Introduction by Lazzaro Iriate OFM Cap

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

Translator’s note: This translation is based on the introduction and text which were published by Vincenzo Criscuolo OFM Cap in I Cappuccini: Fonti Documentarie e Narrative Del Primo Secolo (1525-1619) Roma 1994, Curia Generale dei Cappuccini.

The following is the section: Le Clarisse cappuccine (Lazzaro Iriate) pp. 1087-1145 sourced from I frati cappuccini IV, 1785-1984.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Lazzaro Iriate


1. Bull “Debitum pastoralis officii” Pope Paul III

2. Brief “Cum monasterium” of Paul III

3. From the Capuchinesses in Naples to the Cardinal Protector

4. Brief: “Exigit legationis officium” issued by the Nuncio of Madrid

5. Bull “Debitum pastoralis officium” Clement VIII

6. Brief “Sacri apostolatus” Paul V


7. The beginnings of the Capuchinesses in the “Historia” by Mattis da Salὸ

Of Maria Laurenzia called the Lady widow Lunga, Foundress of the Capuchinesses of Naples

1. On her conversion and how she was miraculously healed of an incurable illness and founded the hospital of the incurables

2. Concerning the many wonderful consequences of her holy way of life and how she established the convent of the Capuchin Sisters

3. How she governed the convent in a very holy manner. Concerning her death and miracles

7. Charles Borromeo and the Capuchinesses

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

The establishment of the convent of s. Prassede in Milan (20th April 1579)

8. From the diary of Giambattista Casale (1554-1598)

9. How the Capuchinesses first lived when they came to Granada


10. The rules that Maria Lorenza laid down regarding enclosure

11. The customs that were observed in S. Maria di Gerusalemme

12. Practices adopted by the convent of S. Barbra in Milan

Introduction by Lazzaro Iriate

The origin of the Capuchinesses is linked to a noble lady from Catalonia named Maria Laurenzia Longo (Llonc). After she had become a widow in 1510 and was miraculously cured of paralysis in the shrine at Loretto, she dedicated the rest of her life to performing works of charity. She founded a hospital for the incurably ill in Naples in 1522. When they came to Naples in1530 the Capuchins accepted assisting with the needs of the hospital. When she found that she was unable to continue this work personally, she dedicated herself to contemplation and set up an enclosed community that lived according to the Rule of St Clare.

On 19th February 1535, she obtained a Bull from Paul III that authorised her to establish a convent. In the beginning it contained twelve sisters, but the number increased to thirty-three in the space of a year. In 1538 the same Pontiff placed the convent under the direction of the Capuchins. It was from them that the sisters inherited their life of austerity and simplicity, dedication to contemplative prayer and love for one another, but with a strict emphasis on being cloistered as can be seen in their “Ordinances”.

Maria Lorenza Longo died in 1542. She was revered as a saint. The people immediately called the new community the “Capuchinesses”. However, the superiors of the Order did not consider them to be the feminine branch of their Reform. The Albacina Constitutions and those promulgated in 1536 forbade taking care of nuns. It was the Holy See that imposed this with respect to the convent in Naples and later for those in Rome and Milan.

Admiration for “the thirty-three” fostered the establishment of other convents throughout Italy. The first of these was in Perugia in 1556. The following year another appeared in Gubbio. This was canonically established in 1568. Others were established in Brindisi in 1571, in Rome at the Quirinale in 1576, Genova in 1577, Milan in 1578 at the instigation of Saint Carlo Borromeo. At the end of the century there were about twenty convents in Italy.

The first community of Capuchinesses outside Italy was established in 1588 in Granada in Spain by means of A Bull issued by Sixtus V. In 1599 a convent was established in Barcelona and it was from here that others were established in Spain, Sardinia, and America. The Capuchinesses came to France in 1602 with the establishment of a convent in Paris.

During the seventeenth century sixty-five more convents were established: twenty-three in Italy, seven in Spain, two in France, two in Portugal and two in America.

In addition to the Capuchinesses other congregations of Capuchin religious women were established but these belonged to the Third Order Regular even though they were inspired and fostered by the Capuchins. Among these one was established at Pfanneregg in Switzerland. This was set up in 1591 due to the good work of Father Ludovico di Sassonia, and another at Saint-Omer in France in 1614 at the instigation of Francesca Taffin.

At first the community in Naples belonged to the Third Order even though it followed the Rule of St Clare. However, in 1538 it passed over to the Order of St Clare. This community would not accept a dowry from candidates because the foundress wanted it to be open to the rich and the poor without making any distinction. However, according to the Bull such payments provided a certain amount economic security. A few years later, the community chapter obtained permission to dispense with the payment in fidelity to the Rule which they professed.

Practically from the outset the Constitutions of St Colette were adopted with appropriate adaptations being made following the Council of Trent. The definitive text of the Constitutions “revedute e reformate” (re-examined and reformulated) was published in 1610 by Girolamo da Castelferreti, the General of the Capuchins. This brought uniformity to most of the convents even when they had to comply with certain decrees of the local Bishops.

Since it is impossible to reproduce all the documentation that applies to every convent, we have chosen the documents that offer the best witness to the ideals that inspired the first feminine attempts to interpret the Capuchin, Franciscan spiritual vision.


1. Bull “Debitum pastoralis officii” Pope Paul III

Rome 19th February 1535 – Authorisation for Maria Lorenza Longo to establish the convent of Santa Maria in Gerusalemme and set up a cloistered community under the Rule of St Clare.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1785-1793.

Paul Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God. Ad perpetuam rei memoriam (To be remembered forever).

The exercise of the pastoral office that has been conferred on us from on high, impels and spurs us on to be prepared to accept, heed, and favourably accede to the wishes of prudent virgins who have offered up their virginity by taking a solemn vow in religious life to their only spouse Jesus Christ who is the most beautiful of all men so that they can produce flowers to honour Him and the fruit of genuine regular discipline.

Recently we received a request from our delightful daughter in Christ, Maria Lorenza Longo who comes from Catalonia. She said that she had she had built and provided for a hospital for the incurably sick in Naples and dedicated it to Santa Maria del Popolo and that in doing so she had received constant assistance from poor people.

Now however, being unwell and aged, yet still moved by faith and devotion, she wanted to move on to a life of contemplation which would be safest thing to do. To facilitate this, with the help of kind alms and what God had provided, she had begun to build a convent for nuns close to the hospital and dedicate it to Santa Maria in Gerusalemme.

As well as this, she had gathered some poor women who recited the Divine Office there each day. In order to complete the organisation of the convent for the spread of the faith and to promote the worship of God, she was to obtain the authorisation of the Holy See.

She stated the she is determined to enclose herself in the convent with the other nuns and lead a religious life and is humbly requesting that, out of apostolic kindness, we would grant permission to complete the convent and provide what is required.

As we most earnestly desire the spread of faith especially in these times, we welcome what Maria desires and agree to her request. By means of our apostolic authority and in virtue of the present document we grant Maria to complete the construction of the convent, together with a small church, bell tower, bells, cemetery, cloister, dormitory, refectory, garden and all the necessary offices near the hospital as she has mentioned. She is not required to ask permission from the Local Ordinary or from any church rector in the local parishes or the manager of the hospital.

By the authority of this letter, and without prejudice, we erect and establish whatever form of enclosure is suitable for a convent of nuns of the Third Order of St Francis observing the Rule of St Clare, for an abbess and twelve nuns who profess the three vows of the said Order. At present we allow Maria to be abbess. In future the statutes of the Order and the norms set down by Maria will apply. Associates and those who work in the convent are not included in the numbers cited.

