was a beautiful site. In fact, in addition to what we now have, all the territory adjacent to the walls that separate us from the Foglianti fathers[48] is seven to eight measures wide at the height of their church, including all the extension and space that exists after the great road up to at the riding stable, it was part of the land that the reigning Queen had given us and which we enjoyed until these Foglianti fathers took it and, having built on that land, we were forced to abandon it.

Father Pacifico, purchased and accepted that land, found it appropriate to abandon the friary of Picpus to be able to build more easily another on the site donated by his majesty and he himself acted as superior. Thus, he was not only the first Commissioner General in France, but also the first Guardian of the friary on the street of Saint-Honoré. The church was subsequently dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Virgin.


The author of the Abrégé des Annales des Capucins de Parigi, undoubtedly Father Maurizo d’Épernay,[49] added other details and completed the narrative given by Fr. Filippo da Paris in his Chronologie historique on the foundation of the friary of Saint-Honoré.

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 5859: Abrégé des Annales, p. 16. — Ediz: [René de Nantes], Documents, 27s.

9120 The reverend Father Pacifico presented the model of the friary in accordance with state regulations and according to our first constitutions, was extremely careful that everything was carried out in accordance with that model. When it was completed and was livable, he moved his small community there and abandoned the friary of Picpus, where the tertiary fathers had been settled for several years.[50]

Once the dormitories, workshops and infirmaries were finished and the church was consecrated on 28th November, the day of St. James of the Marches, they lived there to the great satisfaction of the pious Queen and all her court, who frequently went there to pray and very often to attend mass, as Henry III, Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV did as a young man.

There is also a tree-lined avenue, called the king’s avenue, and a room for receiving prelates and distinguished personages, which is also called the king’s room.[51]


Paris, July 1574. – After the purchase of the land intended for the Capuchins, Queen Caterina de’ Medici had letters patent drawn up in which she attested to having made an unreserved donation of that land to the friars so that they could conduct their form of conventual life.

Source: Paris, Archives nationales, S. 3705. — Ediz: [René de Nantes], Documents, 30s.

9121 Caterina, by the grace of God, Queen of France, mother of the King, to the present and future, greetings.

After so many special favours with which we have been showered by almighty God, our greatest desire is to see Him worthily honoured and glorified, and that we too take part in the holy prayers and daily sermons that are said in the holy Roman Catholic Church, and especially in the Order of the religious Capuchin of Saint Francis, whose great devotion we are not unaware of.

We therefore let it be known that, as the construction of our palace called the Tuileries[52] is almost finished, we have invited the aforementioned religious to build, next to this palace of ours, a friary and home for them, so that they can carry out their holy offices and administer the sacraments according to the rule and institutions of their Order.

9122 For this reason and for others, we have renounced, granted, ceded, transferred and released, now and forever, to the aforementioned Capuchin religious and their religious successors of the same Order, as with the present letters signed by our hand we give, grant, cede, transfer and leave the places, areas and gardens located in the suburb of Paris, known as Saint-Honoré, with all the buildings, houses and outbuildings found there […].

Those places, with the buildings built there, we have donated and granted, we donate, grant and release to them and their successors, so that they can use them freely, peacefully and forever, as if it were an asset that belongs to them by right or by inheritance […].

In witness whereof we have had our seal affixed here.
Given at Paris, in the month of July 1574.


Around 1566, the Cardinal of Lorraine had met the Capuchins at the Council of Trent. Upon his return to France he established some at his castle in Meudon,[53] in the Tower of Ronsard.[54] But it was only a temporary settlement. In 1574 the Cardinal made a real friary available to his protégés.

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 5859: Abrégé des Annales, p. 18. — Ediz: [René de Nantes], Documents, 33.

9123 In the same year 1574, the reverend Father Pacifico, General Commissioner established in France, took possession of the friary that the most reverend and illustrious Carlo di Lorena, cardinal of the Holy Church, had promised to the fathers Bernardino d’Asti,[55] Evangelista da Cannobio[56] and Tommaso da Città di Castello,[57] who were present at the Council of Trent with this Cardinal, in around 1566.[58] For this reason, the friary took first place. The cardinal placed as superior Father Dionisio da Milano[59] who was one of the twelve who came from Rome. The church was dedicated to St Francis.


Brief description of the Capuchin friary of Meudon made by an advocate of the Parliament of Paris.

Source: Supplément des antiguités de Paris, avec tout ce qui s’est passé depuis l’an 1610 jusqu’à présent, par D. H. J., avocat du Parlement, Paris 1639, 40. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 33s.

9124 About eight minutes from the place of Meudon, on the road to Saint-Cloud, one can see the Capuchin friary, well supported and in beautiful view.

The church is small, the friary mediocrely large, from where one enters their garden, lush with fruit trees, with very long paths under beautiful rows of trees. In it appears a small nursery for fish, which one can go to with a small boat.

The highest part of the garden is like a kind of forest equipped with oaks, large trees and coppice plants from which they obtain wood for heating.

Behind their friary and next to their church, on the highest ground, is their infirmary, enclosed in by a fence, very airy and healthy, and clearly visible in several places.


The reform of the Capuchins continued to expand: after Paris, it was the turn of Lyon which was about to have a friary, since the city’s bankers who had visited the religious in 1573 had requested one from Father Pacifico da San Gervasio, General Commissioner. In January 1574, he sent Fr. Girolamo da Milan to take possession of the land (n. 1). Three months later, on 24 April 1574, Caterina de’ Medici addressed a letter to the magistrates of Lyon asking them to assign land to the Capuchins and to take those religious under their protection (n. 2).

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 5859: Abrégé des Annales, p. 19. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 36.

9125 1. On 25 August 1574, the Reverend Father Pacifico, having had the confirmation of the Bull of His Holiness Gregory XIII by Henry III, King of France, sent Reverend Father Girolamo da Milano[60] to the city of Lyon with some other fathers who had done their novitiate at Picpus and were already priests.

They accompanied the aforementioned father to Lyon[61] to take possession of a friary. It was received by Monsignor Espignac,[62] Archbishop of that city and primate of Gaul, and by M. Mauvelot, then Governor for the king, and by the Lords of the city with great applause and incredible joy of the people, which greatly consoled the Queen regent.

Here the first Province derived from that of Paris.

9126 2. To our beloved and faithful Consuls of the city of Lyon, greetings. The religious of the Order of St. Francis, which is called the Capuchins, with the aim of increasing the glory of the name of God by desiring to have a place in our city of Lyon, where they can live according to the laws and statutes of their Order. We who hold them in high esteem and cherish them tenderly for their good and holy life, have decided to ask you that, as soon as you receive this letter, assign them to some area of the city an appropriate and convenient place where they can build a friary. Furthermore, not only for their remarkable and holy way of life, but also for the singular love with which we recommend them to you as much as possible, take care of their persons and all their interests.

Date in Paris on 28 April 1574.


In the General Chapter held in Rome on 19 May 1575, Father Mattia Bellintani da Salò was commissioned to go to France as General Commissioner.[63] Wise and prudent, he was to exert a profound influence on the destiny of the Province of Paris. Before leaving Italy, he wanted to visit two men eminent for learning and holiness: Cardinal Sfondrati, Bishop of Cremona, who later became Gregory XIV,[64] and Saint Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, who had a profound veneration for Father Mattia. He gave the father two letters of recommendation, one for the King of France Henry II (n. 1), and the other for the Apostolic Nuncio (n. 2). Bellintani, keeping in contact with the holy Archbishop of Milan, mentions his activities in France (n. 3).

Source: Giannantonio M. da Brescia, Vita del padre Mattia Bellintani da Salò, cappuccino, Milano 1885, 45; A. Sala, Documenti circa la vita e le gesta di S. Carlo Borromeo, parte II, Milano 1857, 423s (n. 1-2); Fedele Merelli, S. Carlo Borromeo e P. Mattia da Salò cappuccino. Epistolario, in CF 54 (1984) 295s, 299 (n. 3).

1. Charles Borromeo to Henry III

Holy Most Christian Royal Majesty.

9127 Father Br. Mattia, Capuchin, Commissioner of his Order in France, was coming quickly to erect monasteries of that congregation in that kingdom […], it seemed to me that I was coming with this opportunity to humbly revere your majesty. And although I know how much your Majesty, by your goodness and piety, are inclined towards this congregation of the Capuchin Fathers and are willing to readily embrace it in your kingdom, favour it and increase it, I did not however want to stop presenting my testimony to your majesty of the goodness and worthy qualities of the Father Commissioner, present carrier of this letter, who, in addition to his office, will also be particularly suited with the talents that the Lord has given him, to bear muc fruit in that kingdom for the benefit of the souls.

For this reason, he also deserves to be kindly seen by your majesty and to favour and assist his efforts and diligence in the service of God and of the Catholic religion, as I also beg your majesty and humbly kiss your hands.

Milan, 18 July 1575.

2. Charles Borromeo to the Nuncio of Paris

9128 The carrier of this letter is the Capuchin Father Br Mattia, Commissioner of his congregation in France, where he is currently coming to carry out the erection of some monasteries of this Order in that kingdom; and he is a priest of much goodness and great talent in preaching. And although the cause of his coming, which is so much concerning the service of God […] and the benefit of souls, and his particular merits must certainly make him very dear to your majesty, and also induce your reverend Lordship to favour and help him in all he can, however it seemed to me to accompany him with this of mine, to let you know that for all these respects I will feel pleased that also for my love your Lordship is happy to see him willingly and for his part also help the affairs of this congregation.

Milan, 18 July 1575.

3. Mattia da Salò to Charles Borromeo

9129 a) […] Next, Fr. Br. Giacomo Calderino,[65] Guardian of Santo Vittorello, urges me to write to your most illustrious Lordship to inform you of us being here. I didn’t want to do this so as not to be too presumptuous and not to give you unnecessary worry in reading my letters. But on the day of Our Lady[66] another cause occurred to me that prompted me to do it. On the evening of that day the King came to our place with the Queen Mother and his wife, and we talked very familiarly. And the memory of your most illustrious Lordship entered into the discussion because I used it for many purposes, and I said what was appropriate for me. In conclusion, I told his Majesty that I wanted to write to you the favours they did with it and commend them to your prayers. Which promise they received with great joy as they listened to the discussions about you with great affection, exciting me with questions and attention.

Now, therefore, most illustrious Monsignor, I commend this poor King whose intentions are truly seen to be good. But if it is lacking, it is lacking due to the need for advice and perhaps due to inexperience and youth. This cannot be done to one’s ears occupied by enemies, we must do it to those of God who are always intent and open to the voice of the poor supplicants. Therefore, I implore you to plead for him and for the Queen and for the kingdom of France. In which if there is some bad, there is also much and more good. We ordinarily are well seen, and I hope of profit much in time. I struggled with the language, and I began to preach around the villages in French and they understood me. […]

I humbly kiss your hands, and I pray that God will always assist you by favouring your holy undertakings and generously giving you his holy grace in everything.

From Paris, 17 August 1576.

9130 b) […] I thank you infinitely for the prayer you are offering for these crowns and kingdom which truly is greatly needed. And it seems to me that I can give to your most illustrious Lordship this certainty, that the affairs of the kingdom, in regards to religion, will rather improve rather than worsen, despite the war that there is force, which is now again being prepared. And we are sensitively monitoring the progress that is being made for good, especially here in Lyon, where there was a particular need due to the proximity of Geneva. God has given me grace that I preach in French, I hope he will also give virtue to the word to bear fruit, because these people are sicut oves non habentes pastorem [as sheep without a shepherd]. I most humbly kiss the hands of your most illustrious Lordship and pray to God to assist you with particular favour in these great undertakings of yours, and to preserve you for a long time with a continuous increase in your gifts.

From Lyon, 19 December 1576.


Paris, July 1576. — Henry III, King of France, increasingly esteeming the Capuchin friars, gave them very favourable letters of patent in 1576 granting them the right to settle throughout the territory of the kingdom.

Source: Paris, Archives nationales, X1A 8633, f. 133. – Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 42-44.

9131 Henry, by the grace of God, king of France and Poland, greetings to all present and future.

[…] God who cares for his Church, has raised up for us, in addition to a good number of bishops and holy doctors and preachers, great in doctrine and virtues, people distinguished in piety, religion and holy conversation, both secular and religious, and also the Capuchin Friars Minor of the Rule of lord St. Francis, who by professing exactly the first institution of their Rule, by the grace of God are an example to many of doing well. They spend their time in chanting, fasting, praying and meditating and preaching, offering excellent hope of a better growth of his glory, and this is seen in the increase of their members and their friaries.

This fact would have prompted our holy father the Pope, at the request of our most honoured mother and lady the Queen, and of many princes and great lords of our kingdom, to allow a group of the above-mentioned religious to come from Italy, where they began their first foundation, in our kingdom. And under the protection of our most honoured lord and brother the lately deceased King Charles IX, may God pardon him, some friaries have been erected for them and one also in the suburbs of Saint-Honoré, of our city of Paris, near our palace of the Tuilleries, another in the village of Meudon also near Paris, and two others in the cities of Lyon and Avignon, to the great joy of each and great edification of the good and faithful Catholics who are greatly consoled and edified by their holy life.