They should serve the Most High God by observing the Rule of the Order in perpetual enclosure under the patronage of the Holy See and with the assistance of a Confessor who may be either a religious or diocesan priest. His only task is to celebrate Mass, hear their Confessions and administer the Sacraments. He should have been ordained for some time, be of mature age, live an exemplary life, and be fervent in faith. He is to be chosen by Maria while she is alive. After that he should be chosen by the Abbess and the majority vote of the professed nuns, either permanently or for a specific length of time as they wish. They may also remove him and select another. He should instruct the nuns in doctrine, set them a good example, and encourage them to live a perfect life.

They shall not leave the convent except for a few days when there is something of extreme necessity and with the approval of most of the nuns.

By the authority of this document, we allow and permit Maria to govern the convent and the nuns while she is alive and they shall be obliged to obey her as their mother and superior. We also allow them to ask for one or two nuns from any Order to be transferred, with the consent of their superior, to their convent to instruct and direct the nuns in the rites and customs of regular observance. These nuns are to be included in the number of the twelve who live in the convent.

She may also select and appoint one of the nuns to succeed her when she dies. She may appoint, when it becomes necessary, a Mistress of Novices from the other nuns, who will be responsible for instructing and teaching them. She can appoint a substitute whenever a position becomes vacant in the convent by making changes each year with the approval of most of the nuns provided those appointments do not last for more than three years. Furthermore, We allow that when Maria dies, the professed nuns who live in the convent may elect another nun by means of a majority vote. This is to apply whenever another Abbess is needed.

We permit Maria to lay down statutes and regulations that are just, honourable, and not in conflict with Canon Law, that are to be observed by the abbesses and nuns that come after she is gone.

Furthermore, we allow the present and future abbess and nuns to hold certain long-lasting and replaceable goods in common, such as bequests and donations given to the convent either by Maria or other people for the legitimate and necessary needs of the nuns, the oblates or those working in the convent if they do not exceed the specified number allowed in the convent and contribute to what is necessary to support these people.

We also allow the hospital managers to allow Maria and the nuns in the convent administer the goods of the hospital without having any scruples concerning the upkeep of the hospital. This is what is happening at present and may continue […]

Given in Rome, at St Peter’s, in the year of Our Lord 1534, 19th February in the first year of our Pontificate.

2. Brief “Cum monasterium” of Paul III

Rome 10th December 1538 – The Pope entrusts the care of the community of Santa Maria di Gerusalemme in Naples to the Capuchins.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1798-1801

To our beloved daughter in Christ Maria Lorenza Longo

Dearly beloved daughter in Christ, greetings, and apostolic blessing.

Because you established a convent of nuns in Naples which is dedicated to Santa Maria in Gerusalemme as part of the Order of St Clare, which is under the care of the Order of St Francis called the Capuchins, who hear the Confessions of the nuns who live there and impart the gift of absolution, it is appropriate for you and the nuns to be under the control of that Order from the moment that you profess strict observance of the Rule of St Clare.

Therefore, motu proprio and with full knowledge, without anyone interceding on your behalf, we decree and wish that you and the abbess who oversees your convent should have a member of the Order of reformed mendicants called the Capuchins who, after he has diligently heard your Confessions, can grant you the gift of absolution and impose a suitable penance and, now and at the hour of your death, administer all the Sacraments.

Furthermore, through the benevolence of the Apostolic See, we allow the Confessor to receive the nuns who wish to make profession, and to bless the veil, outside the convent, that will later be placed on them inside the convent either by you or the abbess. We also allow him to act as Visitor to you or any nun, but only through the grill, without entering the convent, so that he will be able to do everything that Confessors and Visitors used to do for the Order of St Clare in obedience to their Rule and Constitutions.

We command the General and Minister Provincial of that Order to appoint a Confessor and Visitor, we do so in virtue of holy obedience and under the pain of excommunication late sententiae, that will be incurred ipso facto, from which they cannot be absolved, except at the moment of death, unless by us or the Apostolic See. The General, his Vicar and the Minister Provincial should consider the risk that they run by failing to comply. Every superior, prelate, or anybody else is forbidden to dare to mistreat, disturb or upset you in anyway by word or deed regarding what was said above with respect to you or those who come after you.

What has been said applied without prejudice to precious Apostolic Constitutions and other ordinances, statutes, customs, orders, concessions that were given to this convent or other convents or contained in past or future statutes issued by the General Chapters of the Capuchins. […]

Given in Rome at St Peter’s under the Pastoral Seal on 10th December 1538 in the fourth year of our pontificate.

3. From the Capuchinesses in Naples to the Cardinal Protector

Naples, 23rd April 1543. – The nuns are asking the support of the Cardinal to continue receiving spiritual direction from the Capuchins.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1804-1806.

Your Most Illustrious and Reverend Lordship.

From the beginning, Sister Maria Longo, of happy memory, who established our convent, sought priests who belonged to the Order of St Francis called Capuchins to be our Confessors and Visitators. Although there has been a certain amount of controversy the Lord God has seen fit to have us looked after in this manner up to the present day.

Now while the General Chapter of these Reverend Fathers is taking place in Rome, we are concerned that the enemy might be sowing some weeds to disturb the peace, and cause us devastation and annoyance.

Although they are not in charge of any other convent, nevertheless our convent has been under their guidance and teaching from the beginning and are concerned that we might be denied what others have not enjoyed.

Trusting in your Illustrious Lordship’s great kindness and willingness to defend the Order as its Cardinal Protector, and because we are poor women who are enclosed within these walls in the service of the Lord God, we lovingly turn to you to beg you for help in our great need. Arrange to have the General Chapter decide to always let us have priests and not abandon us by providing us with Confession which, while it would not be difficult for them, would be very useful and a great blessing for us. This would place us under a great obligation to pray to the Lord God for the wellbeing and happiness of your Most Illustrious and Reverend Lordship.

So that this obligation might be even greater, we ask you to support these priests so that, during this persecution [because of the apostacy of Ochino], they will come to know that with your support and protection they will experience the kind ease and freedom that they used to have years ago and can serve God more calmly and do so much good for the preservation of the faith. I assure you that you will honour God and be acclaimed by men for all that you do.

We are always praying to God for you and begging Him to grant you His saving love.

Naples, 23rd April 1543
Your Most Illustrious and Reverend

Servants and Supplicants
The Abbess and Nuns
In Santa Maria in Hierusalem

To his Most Illustrious and Reverend Lordship Cardinal of Carpi, Legate of our Lord in Rome

To the Reverend Father General, Father Eucebio delle Marca da Ancona, our most worthy father in Christ.

4. Brief: “Exigit legationis officium” issued by the Nuncio of Madrid

Barcelona, 6th May 1599. – The Nuncio at Madrid, Camillo Gaetani, at the request of Angela Serafina sent an order to the Bishop of Barcelona authorising the establishment of a convent of Capuchinesses under the jurisdiction of the Capuchin friars.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1842-1846.

Camillo Gaetani, by the grace of God and the pleasure of the Apostolic See, Patriarch of Alexandria and Nuncio, and Legate in Spain by the authority of Clement VIII, Pope by Divine Providence, to the Venerable Father in Christ the Bishop of Barcelona, greetings, and sincere love in the Lord.

Holding the position of Legate, which we do not deserve, requires that we attend to all that pertains to the growth of religious communities and sacred places, the propagation of divine worship and the salvation and welfare of souls and that we provide apostolic kindness to all who ask us for anything.

Angela Serafina, who is beloved in Christ, and a citizen of Barcelona, has sent us a petition in which in which she states that she has been wearing the habit worn by the Capuchin Sisters of the Order of the Friars Minor of St Francis for the last fifteen years and that she wants to establish a convent in that city as a residence for eleven women of exemplary lifestyle to live as religious under that Rule and observing the statutes that the Capuchin Sisters observe in Rome and Grenada and thus serve God in the same way as they serve Him. Many of the Nobles in this city who live exemplary lives and desire the salvations of souls, support the idea of the establishment of a convent of Capuchinesses in this city. Therefore, they recently asked that we condescend to consider this praiseworthy request and with apostolic kindness provide what is necessary.

Therefore, having been granted the necessary faculties by the Apostolic See […] and after considering these requests, and having confidence in your prudence, in virtue of the required apostolic authority, we allow and permit the petitioner, if she sees fit in the sight of the Lord, while observing the norms of the Council of Trent, to build and open a convent on the site where she now lives, without prejudice to anybody. She can also build a church and whatever else is necessary. All this shall be under the Rule of Capuchin Friars Minor of St Francis, including the offices, choir, parlours and enjoy with the same rights as other similar convents, including an Abbess or Prior who is to preside over these women and others who having abandoned the world, which to be professed and practice penance wearing the habit worn by those sisters, and always observing the strictest, uninterrupted enclosure. They are to live under the care and jurisdiction of the Capuchin Friars who live in the city of Barcelona, observe the norms of the Council of Trent and the Constitutions of the Order.

The Constitutions and Apostolic Ordinances, the statutes and customs, privileges, indults, and Apostolic Letters that have been given, approved, or updated shall not be changed from the way they were given to the Order of Capuchins of St Francis. In virtue of holy obedience, we command the superiors and the friars who live in the Capuchin friary in this city to guard and protect this convent when it has been established and to govern the nuns in a proper way and direct them according to their Constitutions and Ordinances. They shall appoint a confessor or vicar, who will hear the confessions of the nuns in the same way that this is done in the convents in Rome and Granada.

Given in Barcelona, 26th May 1599 in the eighth year of the pontificate of the above-mentioned most Holy Lord Pope.

5. Bull “Debitum pastoralis officium” Clement VIII

Rome, 13th September 1603 – The establishment of the convent of the Capuchinesses in Paris and the implementation of the arrangements made by Luisa di Lorena in her will and the appointment of the Capuchins to have jurisdiction over the convent.

I frate cappuccini IV, 1846-1852.

Clement Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God ad perpetuam rei memoriam [to be remembered forever]

Moved by the pastoral responsibility given to us from on high […]

Our most dear son in Christ Henry, King of France and Navarra, and our dearest daughter in Christ Maria, the Queen, and his wife, recently told us about our venerable brother Henry, the Bishop of Verdun, and the other executors of the will of Luisa, of happy memory, who was the Queen of France, and about the noble lady Maria of Luxemburg, the widow of Filippo Emanuele, Duke of Mercosur. He said that while she was alive, Luisa, wishing to change her earthly journey into a journey to heaven, wanted to give away all that she had to foster good works. Shortly before she died when making her will she left funds to build a convent in the city of Bourges for the nuns called Capuchinesses on the sight indicated by Filippo Emmanuele who, while he was alive, appointed his brother as his heir giving him 20,000 scudi […]

However, they also told me that the city of Bourges was small and drab and was supporting many other mendicant Orders. Furthermore, the Capuchinesses could not accept such a bequest because their Rule said that they had to live off alms given by pious people and that would not provide enough income to support them. Instead in Paris, the most famous and well-populated city in France, there was no convent of Capuchinesses and there were many young women who wanted to serve the Lord in humility and virginity in a religious Order and who would prefer to join the Capuchinesses rather than to enter any other group.

When Bishop Henry and the other executors, including Maia, had considered these things carefully, they decided that the best thing would be to build a convent in the city of Paris where it could be easily supported by the generosity of very Christian Kings, the kindness of Princes and help of the many people who passed through as well as the alms gathered in the city with the 20,00 scudi being used to construct the building rather than given as a donation. It would also be fitting to transport the body of Queen Luisa to the convent and inter her there.

After he had considered the matter carefully and consulted the supreme council of the city, King Henry together with Queen Maria, decided on behalf of the others, relying on our apostolic kindness, to humbly ask us to consent to their wishes and provide what was necessary for them to be carried out.

Therefor, […] in virtue of our apostolic authority and without prejudice, we establish and launch a convent of Capuchinesses of the said Order which will have an Abbess and no less than twelve nor more than fifty nuns, who must wear the customary habit of the Capuchinesses and profess the same vows as well as observe perpetual enclosure, and, as far as possible, observe the rites, way of life, customs and observances as the Capuchin Order of Friars Minor and be assiduous in reciting the Office and praising God. They are to be obedient and subject to the visitation, direction, and authority of the present and future superiors of the said Order the same as the convents are in Rome and Naples. […]

They are to have chaplains and suitable confessors that belong to the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor who are to be appointed by the General Chapter from time to time, who will celebrate the Masses, recite the Divine Office, encourage the nuns, hear the confession of the abbess and the other nuns and administer the sacraments. […] Furthermore, they can compose and promulgate the statutes, ordinances, chapters, and decrees […]. However, these must be examined and approved by present and future superiors.

We wish that, in addition to the above-mentioned chaplains and confessors, ordinary by the Minister General and extraordinary Visitors be elected at every General Chapter of the Order of Friars Minor, and, if necessary, outside the Chapter, by the Minister General. […]

Given at Rome, at San Marco in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 7th September 1603 in the tenth year of our Pontificate.

6. Brief “Sacri apostolatus” Paul V

Rome, 11th August 1618. – The Capuchins are forbidden to undertake the spiritual supervision of nuns and their convents.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1852-1854

Paul V, Pope. ad perpetuam rei memoriam [to be remembered forever]

Having been placed in the sacred apostolic ministry by the abundance of Divine grace, without any merit of our own, without partiality towards anyone, we wish to turn attention to the fertile fruits which the Friars Minor called Capuchins produce in the church of God in the service of the Most High by means of the strict observance of the Rule in matters involving fasting, praying, preaching and religious activities. We are concerned that this Order should be able to do more and greater things without any impediment. Because of this we wish to help them in a way that seems to be most pleasing to the Lord.

Therefore, seeing that taking care of nuns does not seem to be suitable to what they have professed, but is more likely to be a distraction or disturbance, motu proprio and with a clear conscience, in virtue of our comprehensive authority, we decree and command, by means of the perpetual validity of this document, that religious who belong to that Order should not in future be given or accept any kind of care, supervision or administration of nuns or their convents, goods or activities, nor be obliged or constrained to do so by any authority whatsoever.

We forbid all their superiors or protectors from now on to accept, command or allow them to accept any care, supervision, or administration of this kind both with respect to spiritual and material affairs. We declare null and void anything that might be attempted in this regard, whether knowingly or through ignorance by anyone no matter of what rank.

Without prejudice […]

Given at Rome at Santa Maria Maggiore, under the seal of the Pastor, 11th August 1618 in the fourteenth year of our Pontificate.


7. The beginnings of the Capuchinesses in the “Historia” by Mattis da Salὸ

Mattia Bellintani da Salὸ, who is usually reliable, had a report that was sent from Naples. It appears to have been written shortly after the death of the foundress and to have been based on the testimony of those who witnessed what happened. Despite the continual references to prodigious and miraculous episodes, it is interesting because of its undoubted historical value.