9132 Therefore, following the example of our predecessors kings, who, for having always taken the greatest care not only to preserve but also to increase the Christian religion and the service of God without sparing their goods and lives, acquired this beautiful title over all Christian princes, of most Christian and first sons of the Catholic Church, We have notified and decided to take these Friars Minor under our special protection and safeguard […].

We want and like that each and every one of the places up to this moment donated and offered to them, both by our lord and brother, and by our lady and mother, and others that could still be donated to them from now on by us or by any other person, to build churches, monasteries, and churches and friaries, houses and cloisters, they can accept them and can freely dwell and live there, they can build monasteries and friaries and celebrate divine worship, preach in churches and carry out other similar activities in our kingdom and country subjected to us, according to the Rule of the lord St. Francis and the praiseworthy customs of their assemblies and congregations […].

And so that this remains firm and stable forever, we have had our seal placed on the previous and present letters.

Given at Paris, in the month of July of the year 1576, the third of our reign.



The Capuchin friars soon experienced the favourable effects of the king’s protection, but the incessant dedication and the services they rendered to the people radically changed the initial negative reactions of the latter towards them.

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 5859: Abrégé des Annales. p. 21s. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 475.

9133 Since only the Providence of God established us as if by a miracle in France, so the same wanted to preserve us by a surprising miracle, after having put us to the test for a few years, giving us the opportunity to sanctify ourselves due to bad treatments which we received from the Parisians and country people who considered us bizarre and vagabonds.

But as soon as the people had known our great disinterest both in material and spiritual things, and that we offer very considerable services to every city and village, with no other reward than that expected from heaven, in visiting the sick or in time of plague and in case of fires, where we expose ourselves without paying attention to dangers, then we began to feel well and calm.

We were, so to speak, extracted from the mud and placed on the throne of God’s mercy, since before then we did not dare to leave the friaries, the children threw mud at us, the coachmen hit us with their whips, passers-by threw us into the mud: hated by the clergy, despised by Parliament and looked upon as bizarre by the courtiers, we were a scandal to the heretics and an object of laughter and they often insulted us and hurled mean jokes at us.


The Milanese chronicler Salvatore Rasari da Rivolta left a characteristic portrait of Father Girolamo da Milano, which suggests the strength of his charism as a propagator of the Capuchin reform in France and founder of the Province of Lyon.

Source: Milano, Arch. di Stato, Religione 6493: [Salvatore da Rivolta], Vite di alcuni frati cappuccini della Provincia di Milano, illustri in virtu’ e santità, ff. 136r-140r (= from the life Del padre fra Girolamo Calusco da Milano capuccino).

9134 […] He was Provincial and General Commissioner in France, where it seemed to be his singular vocation and he introduced the Order into various parts of that kingdom. He built the friary of Lyon, which was the first in that Province, and he worked more in that business with sanctity than with industry. Because with the wonderful example of his actions, he captivated the hearts of the citizens, and especially the merchants, in such a way that everyone competed to contribute for alms, and with the additional of his humility he won and calmed the disdainful soul of the Archbishop, who was very determined not to admit the Capuchins, and had become very hostile to them, he made him very fond of him. [136v]

One day the father went with some merchants, who favoured him, to Monsignor Archbishop to ask him for the site of a church and parish house to build the friary; by which request, considering himself offended, due to the care that was diminished for him, the prelate was greatly disturbed, whereupon, inflamed in countenance and words, he answered that request to be reckless and unjust, and turning to Father Geronimo in particular, told him that he should go away with his friars to dwell elsewhere, because in Lyon he resolved not to have the Capuchins, useless men and of no worth.

9135 At those harsh and bitter words, dictated by jealousy and indignation, the good father prostrating himself on the ground at the monsignor’s feet, thanked him for the favour he had shown him in treating him, as he said, according to what he deserved; and then he added that, being pleased with his lordship that he was leaving, he deigned to console him with his blessing. But the Archbishop declined to do so, indeed repeating the ridicules and mortifications, he nevertheless persevered in his prayers and humility, until, moved by the Shepherd, as a demonstration of such virtue, he moved on to a point from hatred to love, and from rigor to pleasantness, and embracing the dear father, with tears he told him that he could no longer pretend not to know and confess the Capuchins as true servants of God, and that therefore not only was he [137r] content to welcome them into his city and diocese, but that he also wanted to be their protector, and that since the Church he was looking for was a defective place due to the lack of water in particular, he would have given orders that care should be taken for another, as he later did with paternal affection and with his authority.

9136 He built many other friaries in other parts, and that of Avignon in particular, where while sailing from Lyon, something of great miracle happened to him. As soon as he was in Schiarmi (sic), the Huguenots, who already knew his passage by a certain spy and were therefore insidiously awaiting him, came out armed and stopped the boat, where he was sitting with his companion,[67] and a captian with his soldiers bordered it, with the intention of killing the servants of Christ, concealing the evil intention with the pretext of wanting to know what goods were on the ship. But having had the master show them all their belongings and having never seen what they were looking for, even though it was before their eyes, the captain, no longer dissimulating the hatred in his heart, told the helmsman that he knew very well that there were some roughly dressed men there, called by the name Capuchins, and that he was very determined to find them. And replying [137v] to him that there was nothing left on the boat except what everyone could see, the cruel heretic had all the merchandise and everything that was on the boat unloaded. But although the poor friars were on the lookout, and never moved from their place, and although that wicked man made such minute efforts to find them, he nevertheless had no eye to discover them, neither then nor later in the whole space of two days that they stopped, forced by necessity, as happened to every one of those who, drawn by curiosity to see them, went there.

9137 It was the opinion of the friars that the Lord was pleased to work those wonders for the health of his servants, as a reward for the great zeal they showed in accepting that mission. For when they had first offered themselves to father Commissioner, and when he proposed to the Chapter the pious desire of the citizens of Avignon to have the Capuchins, and the feeling that he had of consoling them, he said that since the undertaking was very dangerous on account of the heretics, who were badly persecuting the religious, he would gladly send those who showed themselves eager for it.

Having left the monastery with the obedience of the superior, who accepted their offer, and sent [138r] towards the Rhone to embark, encouraged not to be similarly sent by obedience, as the great danger they faced required, they both returned home and having communicated the reason for this to father Commissioner, they did not leave again until he, having consulted God in prayer, commanded them to go by virtue of the Holy Spirit, and with a thousand blessings. And then they put aside all their fears, when they were prayed for by two other religious men, whom they found in the same boat, in which they boarded, and who were to make the same journey; asked, I say, to disguise themselves, as they had done, to avoid the meeting of the heretics, they did not want to consent, and Father Geronimo replied that Father Saint Francis, whose sons they were, the wearing of the habit which they bore and holy obedience sufficed himself and his companion against the forces and cruelty of the enemies of Christ.

9138 At the same time that he was in France governing and expanding the Order, he worked hard in preaching, with which he bore so much fruit that he deserved to be commonly called the Apostle of that province, nor from the pulpit alone did he work much in the service of souls, but also in the familiar discourses of domestic conversation, in which he very highly reasoned about the things of God, he was so pleasing that he attracted all sorts of people, and then so fervent that [138v] he moved and persuaded very effectively, so that many were converted not only from sin to penance, but also from the worldly to religion, and the good father, realizing that his dealings with secular people was not without the glory of God, did not shy away, but rather sought the opportunity to do so, even if on the other hand he loved seclusion and silence.

Converted among others, because of the practice he had with father Br. Geronimo, an Italian merchant in Lyon, a very dissolute young man, who achieved such a sign of goodness that he became a mirror and idea of virtue for the whole city, and became so fond of the Order of the Capuchins, that he was its benefactor and protector most particular; then inflamed with a great desire to be a member of the Order, and since the bond of marriage was an obstacle to him (he being married), he did not give himself peace until, having arranged with his wife that she should voluntarily enter a monastery and take a vow of chastity, he put on the holy habit.

9139 Even among the heretics, with whom he sometimes found himself, he profited greatly, convincing and converting them in private disputes, which however he did not affect, having little faith in his own strength.

It happened one day, while traveling to a villa full of heretics [139r], where it was convenient for him to stop due to the abundance of the rain falling from the sky, he was forced to take shelter in the house of one of them. It was known by the citizens that two friars had come and stayed in that place, because many went there to argue with them about matters of faith, hoping to convince them and draw them into their sect. Many doubtful and difficult arguments were proposed and formed, to which Father Geronimo responded so learnedly that he silenced every tongue. But instead of becoming irritated with the minds of those, as seemed likely to follow, he became so fond of them that they all unitedly forced him with pleading to stay the whole following day and agreed to house the Capuchins for common expense in a particular house in which they could stay when passing; and then, after a certain time, it was necessary for the Father to return there, he was received with much kindness and he learned that many of the same people who had argued with him had been converted to the Catholic faith by the answers he gave them, among whom some had already died with the most holy sacraments.

9140 During the time that Father Geronimo remained in France, preaching and governing now in this part and now in that part, and in the journeys which he made, coming from Italy to that province, he had many encounters of inconveniences, insults and [139v] contempt, and at the same time a lot of patience and constancy in suffering them.

Coming from Italy to France for the first time, and passing through Savoy, those villagers seeing him and from the novelty of his habit arguing that he was mad or wicked, began to despise him in various ways, even going so far as to offend him by throwing stones at him, and he was almost deaf to the insults and insensitive to the beatings, he tolerated everything with great patience, not showing the slightest disturbance on his face. An old farmer who was present observed the father’s manners, and amazed by such constancy, he began to consider him a saint, and therefore, having put an end to those insolent acts with good words, he invited him to his house, where he embraced him with great kindness.

9141 Then the wonder and devotion towards the Father grew in that man because, hearing him speak in the Italian language, of which he had no understanding, he understood him as well as if he had spoken Savoyard (which had happened to his father preaching in France many times), so he became so fond of him that, when he wished to depart for his journey, he begged him most earnestly to leave him something of his, and the good religious to console the dear guest, and as a sign of grateful correspondence, gave him a little book, entitled the Gersone,[68] which [140r] was held so dear by the old man, even though he could not read it because it was in Italian, that he ordered his children in his will to keep it as a precious thing, nor did they ever dare to deprive his house of it.

In other places still, where his quality and profession were completely unknown, he was rejected by the people, and incurred much contempt, moving the ignorant mobs, whos only looked at appearances, to hate and revile him for his extreme poverty, in which they saw him, and for the unusual form of dress; so that sometimes he did not find much alms on which he could live […].


Also, in Normandy the Capuchin friars were requested, and in fact were called there by the magistrates in 1575. The Abbot of the monastery of Saint-Etienne and his monks offered an ancient priory with a chapel and dependent lands.

Source: Caen, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 62: Mémoires bistoriques sur l’abbaye Saint-Etienne de Caen, f. 55. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 49.

9142 The Capuchin friary of Caen[69] is the third that they had in France […]. The following year, 1575, the lord of La Vérune,[70] governor of Caen, convinced the inhabitants of Caen to request some of these religious men to settle in their city. The Episcopal See of Bayeux was then vacant due to the death of Charles d’Humière.[71] They managed to recieve six and after an assembly of the city and through the generosity of the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Etienne,[72] they were assigned the place they now occupy, called the Priory of the fiefdom of Brucourt[73] contiguous to the walls of the gardens called the Courtyards and closed on the other side by the Odon canal.

9143 This donation was made through a Capitular Assembly of the monks of that abbey, authorised by the Card. Alessandro Farnese, their Abbot,[74] and was later confirmed by Carlo d’O,[75] his successor. There was in that place of Brucourt a chapel almost in ruins, dedicated to St. Michael and St. James the Greater, erected in title, owned and served by a chaplain usufruct of those lands with their respective revenues.

The Capuchin friary was built in 1576. The Brucourt chapel which they had repaired, being too small for their uses, was rebuilt under the invocation of the same patrons St. Michael and St. James and was only finished in 1605. But as it was still not convenient for their exercises, it was later transformed into an infirmary, and finally, in 1634, construction began on the church which can still be seen, without changing the patron saints of the place, St. Michael and St. James. The work was completed in 1635, and the church was consecrated in 1636 […].


The great plague of 1579-1580 which devastated Paris and its surroundings and claimed around 31,000 victims was an opportunity for the Capuchins to test their charity and dedication to the point of sacrificing their lives and this caused a total change in the attitude of the Parisians in comparisons with them.[76]

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 25.044: Chronologie historisse, p. 48ss. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 61-63, 65s.

9144 […] This year 1579[77] the plague began in France where it became furious and caused a cruel massacre, particularly in this great city of Paris, where due to the enormous and continuous crowding of people, who incessantly come and go along the roads, there is always mud and dirt. But a short time later, this highly populated city suddenly became deserted due to the great mortality of people of all sexes and ages, so that grass could be seen growing where it had never been, that is, on the largest streets of Paris. Think about what happened on the medium and small roads.

Seeing these things, our poor evangelical fathers, these very Capuchins who were despised, hated and repudiated everywhere, these religious imitators of their seraphic father, all placed themselves[78] at the disposal of our reverend Father Commissioner, with an intrepidity that one reads of the early martyrs, to assist those poor abandoned without temporal and spiritual help, both to confess them as well as to seek something that could console them in their misery.