Of Maria Laurenzia called the Lady widow Lunga, Foundress of the Capuchinesses of Naples

1. On her conversion and how she was miraculously healed of an incurable illness and founded the hospital of the incurables

Since in the early days of the reform movement a convent of the Sisters of St Clare, who are known as the Capuchinesses, was established in Naples it is only right that, before going on to anything else, we should first speak about how they were founded and who was the foundress.

The convent was established in the year of the Lord 1535 by a Spanish noble lady from Catalonia named Maria Laurenzia, of the noble house called Richenza, who was the wife of a man who belonged to the House of Lunga and who was the representative of the Catholic Spanish King and one of his close friends.

Because this lady was prudent and virtuous in order to supervise what went on in her house, she admonished the women when they did something wrong and held them responsible, so much so that one of the slaves wanted to poison her. When the lady became thirsty during a feast at which she had been dancing, she asked for a drink of water and the wicked servant put poison in the glass and she drank it and was poisoned. No matter what she took it did not seem to do much good, yet she did not die but remained stricken and could not move. God had allowed her to linger on to do great things for Him and for her neighbour.

When the Catholic King came to Naples and brought Lungo, his representative, with him, Lungo’s wife hesitated to come with him and wondered if she ought to stay in Spain because she was not well. She asked her confessor and both agreed that they should have recourse to prayer. When they had done this the confessor told her that in order to solve this doubt, she should consult a holy hermit that he knew. The hermit told her to go with her husband without being concerned because God would guide them safely and show what she should do in order to serve God. Notwithstanding all the apparent difficulties she readily accepted this advice.

She remained in Naples with her husband for many years and felt a great desire to visit the Holy House of Loreto. She did so after her husband died. The doctors advised again this because she was so unwell and weak, but she had more trust in God’s inner spirit since he had chosen her to work for Him and to serve Him. Therefore, confiding in God she set off travelling in a way that allowed he to cope with her poor health.

When she had arrived and gone into the church, she wanted to hear Mass. However, since it was late there were no more Masses. She wanted her chaplain to say Mass, but he could not be found. Just then an unknown priest appeared and she asked him about Mass. He went to the Epistle side of the alter in the chapel and celebrated Mass in an unusual manner that astonished everyone. He read the Gospel about the paralytic man who had been ill for thirty-eight years, and turning to all those who were at Mass he said “Give thanks to God.” At that moment the lady felt a great shudder which began at her feet and went through her entire body.

When Mass was over, she felt completely cured and she went in search of the priest to give him an offering. However, she could not find him nor had anybody seen him or knew where he had come from or where he had gone. She got up and walked freely having been completely cured. She went on praising God and the Blessed Virgin. She knew that it was the Queen of Virgins who had launched the reform of sacred virgins and especially those dedicated to St Clare who had cut the hair in front of the altar of the Blessed Virgin and consecrated their virginity to God.

Staying on here for a few days after she received this grace, she was filled with a greater desire to serve God and become even more noble and perfect than in the past. She took the habit of the Tertiaries of St Francis. When she returned to Naples, following her example, many others did the same thing. All of them began to help the patients in the Hospital that was being set up for those who were terminally ill. She had taken it upon herself to build a hospital to cater for the poor people who were sick. To do this she made use of some small rooms near the old church of S. Nicolo that had been torn down. She undertook the work very energetically caring for both men and women who were sick, setting an example for everyone not only by providing car for their bodies but also providing for the salvation of their souls.

At that time, a very zealous and holy member of a religious Order named Calisto di Piacenza, who was a Canon, was preaching in Naples and spoke about the work being done in Naples by the Compagnia de’Bianchi known as “S. Maria succurre miseris” who were caring for those who were terminally ill by encouraging them and comforting them during their time of suffering.

Prompted by Maria Lungo, these brothers, among whom were some of the leading men in Naples, did much to support this hospital and, dressed in white habits, they went questing for whatever was needed every Saturday. Therefore, she thought that she could legitimately withdraw from being a part of this work and entrusted it to Ettore Vernaccia who had assisted in building the hospital.

When she had made up her mind to do this, while she was at Mass one morning, she heard a soft voice that said to her: “Did you love your husband?” She replied “What! Of course, I loved him.”

The voice continued: “Do you love your children?” She replied: “What!” She was then enlightened by the Holy Spirit to understand that what had been said to her means that she should look after those who were poor little ones because they are Christ.

It was because of this very impressive revelation that she decided to never abandon what she was doing and to increase the contribution that she was making to the hospital by providing food, clothing, beds and whatever was necessary so that it might be better than other such places that had a large number of patients. This is the reason why the Compagnia de’Bianchi, which formerly met at S. Pietro ad Ara, now began to assemble at the newly built hospital S. Maria del Popolo near S. Maria della Grazia. This provided a great amount of assistance to the hospital because of the amount of alms that were then donated.

When she took care of the administration affairs of the hospital, she did much more than act charitably towards those who were sick or prudently and diligently organise what went on within the place. She also exemplified Christian virtues such as humility, fasting and prayer. She mortified herself placing herself at the service of others, taking care of the sick with her own hands, especially those who were seriously unwell giving them encouragement and comfort. She was so diligent and proficient in doing this that those who were sick felt great relief and consolation with some of them thinking that she had appeared to them in a dream after her death, just a vividly as if they had been awake and it was really happening and comforted them.

During all of this she treated herself very severely and strictly, living quite sparingly and fasting on bread and water every Friday to which she added a little bit of minestra on Saturday. She was very fervent, punctual, and careful about holy prayer. She was often heard dialoguing with Christ. She penetrated the depths of Scripture to such an extent that educated people were able learn various mysteries and hidden things from her, because of the enlightenment she received from God. When they met up with her, people who living in the state of sin, left her having repented. Very important people went to ask her advice. On many occasions she predicted what was going to happen and it happened just as she said that it would. She had been shown what was going to happen having been enlightened by the Holy Spirit.

2. Concerning the many wonderful consequences of her holy way of life and how she established the convent of the Capuchin Sisters

Many wonderful things came about because of her holy way of life and the way in which she served God. On many occasions the hospital received miraculous assistance and support. Once when the hospital did not have a slice of bread and the staff did not know how to provide it, two donkeys loaded with bread unexpectedly appeared at the door and nobody knew where they had come from. The hospital also gave alms to poor people who came begging. Once someone who was dying of hunger came to the door and she ordered the staff to give them some bread. They said that there had not even been enough bread to have for breakfast. She told them to look around and find some. When they looked, they found two big containers full of white warm bread, which, no doubt, had been delivered by angels at the intercession of the servant of God.

A poor Spanish lady who was suffering from syphilis went to the hospital. The merciful manager of the hospital took care of her just as she took care of everybody attending to her, encouraging, and helping her personally. When she was cured, Maria urged her to abandon her sinful way of life. However, the unfortunate lady would not hear of it and returned to her former abominable way of life. A little later she came back with the same sickness and, as before, Maia received her charitably and took care of her until she recovered once again. Notwithstanding Maria’s prayers and exhortations, she did not want to remain there or give up her evil way of life. The pious servant of God went down on her knees in front of the crucifix and said: “My Lord, if she continues sinning let her fall ill again so that she cannot offend your Divine Majesty.”

God soon heard her earnest, pious prayers. It was not long before the poor lady was brought in on a stretcher and was so ill that she looked like a leper. She could not be recognised as a human being and she could not speak. She was received and cared for until she died from her very severe illness.