9145 Father Commissioner, in the face of so great a crowd, sent many workers, among whom was Rev. Father Deschamps in the front row, Rev. Father Bernardino da Bordeaux immediately followed by Rev. Father Andrew da Dijon, priests; Br. Giacomo da Provence, brother of monsignor Cesare, a priest of holy life[79] and very fond of our holy congregation […]; Br. Egidio da Paris, a lay brother; Br. Daniele da Chaumont, a lay brother and Br. Masseo di Pantin near Paris, also a lay brother, were of the number of deputies.

All these religious, therefore, filled with love for their neighbour, exposed themselves as good and generous soldiers of Jesus Christ and true sons of our seraphic father. Desiring to sacrifice their lives for the love of their Redeemer, they were the first to begin, in this kingdom of France, this activity so holy and heroic and overflowing with charity, opening the door and pointing the way to obtain the crown of glory and they were martyrs of charity where they died in this holy service of their neighbour […].

9146 It is true to assert, and we must confess it in front of everyone, that we now enjoy the fruit of their labours and of that wonderful edification that they then provided, carrying out such holy and charitable services towards these abandoned poor. And it was for this reason that they attracted the love and veneration of the people, and that they made known to all of France how useful we were to others, being selfless religious, who seek only the glory of God and the salvation of souls. This meant that our little flock grew like the mustard seed, as the Scripture says,[80] which becomes a great seraphic tree […].

What confirmed the people in this scent of holiness was that they went around the city questing, seeking what to live on for those poor abandoned sick people. They fed them with the sweat of their brow and with what for the proud bearer of shame is blush, going from door to door seeking for food for those with whom they had to die together, and this was not for a few hundreds of sick people, but for thousands of every sex, and if they hadn’t done so, people would have died more from hunger than from the plague. […].

9147 The charitable acts rendered by our fathers on that occasion re-established us in the hearts of the great and the small, the rich and the poor. The people and the clergy changed their hostility into love, their hatred into respect and their contempt into a profound veneration towards these poor Capuchins, to the point of presenting our fathers as models […]. The ecclesiastics began to devote themselves to mental prayer and the people to attend the sacraments, two realities completely abandoned, since the majority had never heard of mental prayer or anything similar, until they saw the Capuchins practicing it twice per day at distinct and specifically established hours. Everyone wanted to learn this way of praying and flocked to our churches to participate.

Many religious men and women later adopted our chanting tone, stopped wearing linen cloths and completely reformed themselves, some scaled down and all began to build churches with a choir based on the model of our place behind the altar.

9148 They also adopted our way of keeping a tabernacle, as we did with the steps of their altars; the paintings, our prostrations and kissing on the ground before the Blessed Sacrament, all these things were imitated by many religious men and women, who knew our practices and customs.

They all placed large wooden crosses inside and outside their churches, and like us they took simple wooden ones. Finally, all competing with each other, they imitated us in our poverty and property, except in the strict poverty which remained for our use, as specific and foundation of our seraphic Order.

This imitation came about through an astonishing emulation not only by religious men and women, but also in almost all the collegiate and parish churches of Paris and all the other cities, towns and villages, where previously the Holy Sacrament was poorly preserved, and our poverty ensured that it was preserved in all churches together with cleanliness in churches, chapels and oratories.

In addition, people began to attend the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist more often, and it has been observed that this custom of approaching the sacraments often comes from our ancient fathers; so neglected was it in France before we came to this kingdom, for one was considered very devout when one received Communion two or three times a year.

9149 We can say, to the glory of God, that the little bit of devotion and charity that is now found in France derives from the good examples and actions, from the preaching and austerity that our fathers did, which prompted the people to imitate them not only in frequenting the sacraments, but in assiduity in prayer, listening to the Word of God and holy practices. In the same way our early fathers had great respect and great loyalty towards everything that concerned the Holy See and derived from it.

The esteem of kings, princes and people towards us came from this great charity of ours, from this friendliness, from this courtesy, from this service of ours to the poor and the rich […].


June 1580 – 1580, which was to be the year of the first Provincial Chapters in Paris and Lyon, was also the year of the founding of the friary of Étampes. Requested by the inhabitants, King Henry III granted them official authorisation by letters of patent.

Source: Paris, Archives nationales, S. 5705. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 71-74.

9150 Henry, by the grace of God, king of France and Poland, to all present and future, greetings.

Desiring to accommodate the Capuchin religious and give them the opportunity to be able to freely and calmly serve God and pray to him for our health and in general for the preservation, prosperity and union of this kingdom, we have assigned them some places both in our good city of Paris and Orléans, or elsewhere, and since near our city of Étampes there is a place with a chapel and some other buildings, with an enclosure and an adjoining meadow called Saint-Jacques de l’Epée,[81] where in ancient times those who came found a hostel and they went to San Giacomo in Galicia; and since a good part of the citizens of Étampes desire the seminary of that church of St. Francis of the aforementioned Capuchins to be founded in their city and they keep that place as property to house and receive them, for which they have made many requests to us and explained that in the city there were many other places to receive poor passers-by, who deserve to be received and housed. For this reason, similar hospitality is now placed and moved by the citizens of Étampes to the Saint-Antoine hospital of Étampes, where the beds and other furniture that were in the chapel and in the Saint-Jacques hospital have been transported, with all the related proceeds, without the Capuchin friars taking anything, except fields and land, and being charged every week with the ancient foundation of the said chapel and hospital […].

Given in Paris in the month of June, the year of grace one thousand five hundred and eighty, the sixth of our reign.


Within a few years the Province of Paris not only had rapid development, but also contributed to founding several other provinces. This development was the work of the General Commissioners, but also of the fervour of the religious and their exemplary nature. The poverty and austerity of their lives, exemplified in the Chronologie historique, were a major cause of their success.

Source: Fonte: Parigi, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 25.044: Chronologie historique, p. 70-72. — Ediz.: [René de Nantes], Documents, 90s.

9151 Our fathers […] lived in great austerity of life and extreme poverty was in all their customs, since they did not collect much in questing, sometimes staying more than six weeks without eating meat or fish and in lack of wine they drank water. When they had no roots or legumes available, they ate nettles from the garden as if they were spinach, which they chopped very finely. Snails and fennel were a very delicious dish. They did not build any fireplace in their kitchen, the stove being sufficient, and this lasted until the present day of 1630 when one had to be built due to the excessive number of friars.

They were so poor that they had neither baking pans nor frying pans, nor strainers to strain the peas; and on the large water heater they did not use, as they are not used now, neither tongs, nor shovel or bellows, nor andirons; a stone or two was more than enough to support the wood. Now, however, due to the large number of friars in the friaries, it was necessary to remove the stones that prevented heating and small iron andirons were installed for greater comfort.

9152 This poverty was so extreme that, having no wood, they were often forced to go into the garden to clear some stumps to burn for warmth. They often did this out of love for poverty and to save what little forest they had, and which had been donated to them, fearing they would burden their benefactors too much.

Cleric and lay friars never carried lamps into their rooms, and when by some necessity it was forced to allow only to a few, and cautious was taken to take only what remained or dripped under the candlestick. The lamp was not used to sing Our Lady’s office, the Lauds of the great divine office, litanies, prayers, and everything else; however, seventeen or eighteen years later it was inevitable to use it, because those who did not have a good memory would combine in confusion.

The young friars were never exempted from discipline in the refectory, except when it was very cold; then they were allowed to do it in their rooms. A very strict silence was observed, not only of the tongue, but also of the feet, and when one returned to his cell, he closed the door so gently with both hands that no noise could be heard. If one walked, he did so with such modesty that those who were in their rooms did not hear him pass.


Before undertaking the great missions that made them famous, the Capuchin friars also preached in the parishes of Paris and the surrounding area and exercised a fruitful ministry. This is the case, for example, of Father Angelo da Joyeuse.[82]

Source: Jacques Brousse, La vie du révérend père P. Ange de Joyeuse, prédicateur capucin, Paris, chez Adriain Taupinard, 1621, 198.

9153 One winters day the cold was so harsh that even the best dressed could not help but warm themselves by the fire and many poor Irish people who were begging at the head of the Saint Michel bridge had to light some fire to resist the cold, while they waited for the charity of passers-by.

Blessed Father Angelo had just done some works of piety and, numb by the cold for not wanting to enter any house for being of too much acquaintance, he warmed himself with these poor people. The passers-by, considering this fact and seeing the good father put his feet all frozen in front of two or three coals lit by these poor foreigners, went away amazed and many with tears in their eyes.

His whole desire was to conceal the greatness of his lineage and the rank he had previously held in the world, and he felt greatly offended by those who came to visit him when he realized that they were driven more by curiosity than by some reason why God could receive honour and his neighbour edification and merit.

There were also preachers at that time, particularly Father Athanasius Molé,[83] who was content above all to recall the teachings of the Gospel. Many specialised in preaching to simple and country people, who were at that time very neglected since the Sunday sermons were neglected or poorly done. The Capuchins committed themselves to instructing and evangelising the people in the countryside and in the cities, as Father Giambattista d’Amiens did.

Source: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms. fr. 25.046: Capucins illustres de la Province de Paris, p. 176; ms. fr. 25.047: op. cit., p. 17.

9154 [Father Giambattista d’Amiens][84] began with exhortations to the children, the simple people and the villagers […]. He humbled himself to win the hearts of those ignorant people who have no use for refined speech. He was happy when he was with the poor people in the countryside, more than in the big cities. He travelled through villages and hamlets, because he knew that there was more need there than elsewhere […].

Leaving these villages where he had spent entire days instructing those simple people, he entered the cities and made his eloquence and the strength of his reasoning resound there which convinced the most hardened […], and made many conversions, so that he was regarded not as an ordinary preacher, but as an apostle.

The cities requested him through their bishops or magistrates with great solicitude and he departed with great regret on their part […]. In all the applause he received for his speeches, for the conversions obtained, the restitutions and reconciliations made by the force of his arguments and reasoning, he gave all honour to God.


The Capuchins of the Province of Paris played an eminent role as directors of conscience and spiritual writers.[85] Trained at the school of Father Benedetto di Canfield, they were mystics and exerted a strong influence in that era of renewal of spiritual life and in the direction of the numerous religious circles in Paris at the beginning of the 18th Century. Thus Father Martial d’Etampes,[86] who can be considered one of the best disciples of Benedetto di Canfield. He exercised his ministry as master of novices and also as confessor of the Capuchins in Paris and Amiens.

Source: Chateau du Titre (Sum), private collection: Nécrologe de la Province de Paris, p. 71.

9155 His life in Paris and Amiens was rough. In winter he would come very early from the large friary of our Capuchin fathers, which is a long way from our monastery, and, not minding the snow-covered streets or the intense cold, he would go straight into the confessional, without stopping to warm himself, to see if any of us needed his assistance.

He was almost continually suffering and with those pains he did not in any way reduce his austerities, vigils and works, day and night, and he took care to train and instruct his novices more with example than with words, even if he was very assiduous in addressing them fervent exhortations, where one could admire the light and inner knowledge that God gave him and which he wrote down in the admirable book of the three nails […][87]

I have seen him as a great observer of regular life…, very fervent in mortifying himself both in words and deeds, strongly austere in his living and sleeping, … a man of great prayer and spiritual practice, as he has well demonstrated both in his particular lessons and exhortations, but also in his books and writings…, reducing all his doctrine into practice to imitate the examples of the life of our Lord to the point of dying with him on the cross.


Regarding the spiritual apostolate of the Capuchins, the overall judgment given by Marc de Baudouin is significant, referring to the end of the Sixteenth Century.

Source: Marc de Baudouin, La vie admzirable de très haute, très puissante, très illustre et très admirable Dame Charlotte Marguerite de Gondi, marquise de Maignelay, où les fidèles trouvent de quoi admirer et des vertus à imiter, Paris 1666, 118s (a certain triumphalist tone appears).

9156 [The Capuchins] are the first reformed religious in France. They were the first fathers of spiritual life and the first teachers of the solid devotion of our era which they founded on humility, suffering and the cross of Jesus Christ.


This long letter from Natanaele da Pontoise, from the Province of Paris, resident in Verdun, dated 24 July 1595, discovered in recent years in the Vatican Archives, sheds important light on the implications of that incessant tension of reform, always present in the soul of the most zealous Capuchins, which seems to have a certain analogy with the ideals of the reform of the “Maddaleniti” attempted within the Order in Italy twenty years earlier.

Vincenzo Criscuolo, who has the merit of having discovered and published this curious and significant document, writes: “Br. Natanaele da Verdun writes to Pope Clement VIII. After having expressed his unworthiness in addressing the Pontiff directly, however encouraged by the supreme benevolence and clemency of the Vicar of Christ, he expresses the reasons for his letter. For about three years, after mature reflection and with the comfort of some brothers, he has been thinking about a reform of the Order that would restore the austere and spiritual life of the early Capuchins. For these reasons – and also following the request of the Prince of Lorena to have him as a confessor for himself and his family – he has gradually been isolated within his Province and now lives segregated and under continuous observation, so much so that he is forced to write secretly. He therefore formally asks to be able to leave the community and live in a small and poor friary, in strict observance of the Rule, above all in the poverty of the house, clothing and food, in greater assiduity in prayer and in the preservation of inner and outer silence. He also plans to live by his own labour and ask for alms from door to door, to be able to accept other friars – twelve or more – to his reform and to depend directly on the general.