The place was stricken by a great plague during which obviously the homes were closed and so the hospital was closed for some time. Finally, when it was opened, those who were chosen went each day to visit those who were sick just to see who had contracted the plague. The nurses did the same. Maria Lungo had a delightful companion, called Sister Maria, who was very courageous and conducted herself like Maria Lungo. When the hospital opened, she fell seriously ill with the plague. She went three days without food and was at the point of death.

Maria Lungo was very upset, not only at the thought of losing someone that she loved, but also because if her friend died and it became known the she had died of the plague, the hospital would be closed once again. Wanting to find another solution, she went to the chapel and threw herself down on her knees and prayed for a long time. Then, rising confident that her prayers would be answered, she went joyfully to the sick lady and said: “Do me a favour, eat something.”

Although the sick lady looked like she could not hear, she heard everything. Then she said that she would like to rest and she went to sleep. The devout manager went down on her knees and began to pray again. The sick lady woke up a little bit later completely healed as if she had never been sick and said that she had felt like she had been covered with dew and it had refreshed her.

By means of prayer the holy lady had freed her sister from death, the hospital from threat and disruption and the patients from having to suffer because of another closure.

She was the one who introduced the recitation of the Pater noster each evening for the souls who had died.

She often went to the places were prostitutes worked, continually exhorting them, reasoning with them, and pleading with them to give up sinning and when she could not convince them she threw herself down on her knees in front of them begging them to abstain from sin at least on Fridays and Saturdays so that they could experience what it was like not being compelled to sin. Whoever she convinced she dealt with there, or saw them married or took them with her to help in the hospital.

She was the first one to welcome the Capuchins to Naples and with her help they occupied the site of S. Effremo before later going to help at the hospital for the terminally ill. During their time of trouble, she spoke up for them with Carlo V, who, because he knew about her holy way of life, had great respect for her, and he listened to what she said. The same thing happened with Paolo III. This is how they were subsequently entrusted with the care of the convent of nuns that she built, as we have said.

She was also the first one to welcome the Theatine Fathers to Naples. She placed them in the house near the hospital, which had previously been occupied by the nuns before the convent was built. She asked them to take care of the nuns until the Capuchins were appointed to do this work.

The Duchess of Tremolo was in the hospital. As is the case with many women she used to be preoccupied with conceits and worldly cares. However, once she became friendly with this holy woman, being impressed by her holy words, prayers, and virtues, she turned to being humble and ready to do what was good. Mary accepted her as her spiritual daughter, nourishing her with holy examples and admonitions and having her perform many good works. She also placed her under the care of the Capuchins, who heard her Confession, gave her advice, and provided her with a spiritual director. They invested her in the habit of the Franciscan Third Order and she gave away much of what she had for the love of God.

When the Capuchins began to preach the young women who were converted were cared for by this lady. The Duchess bequeathed all she possessed to the convent. Her life of virtue edified the entire city of Naples and she kept as close as she could to Maria accepting her advice and following her guidance in what she did. When Maria withdrew into the convent of the virginal sisters, she succeeded Maria as manager of the hospital.

The holy lady lived a saintly life for twenty years edifying all and running the hospital. However, like all holy women, she wanted to do more to serve God, and to produce more fruit, so resolved to build a convent for virgin nuns. To do so she sought the help of those who worked in the hospital.

There is no doubt that as events proved, this was what God wanted since He is the One who chooses the ministers that He wants. Through His mercy He had cured this woman so that she could be of service to Him in the hospital and many other charitable works. Now in order to provide a convent He had her fall so seriously sick once again that it seemed that she would die. She also received Extreme Unction. Even though she was so ill, she was only concerned about bringing the virgins together and worrying about every hour of delay in building the convent. No matter what anyone said, she was only concerned about getting the work underway. Even though she was approaching the end of her life, all who visited her were amazed that all she would talk about was how she wanted the convent dedicate to St Francis.

In fact, she did not die from that illness. Despite being exhausted she lingered on and so had time to build the convent. It would seem that as she had completed the establishment of the hospital that God had inspired her to complete another work even though she was sick. Indeed, sickness seemed to stimulate her to do more to gain merit.

At that time, the hermit who had advised Maria to come to Italy arrived from Spain and went to visit her. She knew him immediately even thought it had been a long time since she had seen him. She greeted him and thanked him for the advice he had given her in Spain.

When, at last, she had set up a house built like a convent and constructed a cloister she had the nuns cover their faces with veils and come in procession to take up residence and bring what they possessed. Because she had always wanted to visit Jerusalem, and because she believed the Christ had spoken to her about this in a revelation, she had the place called Jerusalem and even today it is called the Convent of Jerusalem.

So, responsibility for the hospital was passed on to the Duchess of Termolo and Maria became Abbess of the convent by order of Paul III who appointed her Abbess for life.

This is how at present the reform of the Franciscan Order and of the holy Church was established in the first convent of the reformed sisters of the Order of St Clare who, because of their links with Capuchins, became known as the Capuchinesses. They observe the Rule of St Clare without privileges. Just as St Francis wanted it and laid it down. They own nothing and live by their own work or on alms just like the friars. The go about barefoot, dress in shabby clothing and attend choir for prayer. Unlike the friars they are not forbidden to use money, nor are they as strict about the number of garments that they can wear because women need more clothes than men. However, on the other hand they may not sleep on mattresses but must use straw and they are to fast throughout the year and never eat meat.

The friars accept the care of these convents, just as St Francis took care of St Clare. There are other convents in Perugia, Agobbio, Milan and Brescia. We have tried to take them under our care but we have been turned away. Giulio III issued a Brief that stated the we be accepted in Perugia but it was revoked. In 1576 Gregory XIII issued a decree in which we were put in charge of the convent that was built in Rome.

3. How she governed the convent in a very holy manner. Concerning her death and miracles

After she enclosed herself in the convent, she dedicated herself entirely to prayer and exercises of mental prayer because her illness prevented her from doing manual work. She taught her daughters how to observe the Rule in the way St Francis and St Clare intended it to be observed, accepting the advice that she received from the Capuchins who heard Confessions and supervised everything. She was very concerned about divine worship, and encouraged and inspired the nuns to feel the same. Before the choir was built, she had the Divine Office recited in a small room where she told all the others to assemble. She received Holy Communion every eight days and on feasts and remained withdrawn during the day in tearful prayer. She remained uplifted beyond herself.

Don Caetano, who was a Theatine, and one who helped to establish the Order, used to visit her frequently. She would discuss parts of Scripture expounding them at great depth. He used to say that he derived more enlightenment from what she said than from any number of books. Others who visited her said the same thing.

Those who had troubles came to see her and listen to what she had to say and left feeling great consolation. Some of the leading people came to ask for her prayers and seek her advice and sometimes she revealed hidden things to them. Because of this she became regarded as a divine oracle. However, most of all she was an inspiration to her nuns, making use of the little time left in her life to give them valuable instructions concerning spiritual and material matters. She admonished and corrected the nuns and, on many occasions, knowing how they were being tempted, she instructed them about how to cope with their emotions. Then filled with admiration they would improve.

Once she saw the devil tempting a nun. The devil appeared in the form of a dark figure. The nun rejected the temptation and continued to be obedient. A nun called Clare was one of her very dear daughters. She came to see the holy nun every night and spoke to her about the temptations that she had endured during that day. The nun had lived a life of virtue and was now about to die. She had lost her speech, but it returned and she said with a smile, “I am happy! I am happy!”

When the nun was about to die, Maria Lungo saw St Francis and St Anthony standing beside the nun and they remained there until she died. This demonstrated the sanctity of both of those nuns: the nun who was lying between two saints, and the Abbess who saw it all.