Finally, he illustrates the need to return to the primitive Capuchin life, now completely relaxed because of the introduction among the friars of excessive abuses, which gradually became customary, among which he enumerates the excessive size and comfort of the friaries, the cloth for the habits always more refined and less in keeping with Capuchin austerity, the food was abundant and increasingly succulent. He further mentions the many failures against poverty and charity, fuelled by continuous murmuring and dissatisfaction, the latter cause of which has already forced an illustrious brother – Angelo da Joyeuse – to leave religious life and another – Leone da Autrécourt-sur Aire – to return to the Augustinians. After having pleaded once again for a benevolent acceptance of his request, he reports in the ”postscriptum” the names of two brothers immediately willing to undertake the new life with him: the priest Michele da Abbeville and the lay brother Angelico da Picardy, true and prime mover of the need for reform.”

Source: ASV, Sacred Congregation of the Bishops and Regulars, Positiones, 1595 C 2, ff. n.n. — Ediz.: I cappuccini e la congregazione romana dei vescovi e regolari, vol. I (1573-1595), edited by V. Criscuolo, Rome 1989, 410-430. Our translation.

Gesù + Maria

9157 To our most holy Lord, Lord Pope Clement VIII,
Brother Natanaele da Pontoise, the greatest worm,
nothing more miserable, still called a Capuchin,
although most unworthy, he wishes with all his heart
a most ardent love of Jesus Christ.
Most Holy Father.

I am filled, not without motive, with a great and vehement admiration, affliction and shame, since a putrid and fetid little worm is not afraid to address itself to such sublimity; but I am also filled, not without reason, with a greater and stronger fear, or rather with joy and gladness in my heart, and I am completely moved that this same sublimity deigns to welcome these too with such benevolent favour as do friends.

Indeed, as the whole world proclaims, to those who faithfully recount what they have experienced in themselves, in order not to become ungrateful, it would not be enough, I say, that, like another Abraham, to honour with his desirable presence the poor and humble admitted to the daily table, if it did not bring relief, like another Saint Paul, in the way it can even to those who are absent. How great is this relief of the poor in affliction, if not so much and whenever there is a need? What letters can they freely present at the most holy feet of your beatitude, even with complete assurance of their most gracious acceptance? Isn’t this an unprecedented and incomparable fact? Leaving aside other things, I will say something about us Capuchins, by profession the poorest of all the poor and – as the name sounds, if it corresponds to reality – the most despicable of all people.

[Introductory remarks]

9158 We have been told until today, not without the greatest admiration, nor with less joy and alacrity, that the sublimity of your holiness welcomes and listens with incredible patience to any letter from the simplest friars, and not only with paternal benevolence, but is so far from supporting those who contradict them, that, indeed, he rejects them from himself with righteous indignation, and I do not say righteous in vain. One must not add affliction to those who are afflicted. For you are just, Lord Jesus, righteous and faithful, who do not allow one to be tempted beyond his strength.[88]

Who would not believe that this was done by the correct judgment of the most excellent God, although it is said that if some great father was pleased, perhaps by his own will, to write to his superiors, he should not, I do not say, deny it, but not even defer to answer? If then a simple and humble friar, out of mere necessity, dared to write humble letters, he is called little brother, and his letters are immediately packed and condemned to perpetual oblivion. Your holiness – far be it from me to say it – sees these things, or at least knows them from afar, and with the most pious and most benign affection embraces this humble and simple friar, even if despised by people.

9159 That so much height corresponds to just as much humility, this is clear to everyone who, even with little intelligence, can compare large things with small ones. And it is not indecent, but very convenient and decorous to the same sublimity. In fact, Saint Bernard says that the most splendid gem of the principal ornaments of the Pontiff is humility.[89] If it is lost, the acquisition of virtues becomes a shambles. But why is not that most splendid gem of the crown of the true Solomon, as you know, with which his mother crowned him?[90] I intend to speak of that crown, an eternal paternal crown as if left in oblivion, in which alone the supreme wisdom of the supreme Father deigned to boast. Learn, he said, from me, not to fabricate the world, though I could be born of the Father, but because I am meek and humble of heart,[91] for as a man I was born of a mother. But how meek? He did not answer, so that the president was amazed.[92] And how humble? If I have washed the feet of you, I the Lord and the teacher, etc.[93] I then am among you as one who serves.[94]

Here are the greatest insignia of the supreme king, with which it was fitting that first of all his general and leader should be adorned, although he would have liked to decorate all his soldiers with them. Let each one understand what his soul suggests to him, for all abound in what they feel.

9160 I then, whatever I am, recognise above all in this, the true elect of God and of our Lord, since it was truly convenience that the most faithful vicar should not degenerate from his great Lord. This, beyond doubt, is the true path by which God’s elect, with his help and serving him so faithfully, will merit to ascend with felicitous ladder to the heights of heaven, and the higher the deeper the foundation lies. May God do the best that the flock accredited to him becomes worthy of following him finally or at least from afar. Indeed, in my Father’s house, says the infallible Truth, there are many places.[95]

Trusting then in the Lord Jesus for such sublime humility and humble sublimity more than one can believe, I was not afraid to propose this letter to your most holy feet. If I am driven by too much presumption, it is a push, and I would like to say it more truly, that comes to me from a necessity of my Order. Whether this is really true or not, the judgment will be up to your holiness, not to my nothingness. Therefore, I completely surrender myself with the greatest affection of my heart to your most holy hands, so that either I may be received benignly by your usual clemency, or I may be severely punished for my impudence. Who am I that I want to be attached to my feelings? I am truly unworthy of being supported by the earth. So, as is very true, could I truly believe and effectively be persuaded: the works would correspond to it.

9161 Moreover, despite being what I am, who could I turn to, abandoned in such necessity, if not to the common and supreme father of all Christians, constituted on earth by God ultimate greatest, and so pious and clement? Clemente in reality, more merciful in countenance when he shows himself, so much so that the whole world declares him very merciful. But even evil carnal fathers know how to give good things to their carnal children. How much more will such a great and benign spiritual father, full of love and completely moved, deign to give them to his spiritual children?[96] And if for everyone, how much more so for the little ones, such as the weakest and unable to bear the starvation of hunger? Especially as most humbly as possible and beseechingly they ask not for carnal realities but for spiritual gifts. It would be nefarious to distrust this. Everybody knows that. This is why my nothingness, or my incomparable inability cannot make me change my belief.

I know, to say nothing of facticity or eloquence, this being unbecoming of a Capuchin, that I have never learned the form that is usually used when writing letters to your holiness, and nor could I write with that calligraphy worthy of being presented to such sublimity. But since no living person, under the urgency of the precept, and not even for me to speak without end, except perhaps God alone, whose word is omnipotent and whose will no one can resist,[97] may he deign by his mercy to do otherwise. And being surrounded by so many anguishes, the following proposals are made to me: either to go crazy or to hang myself or to leave the Order.

9162 But I thank my God who has so far delivered me and freed me from so many dangers.[98] In him I have hoped. Mercy surrounds those who hope in the Lord.[99] Moreover, if I accept all this with gladness, it is attributed either to dementia or to constancy of woman or even to pertinacity and obstinacy, having instead thus taught me by word and example the Lord Jesus, as I modestly once replied. I cannot fathom then how this happens with very severe penances. Perhaps I am blind in my own cause, so I am not alone.

Having once experienced a confusion so serious that it could hardly be imagined as greater, my Guardian, foreseeing it, said to me: “There, there, be of good cheer; you have done well as I commanded you.” Another time, when an even greater one happened to me, I had already convinced myself that it was like a prelude or preparation for a still greater one to come, and I asked my Guardian if I should write to the existing major superiors in Italy; he, after thinking about it for a while, replied: “Seeing that God is testing you, I advise you to wait until you know what He requires of you.” On this I would like something more than a modest answer. But he is far from granting it to me.

9163 In fact, when, to avoid the desire of that devout prince of Lorena[100] who asked your holiness to have me as his confessor and that of his wife and children (and it seemed to me that it was an exorbitant request from someone), to avoid, I repeat, everything this, I made this proposal: “Send me then, if you like, to a foreign province of Italy, even to Puglia, where only I can be completely forgotten.” “Not there – I am told – but you will remain locked here in the cell forever with the breviary and the Bible. This in fact I intend to obtain – he said – from the superiors in Italy, since there you would be considered a saint, and moreover at that point you would want a friar to defend you.”

So I was answered at various times, as if there were no God who can defend my cause, if it is just, both here and in Rome and in the next Chapter,[101] where I sense that a bitter pill will be prepared for me; but it becomes sweet when I devoutly think that my Lord Jesus has drunk from a full chalice what I am made to sip in very small sips. It is God, therefore, and he alone who works wonders, he who does not delight in the sins of man, but in those who fear him and hope in his mercy.[102]

9164 These things, most holy father, I am compelled to premise, for perhaps not being able to complete what I have begun. In fact, if I have been prevented, I am not afraid, trusting in the Lord Jesus, to send even an imperfect letter due to the extreme unprecedented benevolence of your holiness.

But to return to the purpose of my most humble accusation, since I also have to write in secret (I am kept under surveillance night and day), all these things, it is clear, are full of flaws and deletions. However, I piously and confidently believe that such a benign father will pay attention not to what I am, what I can and what I have written, but to what I have asked and what he will want to give. And not also because, due to my already mentioned ineptitude, I explain at length and in many words what I should express briefly and, in a few words, especially when the letters can support many objections, but yours, as they report, do not receive answer.

9165 Yet fathers listen no less benignly than sweetly even to stammering children, who can barely express in ten tortuous words what they ought to say in a single word. Why then should I distrust that this great charity of such a father is not to cover the multitude of so innumerable faults of mine?

Asking therefore, most blessed father, the best pardon of your holiness, although absent in body, but I am present in spirit,[103] with as much possible inner reverence prostrate and stretched down at your most holy feet, and embracing them lovingly and kissing them devoutly with impure lips, now, impelled by a reverential and filial love, I will not doubt to continue, what I dared to presume out of too much confidence.

Fig. 3 – The two French mother provinces: Paris and Lyon

These two geographical maps from the Capuchin Atlas by Silvestro da Panicale depict the expansion of the Capuchin settlements in the Provinces of Paris and Lyon. The first gave rise to the Provinces of Touraine, Britan, Normandy, Lorena and Champagne; the second gave rise to the Provinces of S. Lodovico or Provenza, of Savoia, Burgundy, Toulouse and Aquitaine, and in the middle of the 18th Century, those of Avignon and Marseille.

(Atlante cappuccino cit., 41 and 33)

[Exposition of the facts and previous resolutions]

9166 For about three years, I and some of my brothers, considering the present state of our Order, had been thinking about its reform; and since we understood that it could not be achieved through any other path than through humble recourse to your holiness, we were more animated than before when we learned that this situation was well known to your Beatitude, having been reported to him by a good friar, who was mistreated for this reason, as we clearly understood from certain phrases; and we exhorted each other not in vain, since we trusted greatly in the Lord Jesus to obtain for this the benevolent favour of your holiness.

But in the meantime, as the matter was somehow discovered over time, it was reported to the superior. I am interrogated for this simple complaint and then I am commanded, under penalty of a reserved case and in front of many witnesses, to reveal what it was about and with whom I had dealt with this matter. I was ordered again, under the same penalty, to reveal whether I had perhaps created a scandal, directly or indirectly, among some secular people or one or more brothers, both prelates and subjects. Completely frightened by this unusual precept, I immediately and without delay discovered the intimacy of my conscience, and this and what I say about it, thanks to good God, I would not blush to reveal again now or as often as necessary.

9167 The others having been completely acquitted, I alone remained penitential as their seducer, I myself seduced; but if it was a seduction, I had not been the prime mover, but perhaps a faithful coadjutor of the prime mover, who however I did not wish to name, and this to him in the Lord as he experienced. The result was this judgment on me: that, considering me perhaps more presumptuous than suitable, they entrusted the whole affair to me, above all because I hoped, through some princes who loved me tenderly, to be able to have access to your most holy feet.

In similar meticulous examination the major superior, with whom the matter was discussed, all grey-haired and born in Italy,[104] who then told us wonderful and even incredible things about the first fervour of this reform of ours, particularly regarding poverty, simplicity and self-contempt; this very man said to me, in private and in front of the friars, perhaps feeling remorse in his conscience: “I do not want to completely distance you from this purpose of yours, nor would it be possible, once it has occurred to you; but you did not observe the due manner and did not wait for the right time. If it pleases the great God that you one day continue this work and realise it, this will happen on your skin, that is, through many tribulations.” Another good father, endowed with singular virtue and very zealous for his Rule, also told me: “Of course, if you had obtained your aim, you would have immediately had many followers.”

9168 From these two expressions as dictated to me by God, making me courageous, I could never desist from my purpose. But seeing that it impeded my spiritual growth somewhat, more often I prayed to the great God that He would deign to take it away from me. But I say this as an ignorant person, exactly the opposite was happening to me, and I felt it flare up inside me even more strongly. And since I feared that these were rather diabolic snares than an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, I found a good father who was very zealous of the Rule to whom I opened in the secret of confession all my desire and at the same time begged him that he would freely tell me everything he thought about it, that is, whether I should repent of that sin and leave it. “Never let it be! – he said – On the contrary, I urge you to persevere in this purpose and always trust in the Lord.”

After some time had passed, it happened that the aforementioned superior, almost rebuking me, said: “Why, given such opportunity, did you not pursue this reform? It is certain that if you had obtained it, you would have done a very decent thing.” I do not know, God knows, why he spoke to me that way. But he encouraged me more than before. And furthermore, what is more important, it gave me a certain awareness of realising the desire, which up until that moment I had greatly doubted, perhaps without his knowledge and allowing it, in the special providence of him, the good God, as I piously believe. Then I didn’t know where to go, being surrounded by many anxieties. One thing has always been missing from me and I still miss it: that since we were separated from each other, even then it was not permitted to speak to each other or write to each other, especially on this topic, and this under penalty of a reserved case.

[“Humble petition”]

9169 I am forced to do this from all sides, in which way God knows, I am not, trusting with complete certainty whether it is permissible to say, or even knowing that they remain firm and rooted in this purpose, and I deduce this both from their great protest and from certain clues I see and hear; I, I say, their least little worm in my own person and in that of theirs, trusting greatly in the Lord Jesus for such kindness of your holiness, as I said above, after the most humble kiss of the most holy feet with all the reverence of my heart, I beseech of the same that, giving gracious favour to our pious and honest desires – if you judge them so – you deign to grant us that, separated from the community, we may build a very poor house on the model of the first fathers of this reform and in that live according to the strictest observance of our Rule, reforming ourselves in all those things in which we see that it has become excessively relaxed, but particularly – as regards the external aspect – in the sumptuousness of the buildings, in the curiosity of the clothing and in the excessive abundance and superfluity of the foods.

9170 As far as the interior is concerned, in the greater assiduity in prayer, in the stricter observance of silence and more careful protection of solitude through a decisive cut of superfluous discourses, and, finally, in everything that concerns to evangelical perfection, towards which by vow we are obliged to strive. We can build, I repeat, this very poor house in some area of France that your holiness wishes to establish for us, or at least that we see as more suitable and fitting for our purpose.

We can live in it above all through honest work of our hands, according to the true intention of our most blessed father Saint Francis, which he signified clearer than light in the Rule, taught effectively during his life by words and example and enjoined decisively in his testament; but also through the alms asked from door to door, which is the second way of life that he left us and granted us.

Moreover, we may also receive others with us, those whom we see truly firm and rooted in the same purpose, or we may receive at least twelve or even more, if it will please your holiness. And this under the immediate obedience of the reverend Father General, who alone, and not through any other, may visit, reprimand and correct us whenever it seems expedient to him. He, however, or others, whether secular or regular of any condition or dignity, may not be a hindrance in all and every one of these things. Notwithstanding any[105] etc.

9171 Here, most holy father, is the pleading and humble request of these little worms who are completely unworthy of any good, and wish to heaven that it were enough to have it so simply and absolutely exposed and there was no longer any need to equip it or provide it with the necessary modalities. We are very afraid, in fact, of offending the pious ears of those who hear such and such important things, and of scandalising our neighbours. However, according to Saint Gregory, it is better for scandal to arise than to leave out the truth.[106]

We propose those things that we intend to say to the most lenient of fathers who can be of great help without doing any wrong. But nothing is against the Order (away from us this!), indeed we are confident of acting in favour of it, should it appear to anyone that we condemn or reveal any disorder. The Order does not accept anything disorderly. Therefore we are of benefit to those who love the Order and we hope beyond a doubt that we will not be harassing, indeed we will become more welcome than one might think, since we offer or give them both the opportunity to praise God and the freedom to satisfy the their right and certainly necessary desire, if however we effectively realise what we faithfully ask for. The highest God will make it happen!

[Other clarifications and specifications]

9172 In order to obtain assent more easily to this most humble petition of ours, proposing it with due order to your holiness, we add these things with all possible modesty and reverence.

First, we know three good fathers, very advanced in age, endowed with great virtue to the point of manifesting it by miracles, and of no less knowledge, at least for two of them. They by mutual agreement, though in slightly different words, shortly before their deaths declared that the state of our Order has changed like day into night, and this was not at the beginning of the reform, which would be incredible to everyone, but only within these last three years. One of them, that is, the last one, said it explicitly. Since that last friar said these things, four years have already passed, more or less. This probably happens as when certain good and early fathers are asked whether the Order was always in this state; they respond not with words, but with their eyes, in a good and appropriate way like children do – and they really are suffering in this – who do not know how to defend themselves. They look at themselves a lot.

9173 Secondly, one of the three fathers, having reached the perfection of every virtue (this is how he was considered by us, and he really was, as I piously think) said that out of nine Capuchins only one would be lost. Another father, who we did not meet, asserted that out of a hundred, only ten would be saved, and we can almost believe it.

Thirdly, there are numerous people who, ready to make their profession, say they do not dare expose themselves at this time of votation. But also regarding this, having been asked, many years ago, by a virtuous and learned father, what should be done in this case to ensure the conscience: “It is enough – he replied – to make the vow, intending it to be given as to one fit and suitable for religion,” as if he wanted to say that the religious state is not useful to him. This he said can be done to appease the conscience. But who does not see that it would be better for them not to make the profession, rather than, after having made it, retracing their steps, becoming apostates with grave scandal, as recently, and only in the period from one chapter to another, they have been counted as many as five hundred, even excluding those who repented and then returned; or they immediately think of moving to the Carthusian Order,[107] having not found what they hoped for, as happened to that good Augustinian,[108] to whom your holiness gave permission to return to his previous Order; he was good, I say, devout and humble: always from all he received this testimony, even from those against him could not deny this.

9174 I offer this testimony about him, and I protest before God, his angels and your holiness that, for about six and a half years, with amazement he did not think that the state of the Order was like this and asked me if he should enter the Carthusian Order. I replied to him: “I would like you to proceed with more mature judgment,” leaving him the hope of being able to also carry out this reform or recollection of ours; but then being prevented, at the first opportunity he agreed to return to the previous Order.

This I protest, most holy father, driven by fraternal charity, because although that father is proclaimed innocent by all, I felt that he deserved to be condemned to the triremes. But I also heard these other rumours: that his trial will be over before he reaches Rome. I have my doubts that an infidel, who does not believe in the singular providence of God, could have said such words. But I said it in parentheses, spontaneously out of my obligation and without anyone knowing.

9175 To return to the topic, it would be better for them not to be admitted to profession, rather than then, penitential, to say: “If I had known these things, I would never have made profession,” as happened to that Br Angelo, former count of Bouchage, now called Duke of Joyeuse to the contempt of our Order and the shame of Holy Mother Church. Heretics know how to use these expressions very well to multiply their profane and blasphemous mockery. However, I trust even more in the Lord Jesus that he will return, if he comes to know that your holiness has given us kind favour. By nature, he is docile and humble. I know that he loved me, though without my merit, but he also complained a lot to me about the bad example he received in the Order. And so, we went together thinking about some reform, holding tight to this pact, that despite being separated and very far away, we had to help each other as if we were present. From him we hoped to be able to obtain free access to your most holy feet.[109]

9176 Fourthly, let us say that a most pious and devout person uttered to us a very terrible and extremely astonishing sentence, saying that the Capuchins are the most miserable of all and worthy of being trampled upon by all and despised. So, no one will deign to give them alms anymore, and the young people who come to them, finding that they cannot observe the promised Rule, will be forced to return to their families, so that they can observe it by living on daily alms. And this will happen soon and people would thus become aware of their hypocrisy. All devout and zealous friars of the Rule saw here not a mere sentence, but a prophecy, and as such even a good Father General tried to fix it in the memory of all the friars.[110] And would to heaven that the sound of his footsteps be heard no more at the door, if nevertheless he has not already begun to enter.

From these things, therefore, if we are not mistaken, it is quite clear what state our Order is in, and whether we had the presumption to resort to your holiness driven by necessity or simply by superficiality of mind. We, however, humbly submit all these things and ourselves to your incomparable judgment, as is fitting. But if this is the case, who can be saved? Great and wonderful are your judgements, Lord.[111] Who, diligently considering all this, would not say that perhaps even more wonderful things must appear uniquely among the Capuchins, more than among other men throughout the world? How amazing will it be to see so many saints (this is how they consider us, but we are not such) thrown with supreme ignominy into the infernal abyss? Precisely those, I say, whose fringe of the habit one tries to kiss with devotion?

9177 Therefore now, especially for us Capuchins, it is a time of mercy and divine providence. Then there will be days of wrath, days of calamity and misery.[112] To whom more has been given, more will be asked.[113] And who will teach us to escape the wrath that overwhelms us?[114] To those who flee in winter or on the Sabbath day[115] let not your holiness deny the city of refuge, and to those who are tired of rowing may his usual and benign help not be lacking. For to it are our eyes turned lest we perish,[116] for he who wants all to be saved[117] does not like us to be lost. I think it would be infamous to say that the Lord greatly desires this and that his supreme Vicar does not adhere to this strong and longing desire of his. Therefore, we will wait not only for what we ask to be graciously granted to us, but also for us to be commanded to be absolved by you. Consequently, we rightly think that this is sufficient for our purpose.

[Reform points]

9178 And since we said above that we desire to reform ourselves, in external things, especially as regards to buildings, food and clothing, of these things we will propose with the same confidence a few things of the many that we have seen and known.

And first of all, as regards to buildings.

In these parts of Lorena there was a very noble Princess, devout and humble indeed, but perhaps rather demanding because she was old, who having finally obtained, after having requested it so much, the friars to settle in her domain, then cried bitterly even in front of them complained that her friary, which included only 16 cells, had cost 25,000 francs. And she scolded the friars themselves, as I saw and heard. Precisely so she said: “You were saying that you would do what you don’t do.” The Prince’s chaplain also said the same, but a little more harshly. Even her servants once said to the friars: “It would be better for you to keep the vases inside the house.” Because the friars were importunate, as those who lived in that friary know well.

9179 How true is the saying: As the gold has become tarnished, the good colour has changed![118] If the light that appeared in the world is darkness, how great will the darkness be?[119] If salt becomes tasteless, how can you make it salty?[120] A salt so long coveted and so far removed, and this already in the beginning, that friary being the first in that Province![121] What can be said of the other friaries? It is a well-proven experience that a heavy stone, if it begins to fall from the top of a mountain, the lower it goes, the faster and more rapidly it falls.

One day a friar complained to the major superior that a newly built friary had cost almost 5,000 gold coins, and only as a building, without the other things necessary for the church and the house itself. And he replied: “In fact, it costs more.” But what, again? The friars diminish and the house becomes more spacious, to the point that if it was no longer sufficient for eighteen or twenty people at the time, now it is no longer enough for only eight or ten. It is quite evident, therefore, what could be said about the sumptuousness and curiosity of the buildings, bearing in mind our state.

9180 As regards the cloth we use in clothing; it is of such quality that not even the noble courtiers are ashamed to make their own clothes from it. If St. Bernard in his time rebuked the Cluniac monks because, contrary to the rule, they did not go dressed in the vilest cloth they could find,[122] what would he say about the Capuchins today? And if the inconvenience was so great that a knight and a monk could cut from the same cloth of their own mantle and tunic, wouldn’t a nobleman and a Capuchin do the same? Yet even the early fathers of this reform of ours made their own habit from the same and single cloth and wore it, as we have seen, some for fourteen years, some for twelve and some for at least eleven; now being left to the freedom of each person to request, when he wants, both the habit and the mantle, they are given to him immediately and without any difficulty. It sometimes happens that if someone doesn’t like his habit, after only two years or even less, he asks for a new one and it is granted to him without delay, so it is already a common saying that one wants it without even the smallest tear. But what do I say about the reception of the habit? It also enters the superior’s sleeves.

9181 And that’s still not much, because anyone who does not want to wear it, although he is not commanded to, earns I do not know what indignation from the superior himself. And I do not say this on purpose. A certain good father once said to another friar: “If you asked for a new habit, I think that the superior, despite not having allowed it, would become gentler and kinder towards you.” It is no wonder. In fact, as St. Bernard says, no one corrects others loyally except in what he cannot be rebuked for.[123] After all, it is human not to take it out on others in those things in which everyone is indulgent with himself. What about the cord then? Here, to be brief: what once represented humility and contempt is now worn as a sign of great pride.