A young woman came to the convent to be invested, but before she received the habit she was strongly tempted to leave, nor could the holy lady persuade her to accept the habit. Then the kind mother told her to stay for a month and she would advise her what to do. In the meantime, she prayed earnestly to God to inspire the young lady to accept the habit. The young women took the habit devoutly and persevered in the convent living a holy way of life.

Maria did many things like that in the convent. She spent four years weighed down by the burden of looking after the convent. When she was about to die, she became disoriented. She was almost unconscious, unable to breathe even when the Duchess of Termoli was with her. When she had been like that for more than half an hour, they though that she was dead. Just to make sure they prodded her many times. She revived and with a smile on her face and she said:

“May God forgive you. I would never have come back! I would never have come back! What I have seen! What I have seen! Let us go! Let us go!”

Her most devoted companion. Sister Maria, begged her to tell and reveal what she had seen, she only smiled and said nothing.

She immediately resigned as Abbess and Sister Girolana became Abbess. She had been a nun in another convent and had come here because she wanted to live a strict live. A Vicar and other officials were appointed. Maria withdrew to prepare herself for death acting as if she could die at any moment.

She carried on living as if she had always been subject to a superior in the convent. She was very prompt in obeying as if she was the very last sister. No matter how much the Abbess implored her to give commands or advice, she never departed from this kind of humble way of life. This is how through setting an example and pleading she exhorted the others to be obedient. She spent that short time alone, doing nothing but observe the commandment of God, the Rule, fostering peace and harmony, humility, obedience and poverty, mortification and self-contempt and very effectively overcoming herself.

Two days before she died, she addressed them at some length exhorting them to observe the Rule and the three vows, but especially to promote peace. She based this on the words that Christ addressed to his disciples: Peace I leave with you: my peace I give you [Jn 14: 27]. She then embraced them one by one. She spoke up in support of the older nuns and ask the Abbess to look after them by helping them to continue to observe their way of life, treating them with compassion and not forget any of their bodily needs.

She they asked that a crucifix be brought from a chapel and placed in front of her for she had often gazed on this crucifix without saying anything. However, the Abbess commanded her under obedience to go back to her room where she usually spoke to her Confessor, Francesco Liardo, in private. She also said that the Lord God was very angry with the city. Not long after there was trouble in Naples. She exhorted the nuns to ask God to lessen His anger. She called the Duchess di Timoli, who had spent a lot of time talking with her in private, and told her that she too did not have long to live.

At length it became apparent that she was struggling with the devil as was clear from the expression on her face. She asked her dear Sister Maria to comfort her, and when she told her not to be afraid, she turned towards her and said “Caglia voi, that is “Be quiet!”

Being sorry for saying that she put her finger up to her lips gesturing for silence and said, “I cherish those who help me!”

Turning happily to her right where the crucifix was, she pointed to the nun indicating that He was the one who had helped her.

She died a little later and having rolled over on her shoulder she said: “Sisters, you think that I have done a lot of good work. However, I did not do it on my own, but trusted completely in the Lord.”

Showing the tip of her finger she said: “A bit of faith as tiny as this has saved me.”

She said this quite happily with a beautiful expression on her face. She always held the crucifix in her hand. Just after she said those words, she kissed it and said three times: “Jesus” and with that she breathed her last.

Her body was placed in front of the grille and many people gathered around kissing her feet saying that her feet gave off a sweet perfume. The Duchess stood by her feet crying and saying that it was through her that she had been saved. She had said that she wanted to buried with the nuns. However, because there was no provision for graves at that time she was laid to rest beneath the high altar in the choir.

Because the holy woman had told her that she would not live much longer the Duchess changed her way of life. She made out a will and left a lot of her goods to the hospital and other similar places. Before she died, she was given the grace of seeing Maria Laurenzia appear in glory. In order to console the nuns, she went and told them about this.

At the beginning of the year following the holy lady’s death, when the Duchess felt that death was approaching, she wanted to enter the convent and she gained the Pope’s permission to enter before she died. However, God had other plans and did not grant her this grace. When she was on her way to enter the convent, she remembered that she still had to settle some of her affairs and she turned back with the intention of returning to the convent later. This was on Sunday. However, just as she returned to the hospital she was stricken with gout and died five day later.

In her will she said that she wanted to be buried with Maria Laurenzia. When they started to do this, they found Maria’s body intact, with her hair and nails growing normally and so they shouted; Miracle! Miracle! They placed her body in the choir for a whole day and it radiated a sweet perfume. God also showed his approval of the life of the holy woman by many other miracles.

At that time there was a young nun who had an abscess on her side. Many remedies had been tried without success. Sister Vittoria d’Afflitto, who was very holy and devout, took this sister to the body and after spending a short time in prayer there, she took her hand and placed it on the body and then on the young nun’s abscess and immediately she was cured.

However, what followed was certainly a greater miracle. When they brought the body of the Duchess and placed it alongside Lunga’s body, Maria Lunga sat up miraculously and kissed and lent on the Duchess, embraced her, and remained there. It was as if they were alive and not dead. Four nuns saw this: the Abbess, the Vicar, Sister Maria and an elderly nun, Sister Gismondo. All of them shouted out: Miracle! Miracle! The news went throughout the city so that many people turned devoutly to Maria and thanked God for what He had done.

The burial place was completed in six months, and when they were about to transport the bodies, they found that Maria’s body had been slightly damaged and no longer radiated a sweet perfume after it had been close to the body of the Duchess which was now corrupt. Even though the body of the holy lady was placed in a separate grave, the place was damp and the coffin was broken and the body damaged. Later, when they came to bury a nun, they saw that the body was corrupt, but the head still had perfume of violets. […]

Charles Borromeo and the Capuchinesses

Translated from the introduction, text and footnotes which were published by P. Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap in I Frati Cappuccini: Documenti e testimonimonianze del primo secolo, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, vol IV pp. 1878-1880.

Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

The holy Archbishop of Milan, who was very keen on implementing the reforms proposed by the Council of Trent, was most grateful for the valuable support that he received from the Capuchins. He was also very impressed by the Capuchinesses which he proved not only by establishing the convent of S. Prassede but on many other occasions.

The establishment of the convent of s. Prassede in Milan (20th April 1579)

Source: Milano, Arch. della Città Arciescovile, Set. XII, vol. 112.

10.497 In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and, Holy Spirit.

On 24th December 1578, the Most Illustrious and Reverend Monsignor Charles Borromeo, Cardinal of S. Prassede, Archbishop of Milan and Apostolic Delegate, established the convent of the Capuchin Sisters, who follow the first Rule of St Clare, outside the Porta Tosa in Milan and dedicated the church to S. Prassede. A document concerning this was drawn up by Aloisio Santo Pietro, who was the Archdiocesan Chancellor and lodged in the Archdiocesan archives.

On 7th October 1578 the four nuns mentioned below were escorted from the convent of Santa Clara in Perugia to Milan to govern the first nuns to be given the habit. They were Sister Eufronsina delli Ughi, the abbess, Sister Cristina, her sister and vicar, Sister Geronima de Bartolini, novice mistress, and Sister Gabriella di Perugia, a lay sister who was to serve as the companion to the doorkeeper [portinara].[1]

10.498 Madonna Margarita Piantanida, who lived in Milan, continued to recruit young women for the convent until 1579. She did this on the Sunday in Albis, (Divine Mercy Sunday), which occurred on the Octave of Easter, which, in that year, was the day after the feast of St Mark that fell on 26th April. On that day the Most Illustrious and Reverend Archbishop of Santa Prassede gave the habit to nineteen Capuchinesses. [2]

When the ceremony of investiture was finished the sisters were accompanied by all the religious, the secular clergy and the people to where the convent was to be built and handed over to the care of the ladies in Perugia. Then the foundation stone was laid. Pope Gregory XII granted a plenary indulgence for all these activities.