9182 As regards to the superfluity of food, it seems that we are deprived only of what we cannot have. Once it happened that, by having some food left over and distributing it to the poor who were waiting for alms at the door of the friary, they not only did not want to accept it, but even murmuring against the friars themselves, they asserted that they were being distributed the food that the friars, due to their excessive austerity, could not eat. Now, however, I won’t say sometimes, but very frequently, almost half of the lunch is left over, and it is taken back to the table for everyone to freely use. And one day a friar questioned the cook: “My brother, why don’t you give it instead to the poor who are hungry and faint from weakness and ask all day in a loud voice, and even crying, for alms at our door? Maybe we would have been one of them, if we had remained in the world.” He replies: “It was forbidden to me so that they wouldn’t be scandalised by seeing so much waste of fat and butter.” And the other again: “You could add some water and distribute it like this without them being scandalised.” In the meantime, it is the best solution, probably because the truth does not allow it.

9183 And since this abuse is now widespread, it is also probably the main one. I saw it practiced in the same year and time and city where, as charitable offerings increased, people were found dying of hunger on the streets, as we were told, and yet after this horrible news, nothing better was done than to bring back more and more often the leftover food on the friars’ table. O good God, and when will we give all our love to these poor brothers of ours, since we do not give them even a single hair? Not like this, O Lord Jesus, not like this did you, nor do you continue to do so with us! And do we make a profession of imitating you? Not so the wicked, not so.[124] Who would not call this behaviour cruel impiety or impious cruelty? Why, while we strip our brothers of their wealth, and fill ourselves up to the neck, at least don’t we give our leftovers to those who often also die of hunger? Even the soldiers themselves, without faith and without mercy, as some say, admit with humanity and call their guest to dinner prepared for him.

We really strip the poor of their possessions. And who doubts it? How many withdraw their hand from them as from people to give it to us with greater liberality as if we were angels of God! “O how deceived they are!”, said a good father recently at the end of his life. Yet we have seen that when the bourgeois come to visit us, they are greatly edified above all by our kitchen. Now, however, it must be kept closed very carefully, so that they do not enter and receive scandal. This too is certainly very necessary.

9184 As it happened once, if not very often, when some were scandalised, and they were not vulgar people, but people of nobility. Even a prince, having seen a boiling pot, filled to the brim with meat, not a little amazed by the good example he had received,[125] spoke about it to the other friars who were waiting to be able to taste it. “If I were a Capuchin friar – he said – I would not want to stay in such a friary, where people live too lavishly and where not even the friars are mortified and serious, but a little too much in the way of good living.” And it is true: in fact, the people sat down to eat and got up to drink.[126] And again there was a citizen, a friend of the friars and very familiar with them, who was often invited to eat in the friary, so he used to say: “When I want to have a nice feast, I go to the Capuchins.”

9185 And what should I say about travel? Now they are no longer done for a service to be performed, but rather to go out to eat and have fun. I confess that they did not yet carry silver coins, that which is possessed for use, not for silver. Yet, and this is very certain, we provide ourselves with those things that cannot be purchased even for the price of silver, that is, excellent wine, very white bread, meat, eggs, cheese, fruit, and whatever other refinements one can have. And if this cannot be had all at once, certainly at least most of it and in such abundance that it is often necessary to unload the belly quite a bit, either because the stomach rejects it, or perhaps because it hopes for better dishes, perhaps in the nearby friary and among servants and family, to whom however we do not want to go, perhaps because we cannot fill ourselves completely to our liking.

This already happens to the scandal of secular people or at least not without their great admiration, since this word is not unknown to them. So, it happened once, not to say often, that a man, riding and approaching some friars, asked them: “Friars, don’t you have a bottle?” They replied no, because they had not brought anything to eat or drink with them, and they were not in the habit of doing so. He then added: “It is said that you have a more splendid time than those who have a lot of income.”

9186 Now it remains to be judged whether this is the most holy life of the Capuchins. And yet when we dispense these things to one and the other, this is called charity. What charity if it destroys our poverty and therefore also true charity? The result is that if someone does not spontaneously offer what seems superfluous to him, he is harshly reprimanded as if he lacked charity. That if someone, even in a friary, seems to take away something that seems superfluous, he is also accused before the Guardian. It is dangerous to go against the current and not do what everyone else is doing; otherwise, we fall into pride by appearing singular and judging others and thus fall into the devil’s snare. In this regard, a good father once said to a friar: “They say that you judge others.” To this joke he replied: “Do they say that I judge others because perhaps I go around gossiping and murmuring?” “No,” he said, “but since you don’t behave like others, they say that you judge others with facts.”

If this is the case, then all of us who are Christians judge and bite each other, and therefore we are transgressors of the Lord’s commandment, which the holy apostle insists on with such solicitude, that is, not to judge.[127] And this sin will not be remitted either in this age or in the age to come,[128] for no one will enter the kingdom of heaven with final impenitence. Let it not be so. In fact, the queen, your bride, Lord, stands at your right in a golden robe, for by charity alone she is arrayed in colourful apparel,[129] as she is distinguished in different orders and operations, some in one way, some in another:[130] there they are, in fact, diversity of charisms, but only one is the Spirit; there are diversities of operations, but there is only one Lord, who distributes to each as he wishes.[131] Even in the Father’s house there are many places,[132] but there is no discord or murmuring, because God is all in all.[133]

9187 From all this comes that other evil to be strongly deplored, because it is completely incurable. And it is that young people who seek their own salvation come to us and seeing the state of the Order, they think that it is what they have heard so much and for a long time, I am talking about the simplest ones. And so by the average way into which we have already fallen, if then it is only average, beginning to run, the stronger and more skilful they are in running, the faster they reach the goal open to them of the flesh. In fact, if, as a friar often repeated, we who have been spectators of the great fervour of our Order, walk away from it every day, what will they do, who have not seen or heard anything of this?[134]

For in our times discourses on poverty were made frequently and so effectively that young people, driven by an ardent zeal for poverty itself, would hand over to the Guardian or teacher whatever they had that seemed superfluous to them. Now, on the contrary, sermons are being given against poverty. This is what happened, to say one in a thousand, as we have heard, and indeed with so many threats towards the one who had once only said these words, that is: “This thing seems to me against, or not according to poverty,” that even the bravest people were forced to be afraid. And furthermore, it was commanded to the Guardian that if he heard such words again, he must immediately eradicate them as subversives of the house or as a demon who has transformed himself into an angel of light.

9188 But this is still little. In fact, there are also speeches, I would say, indirect, which exalt relaxation, as has happened, and it seems almost incredible. Once the superior had found a new form of relaxation, and some friars had proposed writing to him so that he would not allow it. But that’s it. He was even more pleased with it, saying in front of everyone: “I like this, I like it, I like it.” And so it happens that the very frequent speaking, it is certainly very necessary, of the most holy poverty, which was the consolation of all the friars, has now become a harsh word. And then the strongest are forced to knock and advocate, while the weakest, or rather, if one can say so, those who are completely dead and defunct, are led to opposition, to defence. It follows that as the days go by, new anti-poverty innovations are introduced, and no one has the courage to say even the slightest word.

9189 As regards the ornaments of the church, we already see that not only do we surpass the cathedral churches in preciousness, but also the bishops. Leaving aside other things, we are no longer satisfied with albs of byssus, albeit very thin and precious, but we want those of silk. And it reaches the point that it was necessary for the Capuchins to resort to the sacred canons, that is, asking if it was permissible to celebrate with those albs, and it was found that just as it is permissible for every clergy, even a bishop, so the friars too without a doubt can do so. That this is against the Rule is clearly stated by the declarations of the Supreme Pontiffs who unanimously assert that the excellent God, being the purest and simplest act, likes the purity of the heart more than the variety of these outward things.[135]

9190 In all these things what remedy if not escape? If one thinks of appealing to the Superiors, it is said that they do not take such problems very seriously, as long as they make themselves obeyed and attract the benevolence of the cook and steward so as to always obtain good food. I won’t say whether this is true or what I saw, because I fear making rash judgments; but I believe in the reports of others, more than in my feelings. I learned that one believes more in that Superior, who, as I said, had made speeches against poverty, than in all the friars together. And once he came out to say: “I’m old now, but I can alone change the minds of all the friars.” And lastly, it is also said that justice is lacking in our Order and that not infrequently the guilty are acquitted and the innocent punished. “He – they say – has benefited me, I cannot be against him.”

9191 And, beyond all limits, it sometimes happens that the innocents are condemned to the triremes for perjury. It’s certainly horrible to hear, but many have told me about it, and especially that extraordinary father, so I would think it would be wrong not to believe. Therefore, I said to him: “My father, if I heard this from someone else and not from you, I would rather let myself be torn limb from limb on the wheel than believe these unheard-of things.” However, after some time, I was astonished to hear one of my brothers, who had recently arrived from Italy and to whom I had confided these things as the latest news, tells me: “But this is still nothing!” O good Jesus! I replied. I could never believe that even the most evil of all soldiers was filled with so much malice! And this was about four or five years ago. And then I said to that good father: “Father, I hope to tell the truth one day, at least once, at the cost of being fined with the same penalty.”

[Concluding Peroration]

9192 Now, most holy and most blessed father, I have spoken, despite being more miserable than nothing. I have only touched on some of the many things, without going into the internal aspects. Even though we have not mentioned prayer, silence, and solitude at all, we think we have said enough. From the external face it is easy to diagnose the health of the heart and internal things. And since every evil derives from the northern breeze, the closer we get to it the more negligent we are in approaching the true austerity by a continuous commitment to prayer and other exercises, especially interior ones. I therefore have spoken the truth, but not before proposing either perpetual imprisonment or the punishment of the trireme, particularly feeling that this threat to the friars is quite common and frequent.

But I will have no fear of these things, and I do not want to make my soul more precious than myself, as long as He deigns to give me comfort who said: Do not fear those who kill the body, but have no power to kill the soul.[136] He is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength, but with the temptation he will also give us the way out and the strength to endure it.[137] So I placed my trust in Him and He gave me help,[138] even if a new battle broke out against me.[139] In Him alone I hoped, coming out stronger and better prepared to endure greater things. So, I will hope in Him, even if He kills me.

9193 Therefore, O good Jesus, O Word of the Father, say a word and everything is done. In fact, your word is omnipotent, and no one resists your will.[140] Up to this moment, O most blessed father, your holiness has known more about my temerity and presumption (I hope you don’t hold it against me) than in this matter a confidence, although excessive, which comes from love which, the greater it is, the more confidence increases. It could not happen that your holiness would not give me at least a pious and benevolent look, feeling so loved. Otherwise, what is left for me except to be punished for my impudence? Yes, most holy father, for not even like a little dog do I consider myself worthy of eating the crumbs that fall from the table of my Lord.[141] Let me therefore be punished, so that mercy may be shown to my brothers. I have sinned, I have acted unjustly.[142] Let this wrath come against me and show mercy to my brothers.

9194 How many are those who, having heard these words, will rejoice with all their hearts, rejoicing with excessive joy, singing and chanting and giving eternal thanks to God and also to your holiness because, under the inspiration of the same excellent God, you have deigned to provide, with so much love and paternal solicitude, even for those who are asleep or at least thinking about their own salvation and spiritual profit? May this curse be upon me, as long as the true Israelites are not denied the blessing[143] and this Nathanael, whatever he may be, deserves by the mercy of your holiness to be admitted with them.[144] Only this benefit could he accept with a grateful heart. Otherwise please erase me from this book of life.[145] What value does my life have, as long as God is glorified by my brothers, at the cost of deserving of being condemned to eternal torment, while retaining the grace and love of God? Otherwise, if I seek my glory, I seek nothing because it is nothing. If I then seek that of God, then I also seek and find mine, or rather more than mine, if one can say so, because He is more intimate to me than I am to myself, so his glory is more mine than how much mine is not, if I had it.

Fig. 4 – Fr. Lorenzo Lejeune da Parigi († 1631), master of pure love

Title pages of two different editions of the famous work by Lorenzo da Parigi: Le Palais d’amour divin (Paris 1602 and 1614).

(Examples respectively at the Capuchin Library of Udenhout and the National Library of Paris)

9195 Most Holy Father, no longer have mercy on me, nor on my brothers, but keep in mind with a devout heart only the glory of God. In the meantime, so as not to speak without reverence, O our most loving Father, have mercy on our mother, on your holy Bride, that is, of the Church of God, of the French Church above all, even if she already seems almost widowed; in it, however, how many thousands of Catholics who have not bowed their knees before Baal[146] the Lord has still reserved! But they are unfortunately deprived of any spiritual help, since the kingdom and its usual oracle have been taken away from them, which seems to me to be the most illustrious Society of the good Jesuit fathers deplorably banned from almost the entire kingdom of France.

For who knows whether he who said: Let light shine out of darkness,[147] the one who chose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, and that which is nothing to reduce to nothing the things that are,[148] has predisposed this nothingness, I do not say for cure this great wound – I would say that with ordinary methods it is incurable -, but in a certain way to bandage it? So that at least those poor Catholics to those who ask them: Where is your God? Where is the religion? Since there is no shortage of Catholics either, but they are false, they are not ashamed to say with blasphemous lips, emulating the malignant: “O if our religion were true, we certainly wouldn’t be surrounded by so many anguishes!” To these people, I say, Catholics can give an answer. Our God is their God. Our religion is also theirs. If then they obey the pure truth and have and follow the healthy and true religion, there you will know from their fruits.[149]

9196 Alas, will they not immediately be confronted with that general scandal which the friars have recently made a spectacle of throughout France? And it is probably as much as all the other religious Orders put together have ever given. But I shall ignore this. I think your holiness has already been sufficiently informed. This was, among other things, one of the causes, not the least, that pushed us to embark on this affair, that is, to repair at least in part that grave scandal. And yet it will be imputed to our utmost presumption, as if we could do something, while we are nothing. Yet we would thank this presumption as rewarded in its own way, if we noted that it served fraternal charity. But we will also attribute this to the glory and exaltation of God and to our confusion.