On the 11th June, the day of St Barnabas, in the year 1580, the Most Illustrious and Reverend Cardinal of Santa Prassede, who was the Archbishop, received in his own hands the professions under the first Rule of St Clare in the temporary chapel, giving the choir sisters a black veil and the lay sisters a white veil.[3]

Extract from a letter of Cardinal Charles to Cardinal Alciati (Milan 29th April 1579).

Source: Milano, Bibl. Ambrosiana F. 55 inf. F. 255r.

10.499 I should not neglect to tell you that last Sunday morning, by the grace of God, the convent of the Capuchinesses was solemnly blessed. I celebrated a Pontifical Mass in the Cathedral, invested nineteen young women who entered the Order. Each one of them had been assisted by one of the leading ladies in Milan. Many people attended the ceremony. It was indeed a bigger crowd than had been seen in this church for years. After Mass everyone went to the convent of the Capuchinesses and escorted them into the cloister. I laid the foundation stone. …[4]

  1. These were the four professed Sisters who were transferred from the convent at Perugia by means of a Brief signed by Gregory XIII on 30th August 1578. Sister Eufrosina delli Ughi supervised the convent until August 1587 when she and her sister returned to Perugia. Sister Geromia Bartolini (+ 1596) was made abbess and the lay Sister Gabriela (+ 1591) remained in Milan. This is what it says in the same manuscript.
  2. The names of seventeen choir sisters and two lay sisters appear in the manuscript.
  3. In the following years right up to the time of his death St Charles always presided over the ceremony of profession. The records note that “the profession was received by the Abbess in the presence of the Cardinal of of S. Prasside. Margarita Piantanida, who became Sister Eufemia after she had been invested, was the first on the list. She was twenty-nine years of age. Later on she encouraged other women to join the convent. She died on 24th August 1589.
  4. The text ends with more information. The church was consecrated by the successor of St Charles, Archbishop Gaspare Visconti, on 31st August 1586. – This document was supplied by Fr Fedele Merelli, whom we wish to thank.

8. From the diary of Giambattista Casale (1554-1598)

The opening of the convent of Santa Prassede in Milan: 26th April 1579.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1881

I remember how on Sunday 26th April 1579, the Most Illustrious Cardinal Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, introduced the Order of Capuchinesses to Milan since before that there had not been an official ceremony. His Lordship performed the ceremony in the Cathedral where he invested nineteen young women in garments of sackcloth in an incredible ceremony.

All the young women left from a house in Porta Tosa where they had been living for a short time. They came to the Cathedral dressed in white and wearing veils accompanied by the leading ladies in Milan together with a great number of people. When they came to the Cathedral the Cardinal went in immediately wearing Pontifical vestments and accompanied by the clergy. He sang the Mass and when the Gospel had been read, he went into the pulpit and preached about what was taking place. When Mass was finished, he blessed the sackcloth garments and cords and gave them to all the young ladies and some others. The white garments were then removed and they just wore the sackcloth garments that they were wearing under their white dresses. He also gave them mantles and cords.

When the ceremony had finished the Cardinal, dressed in Pontifical vestments, together with the friars, the priests and all the people, led the women to the entrance of their house. The young women followed the procession proceeding in pairs and carrying a cross on their shoulders and escorted by the Capuchins.

When they reached the door of the house, the Very Reverend Cardinal laid the first foundation stone of the church that was to be built there in a very elaborate ceremony. My son, David, and I touched the stone so that we would remember how the Capuchinesses were established in this place.

9. How the Capuchinesses first lived when they came to Granada

Granada, 1590. – A report that the chaplain of the convent sent to “an important person at Court”.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1926-1932.

I am unable to say much about this heavenly enterprise, which is the first of its kind in Spain, other then to make a few general comments, because one cannot go into detail about this kind of work in public not only because it is so wonderful but also because it is impossible to believe that frail women could accomplish what they do accomplish.

The institute is conducted by the Capuchinesses who were founded in Italy at the beginning of the first part of the century that is coming to an end. The title Capuchinesses was given to this institute in the Bull Scalze Minime del Deserto della Penitenza. Because of the hidden way of life that they live, it is certainly true that they are living as if they were in the desert since they are not in communication with anybody outside the convent, except their confessors and them alone. I do not know if it is once a year or once a month that they are allowed to see their parents or siblings and, even this is in the parlour with others listening. Inside the cloister they have small rooms which are just like graves. They call them hermitages. They live in such detachment from one another that they only meet when they come together for community activities in the choir, the refectory, the rooms where they sleep or dormitories.

The do not have any income. Each day they relied on the Divine Providence for what was needed for divine worship and everything else. They know no source of income apart from the generosity of the faithful who donated alms. They do not ask for anything for themselves. They do not ask of those who work in the house to give them anything because they too are poor. This is amazing when you consider that the place was built without any assets or dowries and that the Papal Bull expressly stated that they could only accept young women without asking for anything like that.

Throughout the year they live on fish and fast. All that they wear is a habit with a tunic made of the same material that covers their legs and feet and which is made of the same material, but not as coarse. They certainly deserve to be called Scalze since they do not even wear slippers or little shoes as had been allowed in the original Rule of St Clare. They sleep on a plank with a stone for a pillow wearing the habit summer or winter without loosening the cord that hangs around it.

They sing the entire office in monotone. They recite Matins at midnight, followed, most of the year, by an hour of mental prayer which they also do three times during the day. They receive Communion every day. They take the discipline every day in Advent and Lent and three times a week at other times.

They are very diligent about the cleanliness and the elegance of the vestments, the church and the altar. It was said that when the Lord inspired the mother superior to found the Order that He told her that He wanted the church to look like the temple of Moses and to be as rich and beautiful as possible. It should be poor and spotless, but at the same time inspire devotion because Mass was being celebrated there. The clothes and corporals were changed each day. Indeed, they were so meticulous about this that sometimes they went without food to be able to afford what was required to worship the Lord.

I think that such a strict and heavenly observance of common life – in which they alternate between chapel, prayer and work every day – is like the life that the Seraphim lead, as they are continually awake and enflamed with love, and are either praising the Lord before His throne, or moving back to pay Him homage, – with each one performing the penitential practices that are inspired by God, and which obedience permits, it is like the life of the white dove which sits alone on a ledge or on the roof.

Here we can see the wonder and persistence of grace that overcomes and dissolves confusion of heart. It goes beyond the penance performed by the Fathers in Egypt. However, I do not want to draw comparisons that might appear to be extreme. I only want to repeat what san Giovanni Climaco said; “lazy eyes will not see, nor will lethargic ears ever hear, or a tepid heart understand” what we confessors have experienced in the desert of real penance as planned by the Apostolic See. I agree with that Doctor for when I see the strength, the power of love and charity that exists in these frail women, I become sad about my own tepidity.

For anyone who was lucky enough to see it, in addition to the practice of severe, strict poverty there was an angelic, joyful, humble, sincere, affable milieu of friendliness without any sense of self-importance or power. Such a lifestyle was quite the opposite to what prevails in the world, but quite natural for anyone who is animated by devotion or enlightened by divine light.