In fact, we believe for this reason, and we believe, I repeat, O Lord Jesus, in what you said: “Without me you can do nothing.”[150] However, we then speak not as if we ourselves were capable of thinking something as coming from us, but our ability comes from God,[151] whose word being omnipotent and no one being able to resist his strength,[152] can without difficulty save in little and in much. And the faithful David knew it well, the lovable Jonathan was not ignorant of it, they both experienced it happily in events. He who scrutinises the mind and heart,[153] knows our desire: if it is true, it comes from Him; if He has infused it, He will make it come true.

9197 He is in fact the one who inspires in us the will and the action,[154] since his hand is not too short.[155] He has power to cause all grace to abound in us,[156] so that in everything we may be glorified through Jesus Christ,[157] our Lord and Savior, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is God blessed forever and ever. We invoke, with the most humble and devoted heart, his infinite power, eternal wisdom and immense goodness, so that, O most blessed Father, he may deign, in his ineffable mercy, to give your holiness a long and happy life and a holy death of the righteous and, finally, the prize of the combatants, namely himself. Amen.

Given at Verdun, in the year of our Lord 1595, on the 24th day of July.
Of your most holy blessedness
least little worm Br Natanaele da Pontoise
of which there is nothing more miserable, but called Capuchin,
but very unworthy.


9198 Most blessed father, we submit this our most humble petition with an open heart to the approval of your holiness, but how much we would have liked to be able to express it by mouth and not in writing, prostrate at your most holy feet. If, in his clemency, your holiness does not judge me absolutely unworthy of this grace, may God grant me this grace in the eyes of your holiness itself, that is, if it seemed opportune, that two good brothers should also come with me, one of whom is a priest and preacher and is called Br Michele d’Abbeville,[158] a truly simple and upright man; the other, a lay brother, is called Br Angelico da Piccardia,[159] devout and spiritual, so that every word is based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.[160] They were the first to deal with me about this business. One of them, or rather, the lay brother, was also the prime mover. Furthermore, may your Holiness, I say this with all humility, excuse my poverty, for which I was unable to find a suitable envelope to include my letter.

[on the back] To the most holy Lord our Lord Clemente Pope Eighth.
To Monsignor Morra to see you and speak to the Pope.
Of the reform of the Capuchins.[161]

  1. Cf. Jean Maizaize, Etat de l’Eglise en France au debut du XVIIe siècle, in id., Le role et l’action des capucins de la Province de Paris dans la France religieuse du XVII siècle [thesis at the Sorbonne in Paris], 1-34.
  2. For these numbers and subsequent tables of the provinces and convents of France cf. Tabulae capitulorum generalium, in AGO, AG 1-6; For other special sources cf. Le role et l’action cit., 60-95 (= Les implantations de convents et leurs causes sociologiques, ora anche in Laurent. 33 [1992] 57-87).
  3. Ibid., 80.
  4. Ibid., 80-89.
  5. Cf. Pas-de-Calais, Arch. départ., J, coll. Barbier, 43.
  6. Le rôle et l’action cit., 94s.
  7. On this theme see chapter II of the major research cited above of J. Mauzai ze, Le rôle et l’action, 242-271, intitled: Modalités de recrutement et classes sociales.
  8. Figures for this General Chapter are missing.
  9. Cf. Minutier Central des notaires de Paris. See J. Mauzaize, Les testaments «ante professionem» des capucins parisiens aux XVIe et XVII*siècles, in L’’histoire des croyants, mémoîre vivante des hommes. Mélanges Charles Molette, Abbeville 1989, 599-609.
  10. About this booklet cf. Ubald d’A lencon, Nos maîtres de spiritualité: le p. Joseph de Dreux, in EF 38 (1926) 312-320; 39 (1927) 464s. See later, nn. 9393-9415.
  11. About the foundation, presence and spiritual and cultural influence of the Capuchins in St.-Honoré cf. Jean Mauzaize’s great and still unpublished study [p. Raoul de Sceaux], Etude topographique, institutionel le et historique sur le couvent des frères mineurs capucins de la rue Saint-Honoré à Paris. 1574-1792, Paris 1972 (thesis of 1057 pp. for the doctorate of the 3rd cycle at the Sorbonne).
  12. Cf. Paris, Bibl. nat. f. fr. 25.044, p. 239; £. fr. 25.046, p. 129; Marcellin de Pi se, Annales III, 272: da J. Mauzaize, Le rôle et l’action des capucins cit., 970.
  13. Cf. ibid., 954s.
  14. This introduction is a very quick summary of the large dissertation defended at the Sorbonne by J. Mauzaize, Le rôle et l’action, cit. above in footnote 1; l’a. gathered some key points in the conference (basically followed here) La vie des premziers capucins en France, in La réforme capucine (1525-1625), [Paris 1983], 51-63. — In the set of collected documents, the editorial staff added docs. 8, 10, 11, 18, 21 e 30.
  15. Pietro Deschamps, born in Amiens in 1543, entered the friary of the Friars Minor of that city in 1560 and lived there for four years. Sent to the Grand Friary of Paris, where he studied at the Sorbonne. Eager to rediscover the primitive Franciscan life, he fled to the Alcantarini in Spain, from where he was brought back to Paris and placed in prison in the Great Friary. Always tormented by this anxiety for reform, having learned that two Capuchin friars brought by the Cardinal of Lorraine were present in Meudon, he escaped a second time and went to Italy, put on the Capuchin habit without permission and returned to France where, under the protection of the bishop of Sisteron he was able to live in the hermitage of Picpus, east of Paris.
  16. The friars minor were called cordillera («Cordeliers» – Friars Minor Observants [translator: now we known them as Conventuals] in France. The friars minor had arrived in Paris in 1219. Installed in Saint-Denis, then later came to Vauvert near Paris, then to the grounds of the abbey of Saint-Germain des Prés. Having redeemed this land in 1230, Saint Louis finally found a permanent home near the school district.
  17. This hermit later became Br. Michele d’Epernay. The canonical investiture took place in 1574. He died during the plague in Chartres on 9 July 1598.
  18. The reporter’s wording is fallacious. The real name is Villecourt. He was a merchant who owned a small house in the village of Picpus at the edge of the Saint Antoine suburb.
  19. Picpus was at that time a village east of Paris, towards Vincennes.
  20. That is, the aforementioned Aymeric de Rochechouart-Mortemar, son of Aymeric III and Giovanna di Pontville-Rochechouart. He was bishop of Sisteron (Alpes de Haute Provence) from 1543 to 1580.
  21. Caterina de’ Medici (1519-1589), daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, duke of Urbino, and Maddalena de La Tour d’Auvergne, born in Florence. Granddaughter of Clement VII, she married King Henry II and was the mother of the last three kings of the house of Valois.
  22. Charles de Lorraine, born on 17.2.1524. After his brilliant studies in Paris at the college of Navarre, he had the administration of the Diocese of Rheims. Consecrated bishop in 1545, he was made cardinal in 1547. In the same year he founded a University in Rheims. After the death of his uncle, Giovanni, Cardinal de Lorraine, Charles put aside the name of Cardinal de Guise to take that of Cardinal de Lorraine. He represented France at the Council of Trent and died on 26.12.1574.
  23. Pietro de Gondi, formerly bishop of Langres, became bishop of Paris in 1568 and Cardinal in 1587. He died on 17.2.1616. The Diocese of Paris was erected into an Archdiocese in 1622.
  24. Simon Vigor was born in Dreux. A doctor in the College of Navarre in 1540, rector of the University and Parish Priest of SaintGermain le Vieux, he was a great preacher and an opponent of the Protestants. He participated in the Council of Trent as theologian of Charles Le Veneur, bishop of Evreux. Returning in 1563, he was appointed canon and theologian of Paris, Pastor of Saint-Paul and preacher to the king. Promoted by Charles IX to the archdiocese of Narbonne in 1572, he died there Nov. 1, 1575.
  25. By these religious we allude, particularly at that time and in Paris, to the Benedictines, the Canons Regular of Sainte-Geneviève, the Observants [* Conventuals not Observants], the Carmelites and the Dominicans.
  26. The Parliament of Paris (there were twelve) was a sovereign court established to do justice in the name of the king as a last resort, but the parliamentarians also took political and administrative powers and thus had enormous influence.
  27. There were apostolic privileges of which the protectors were the chancellors of Notre-Dame and the abbey of Saint-Geneviève and also the bishops of Beauvais, Meaux and Senlis. But, at the end of the 16th century, nothing remained of the ancient pontifical power over the University. The provost of Paris was conservative of temporal privileges: exemption for his members from bounty, from servitude, from the rights of aid and asylum.
  28. The main obstacle was the bull Dudum siquidem of 5 January 1537, promulgated by Paul III at the instance of the Observants, which prohibited Capuchins from establishing themselves outside the borders of Italy. Although this prohibition, in the pontiff’s intention, was temporary, it was still in effect at the time of the Council of Trent.
  29. Antonio-Maria Salviati belonged to a noble Florentine family related to the Medici. Born in 1536, he was appointed bishop of Saint-Papoul in 1561. Internuncio to France in 1571, then nuncio in 1572, he held this position until 1578. Created Cardinal on 12 December 1583, he died in Rome on 26 April 1602.
  30. Claude Hatton’s manuscript, preserved in the National Library of Paris, was published by F. Bourquelot with the title: Mémoires contenant le récit des événements accomplis de 1553 à 1582 principalment dans la Champagne et dans la Brie, 2 vols, Paris 1857.
  31. That is Pietro Deschamps.
  32. That is Roanne on the Loira River.
  33. Orléans.
  34. The prodigious event, on which the compiler, in the taste of the time, lingers on with pleasure, is also illustrated by a beautiful engraving of the Flores seraphici.
  35. Or rather Monpensier.
  36. The compiler of this life writes at the end that “the life of the aforementioned Father Pacifico was taken from a manuscript made by Father Leandro da Venezia, a Capuchin priest, who was first a disciple of Father Pacifico, and then his companion on the journey to France. And this he affirms with solemn oath to be true what he has written and what we have recorded above” (Ibid., 34).
  37. That is, Charles d’Angennes de Rambouillet, who was then in Rome as orator for Charles IX.
  38. It is the same author of the chronicle, Mattia da Salò.
  39. About these facts cf. Godefroy de Paris, Les frères mineurs capucins en France. Histoire de la province de Paris, t. I, Paris 1937-1939, 40-102; Pierre Dubois, Les capucins italiens et l’établissement de leur Ordre en Provence (1576-1600), in CF 44 (1974) 71-140, species 71-81.
  40. Pietro da S. Sisto, benefactor of the Capuchins in Avignon.
  41. Girolamo da Milan’s companion was Petronio da Bologna.
  42. The suburb of Saint-Honoré extended outside the city walls and beyond the gate of the same name.
  43. Father Pacifico da San Gervasio, born around 1512, had already been part of the monastery of San Giorgio in Alga near Venice, dependent on the Canons Regular of San Lorenzo Giustiniani. Having joined the Capuchins, in 1569 he held the office of commissioner of the Capuchin missionaries in Candia. He was also provincial in Milan and in other provinces. Commissioner general in France, he died there in 1575.
  44. Father Filippo da Paris entered the Order on 18 April 1613 in Meudon, after completing his studies at the college of Clermont Paris. He spent his entire life in the friary of Saint-Honoré where, despite being in poor health, he composed an important chronicle on the history of the Province, with the title: Chronologie historique de ce qui s’est passé de plus considérable dans la province de Paris depuis l’an 1574.
  45. Charles IX (1550-1574), second son of Henry II and Caterina de’ Medici, was a spectator, during his reign, of the first disastrous wars of religion.
  46. Henry III (1551-1589), brother of Charles IX, was elected king of Poland, but his brother’s death recalled him to France. Although he made efforts to establish freedom of conscience, he found himself opposed by his family and the Catholic League. He was murdered by a League fanatic in 1589.
  47. That is Pacifico da S. Gervasio.
  48. Monks of Notre-Dame des Feuillants, a congregation of reformed Cistercians (observants of the primitive rule of Saint Bernard) founded in France in the abbey of Feuillant in Gascony, as a reaction against the laxity and the many desertions caused by Calvinism. Cf. Diz. ecclesiastico, Turin 1953, 1103.
  49. Maurizo d’Epernay was born around 1649. After a youth dedicated to a military career, he converted and entered the Order on 18 June 1679. A preacher, he was also confessor of the Capuchin Poor Clare’s of Paris and many times guardian. Around 1704, called to Saint-Honoré, he received the order to continue Filippo’s work from Paris. Died March 3, 1721.
  50. The regular Tertiaries, a confluence of numerous medieval communities, were reconstituted by Father Vincenzo Mussard in 1600-1601 who brought them back to the village of Picpus where the first Capuchins had been.
  51. The king’s room (“Chambre du Roy”), so called probably because a king had stayed there, was still mentioned on a particular floor of the 18th-century friary of Saint-Honoré (Cf. Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, Estampes Va 441).
  52. The palace and garden of the Tuileries (which means the kilns or tile factory), begun in 1564 by Caterina de’ Medici who entrusted its construction to Filippo Delorme on the expansion of ancient kilns, was continued by numerous architects including the Du Cerceau.
  53. The cardinal of Lorena had entrusted the construction of the castle of Meudon to Filiberto Delorme. Located in the west of Paris, the castle was located not far from the Capuchin friary which stood on a hill from where Paris could be seen.
  54. This tower so called because the poet Pierre de Ronsard had stayed there. It was demolished in 1680 by order of Louvois, Lord of Meudon.
  55. Bernardino d’Asti, of the great Palli family, was born around 1484. After studying in Rome, he joined the Observants in 1499 and then passed to the Capuchins in 1534. Vicar General in 1535, later re-elected twice. He died in the odour of sanctity in 1554.
  56. Evangelista da Cannobio, born in Lombardy, was a thoroughbred jurist. A priest, he became a Capuchin in Umbria. Provincial, he was made attorney general and then Vicar General. He died in Perugia in 1595.
  57. Father Tommaso da Città di Castello, also called Tifernas due to the Latin name of his town of origin, was from the noble Gnotti family. A Capuchin, he was elected Vicar General in 1558. Re-elected in 1561, he governed for six years and died with a reputation for sanctity in Città della Pieve in 1576.
  58. That is, in 1562 or 1563.
  59. Father Dionisio da Milano exerted a profound influence in France through his preaching and spiritual action, but we do not know much about his life.
  60. Father Girolamo da Milano belonged to the noble Caluschi family. Born in 1524, he entered the Order in 1544. He died in Lyon in 1584.
  61. It is probable that Girolamo da Milano had to encounter difficulties in founding the friary, since he had to turn to Caterina de’ Medici, who wrote to the magistrates to encourage the foundation.
  62. Pierre d’Espignac was appointed Archbishop of Lyon in June 1573 and died there on 9.1.1599.
  63. He arrived in France on 25 August 1575. In March of the following year Mattia da Salò sent Father Girolamo da Milan to take possession of the friary in Avignon.
  64. Gregory XIV, born in Savona in 1535, was elected Pope in 1590. He died in 1591.
  65. Giacomo Giussano da Milano, known as the Calderino († 1584).
  66. 15th August, feast of the Assumption.
  67. His companion was Petronio da Bologna.
  68. That is, The Imitation of Christ by Kempis, which was also published under the name of Gersone.
  69. The city of Caen (Calvados) was particularly famous for its two Benedictine abbeys.
  70. Gaspard de La Vérune was a descendant of the viscounts of Narbonne. Having had no descendants, his assets for this reason passed to the family of the Marquises of Canisy.
  71. Carlo d’Humière was bishop of Bayeux starting from 16.5.1548. He crowned Caterina de’ Medici, together with the bishop of Evreux. Died on 5.12.1571, his episcopal seat remained vacant until 1573.
  72. This Benedictine abbey was founded in 1077 by William the Conqueror. The first abbot was Lanfranc, prior of Bec.
  73. This priory had an oratory founded by the knight William of Brécourt in 1311, from which it derived its name.
  74. Alessandro Farnese, son of Pietro Luigi Farnese, Duke of Parma, and Guiglielmo degli Orsini, was born in Rome on 7.10.1520. Provost of the bishopric of Parma at a very young age, cardinal and archbishop of Avignon, he was also commendatory abbot of numerous abbeys including that of Saint Etienne of Caen. As nuncio he played a great role in France, Germany, the Netherlands and during the Council of Trent. He died in Rome on 2.3.1589.
  75. Charles d’O, lord of La Ferrière, cleric of the diocese of Chartres, was commendatory abbot of Saint-Julien of Tours and, in 1582, of Saint-Etienne.
  76. In a letter dated 12.7.1580, the nuncio Dandino wrote to the secretary of state that “the Jesuits and the Capuchins are exposed to danger to protect the sick people, so that this one is obliged to deal with the perils who should leave before the flight” (ASV, Nunciature of France, vol 14, f. 303).
  77. In fact, contemporary historians claim that the epidemic took place in 1580.
  78. In a letter dated 12 July 1580, the nuncio Msgr. Dandino spoke to the Secretary of State about “… these Jesuit fathers and some Capuchins who have offered themselves as magistrates of the city, will expose their persons to danger in the care and consolation of the bodies and souls of the sick, and will make up for the lack of those who have to do so out of obligation, who avoid it and refuse it” (ASV, Nunz. di Francia. vol. 14, f. 303).
  79. This is the venerable Caesar of Bus, founder of the Fathers of Christian doctrine.
  80. Cf. Mat 13:31; Mk 4:31-32.
  81. The hospital of Saint-Jacques de l’Epée served as accommodation for pilgrims traveling to Saint James of Compostella or returning.
  82. Duke Henry de Joyeuse, Count Du Bouchage, joined the Capuchins upon the death of his wife on 4 September 1587. After many events, he was against returning to civil life. Governor of Languedoc for the League and Marshal of France, he was unable to embrace religious life until 1599. Guardian, provincial, his life was that of an ascetic. Definitor general in 1608, he died in Rivoli while returning to France on 28 September of the same year.
  83. Father Athanasius Molé, son of Edward Molé, took the Capuchin habit in Meudon on 15 October 1606. A preacher, he became the apostle of the country people and also carried out a fruitful apostolate among the Protestants. He died in Saint-Honoré on 27.7.1631.
  84. Giambattista d’ Amiens, who took the habit on 13.6.1636, was above all a great missionary in France, especially to children and peasants, but also to large cities. Faithful to regular observance and a man of prayer, he left everyone with the memory of a religious saint. He died in Amiens on 10.2.1703.
  85. On this topic see, further on, the rich anthology of texts and the study by Optatus van Asseldonk.
  86. Having entered the Order in June 1597, Marziale d’Etampes was trained in religious life by Father Benedetto da Canfield and was above all a spiritual director. He died in Amiens on 20.6.1635.
  87. That is, the Exercise des trois clous amoureux et douloureux, printed in Paris by Jean Camusat in 1635.
  88. Cf. 1 Cor 10:13.
  89. Cf. De consideratione ad Eugenium papam, l. II, cap. 6, n. 13 (PL 182, 750).
  90. Cf. Sg 3:11.
  91. Cf. Mt 11:29.
  92. Cf. Mk 15:5.
  93. Cf. Gn 13:14.
  94. Cf. Lk 22:27.
  95. Cf. Jn 14:2.
  96. Cf. Lk 11:13.
  97. Cf. Gen 50:19; Est 13:9.
  98. Cf. 2 Cor 1:10.
  99. Cf. Psalm 31:10.
  100. That is, Henry of Lorena († 1624), married to Caterina di Navarre, from whom he had four children. Regarding his relationships with the Capuchin friars and with Natanaele da Pontoise cf. Godefroy de Paris, Les frères-mineurs-capucins en France. Histoire de la province de Paris. 1/2: Progrès, crise et redressement de la province Saint-Frangois, Paris-Rouen 1939, 185 e v. index.
  101. The General Chapter of 1596.
  102. Cf. Ps 147:10-11.
  103. Cf. 1Cor 5:3.
  104. The superior at the time was Giuliano da Camerino, commissioner of the Capuchins of Lorena, who died in Verdun in 1611, on whom cf. Godefroy de Paris, Les frères-mineurs-capucins cit., 185s.
  105. We note the attempt, clumsy in a spiritualist temperament like that of the author, to cover his petition with legal formulas.
  106. Cf. Homiliae in Ezechielem, lib. I, hom. VIII, n. 5 (PL 76, 842).
  107. The question was really present in the Capuchin Order, at the end of the sixteenth century, as can be seen, for example, in a page of the Enchiridion ecclesiasticum by Gregorio da Napoli, from 1588 (cf. above, in vol. I, 941-958, no. 930-938).
  108. The author, as V. Criscuolo writes, mentions here to Leo from Autré-court-sur-Aire who on 15 February 1595 had obtained from Clement VIII the indult to leave the Capuchin habit and to move among the Augustinians of Verdun to promote its reform. Cf. I cappuccini e la congregazione romana cit., vol. I, 376-378, doc. 402.
  109. This is the famous p. Angelo di Joyeuse, who left his nobility and political career, became a Capuchin in 1587, but then, in 1592, he had to leave the habit to take back the fate of the Catholic League against the Protestants. The author of the letter, like many other devout and spiritual Capuchins, were disconcerted by it, but, of course, they could not foresee that, after seven years, he would return to the Order, living as an ascetic until his death in Italy, while he was returning from the General Chapter, on 28 September 1608. On him cf. Lexicon chap., 73s; J. La Guerrande, Ange ou démon. Le duc de Joyeuse, capucin, Paris 1965.
  110. This Minister General could be Silvestro Pappalo da Monteleone (now Vibo Valentia), from the Province of Naples (†1611), elected in 1593, who visited the French provinces at the time of the famous Catholic League against the Huguenot Henry IV.
  111. Cf. Rev 15:3.
  112. Cf. Zep 1:15.
  113. Cf. Lk 12:48.
  114. Cf. Mt 3:7; Lk 3:7.
  115. Cf. Mt 24:20.
  116. Reminiscence of Ps 120 and 122.
  117. Cf. 1 Tm 2:4.
  118. Cf. Lam 4:1.
  119. Cf. Mt 6:23.
  120. Mt 5:13.
  121. This is the convent of Ligny-en-Barrois, founded in 1583 through the great, almost excessive interest of Margaret of Savoy, Countess of Ligny, of whom Fr Benedeno Picart of Toul (t 1720) has left a biography. About this foundation and its benefactress cf. Lexicon ch., 953; [René de Nantes], Documents, 87-89.
  122. Cf. Epistola I, in S. Bernardi opera. VII: Epistolae. I: Corpus epistolarum, edited by J. Leclercq and H. Rochais, Rome 1974, 9; see also PL 182, 77.
  123. Cf. Apologia ad Guillelmum, cap. 11, n. 27 (PL 182, 913).
  124. Ps 1:4.
  125. The author becomes sarcastic here.
  126. Cf. Ex 32:6; 1 Cor 10:7.
  127. Cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37; Jn 7:24.
  128. Cf. Mt 12:32.
  129. Cf. Ps 44:10.
  130. Cf. 1 Cor 7:7.
  131. Cf. 1 Cor 12:4, 6, 11.
  132. Cf. Jn 14:2.
  133. Cf. 1 Cor 15:28.
  134. This is a thought expressed, a curious coincidence, also by St. Teresa of Avila, who wrote: “I sometimes hear it said about the beginning of the religious Orders that God gave greater graces to those early saints of ours because they had to be the foundation. Yes, it’s true, but we must never forget that compared to those who will come later, those who live today are the foundation. If we of today preserved the fervour of our ancients and our successors did the same, the edifice would always remain very solid. What good is it to me to have holy ancestors, if I am so miserable as to ruin the building with my bad habits, since it is evident that the newcomers are modelled more on those they see, than on those who have already passed many years ago?” (CE. 8. Teresa of Jesus, Foundazioni, in Opere, Rome 1949, 965s, n. 6, 7).
  135. Cf. Clemente V, Bolla Exivi de paradiso (6 May 1312), in Seraph. legisl. textus originales, Quaracchi 1897, 254s, art. 16; BC VI, 83; see also Alb. 65 (n. 146).
  136. Mt 10:28.
  137. Cf. 1 Cor 10:13.
  138. Ps 28:7.
  139. Cf. Ps 27:3.
  140. Cf. Wis 18:15; Est 4:17b.
  141. Mt 15:27; Mk 7:28; Lk 16:21.
  142. Cf. 2 Sam 24:17.
  143. Cf. Rm 9:3-4.
  144. Cf. Jn 1:45-49.
  145. Cf. Rev 3:5.
  146. Cf. Rm 11:4.
  147. Cf. 2 Cor 4:6.
  148. CF. 1 Cor 1:27-28.
  149. Cf. Mt 7:16, 20.
  150. Jn 15:5.
  151. Cf. 2 Cor 3:5.
  152. Cf. Wis 18:15; 11:22.
  153. Cf. Ps 7:10.
  154. Cf. Phil 3:13.
  155. Cf. Is 59:1; 50:2.
  156. Cf. 2 Cor 9:8.
  157. Cf. 1 Pt 4:11.
  158. One of the founders of the province of Lorena, who contributed to the foundation of the friaries of Ligny-en-Barrois Les Andelys. Cf. Godefroy de Paris, Les frères-mineurs-capucins cit. 1/2, see index.
  159. This religious is not known to historians.
  160. Cf. Dt 17:8.
  161. It is the topic of the letter, noted by the secretary.