The foundress, a woman who was enlightened and loved by God, came from this city. However, because nessun profeta è accetto in patria sua, she encountered many difficulties. She went to Rome and personally obtained a Bull from Sixtus V that granted her permission to establish the convent with the approval of Archbishop Médez de Salvatierra of happy memory. When the See became vacant the Chapter removed her from the convent. Once again she had recourse to the Holy See and obtained a Rescript that prohibited the Ordinary from interfering, and imposed punishment and censure on anyone who interfered and this has now been carried out.

Notwithstanding the intervention of the supreme authority of His Holiness and the wonderful things that were known in the city there were many who were opposed to it being built and would have had it torn down. God has helped all of us by His enlightenment and by the gifts that have been donated and now I am asking for your help.


10. The rules that Maria Lorenza laid down regarding enclosure

Naples, 5th October 1538. – The text is contained in a manuscript in which it appears after the Rule of St Clare. The “motu proprio” dated 10th December 1538 presumes that these norms were already in place at that time. In virtue of the Bull of Paul III in 1535, the foundress already enjoyed the faculty of providing “statutes and ordinances” for the community. The document is important because it shows what was known about the strict kind of enclosure and austerity that was already being practiced in this new reform.

It was probably under the influence of the Capuchins, who were appointed to be their spiritual directors in 1538, that Maria Longo developed the desire to immerse herself and her spiritual daughters in a strict enclosure that went beyond what was laid down in the Rule. The community found an appropriate balance under the guidance of the Capuchins.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1951-1953.

Maria Laurenza Longa, unworthy servant of Christ.

In addition to the very holy prescriptions that are contained in the Rule and way of life which the nuns observe fervently and with great devotion, we also do not want any outsider, of whatever rank, to enter the convent at any time or for whatever reason.

The chaplain should speak to the nuns, hear their confessions. He should conduct their funerals from the church and the nuns will respond from inside the enclosure.

The Doctor or Surgeon can attend to the nuns through the grate examining them and testing their blood pressure when necessary.

When they are to be buried or cut nobody is ever to be allowed to enter the enclosure. The nuns shall take care of one another being mindful that everyone is going to die.

Whatever is delivered and cannot be passed through the revolving window shall be received through the first and second door and the nuns will collect it without meeting anybody and covering their faces before they pick it up.

Visitation is to be conducted through the grate. The one conducting the visitation shall call the nuns at the proper time and carry out his duty. He is not allowed to enter the convent for any reason whatsoever, but should do what he must do as God shall inspire him remaining outside.

The Bishop is never to be allowed to enter the convent either to correct or discipline the nuns, to confirm the election of the Abbess or remove her. He should do what is necessary through the grate.

We request that the same thing apply to everyone, nobles, spiritual or temporal authorities even if they have permission for the Apostolic See.

The nuns ask that these regulations be diligently observed for the salvation of their souls and for the love of Jesus Christ to whom they have offered themselves in perpetual enclosure and poverty.

Datum Napoli die V octobris 1583, in the fourth year of the Pontificate of Paul III, Supreme Pontiff.

Maria Laurenza was a holy woman and foundress of the convent of Santa Maria di Jerusalem in Naples. She was the first to launch a reform that followed the regulations laid down by Blessed Colette and she is still living there in the enclosure. Therefore, whatever she said should be observed. We have done this up to the present, except for the administration of Extreme Unction that may be performed inside the convent.

11. The customs that were observed in S. Maria di Gerusalemme

This list of observances was attached to the text of the Rule and Constitutions of St Colette in the convent at Milan. From the content, we may conclude that this document was apparently sent from the monastery of the Theatines perhaps at the request of the Procurator of the Order.

I frati cappuccini IV, 1957-1959.

What is contained in the following chapter does not bind under pain of sin, but should be observed when appropriate.

The convent of S. Maria in Hierusalem in the city of Naples is to observe ad litteram the First Rule of Blessed Clare as reformed by Blessed Colette. So that this Rue may be observed certain customs should be followed. Here are some of the most important.

  1. As the Rule states, the nuns are to be received without asking for a dowry or for any of the worldly possessions of the one who wishes to enter in order to serve God. What is required is fervent charity and free choice.
  2. Children shall not be accepted. Candidates are to be mature and know how to choose between good and evil. According to their age, they should be given sufficient time while still at home to prove that they can observe the Rule. What is more they should know what is laid down by the Rule.
  3. Their habits should be plain both with respect to the colour and cost. They shall sleep on planks on which they may place straw and cover themselves as necessary with white sheets. Those who are sick may use straw mattresses.
  4. They shall eat sparingly and fast on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  5. They shall fast throughout the year except on Sunday.
  6. They shall own nothing either personally or in common. They shall be very careful not to have anything forbidden by the Rule. Whatever comes in by way of alms or is sent by their family, shall be shared by all. They shall not ask friends or relatives to send them presents, especially at harvest time.
  7. They should be particularly careful about speaking to people both seculars and religious. They are forbidden to speak to family members. No one, of whatever rank, is to enter the convent for any reason. The doctor may enter when absolutely necessary.
  8. There shall be a window in the infirmary through which a doctor may see the sick person and take her pulse.
  9. There shall be an iron grate in the parlous which shall have a curtain that shall only be raised when the Abbess is elected or the preacher is preaching.
  10. No other footwear shall be worn except what is the same as that worn by the Capuchins and it shall be made of leather.

12. Practices adopted by the convent of S. Barbra in Milan

In 1584 san Carlo Borromeo transformed a community living in the convent of S. Barbara into a community of Capuchinesses. It developed its own customs which we summarise below.

I frari cappuccini IV, 1982-1984.

A report concerning the main things that we Capuchins observed at S. Barbara.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph

  1. We own nothing, neither in common or personally, but rely on alms gathered during the quest for what we need. Therefore, we often suffer from not having enough of what is necessary for both those who are sick and those who are well.
  2. We wear nothing on our feet both during winter or summer.
  3. We go around dressed in grey course garments, without a blouse or anything on our skin even when we are sick or in danger of death.
  4. We sleep, dressed in the habit with a cord, on planks covered with a small piece cloth. Those who are sick or dying may sleep on a sack filled with straw.
  5. We rise at two in the morning during winter and summer. From the Feast of the Holy Cross in September until Easter we undertake an hour of mental prayer after reciting Matins. We sing very slowly in choir, always standing without any support and this is very painful.
  6. We take the discipline on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We add a fourth discipline on the last three days of Carnevale to atone for sinners. On the fourth Saturday we recite the seven penitential psalms going barefoot in procession with a rope around our neck. This is our way of celebrating Carnevale.
  7. We fast every day except Sunday and Christmas Day. Even though we have a meal on those days, we never eat meat. Someone who is under Doctor’s orders may eat meat.
  8. In addition to every Friday, we observe four Lenten periods during the year so that we are eating a Lenten diet during the middle of the year. We often fast on bread and minestra and do other penance at the discretion of the superior.
  9. We usually eat common food drinking a little wine sometimes to give it some taste, but we usually take it with pure water.
  10. We observe silence for most of the day and once a nun has made profession she does not speak with her family or anyone else except when she is exercising the duty of doorkeeper.
  11. Each day we recite the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin and perform many other devotions. Each day we spend two hours in mental prayer as a community, and much of this is spent on our knees.
  12. We observe obedience in all matters both spiritual and material. We are humble and subject to the superior so that we may act like children who do not do what they want to do. We act in the same way with nuns who have spent less time than us in religion or who are younger than we are, so that we may be under the feet of others until we die.
  13. What is more, since we are not to speak with others, it means that this takes a lot of effort to always be humble when washing clothes, gathering wood, sweeping the place, cooking, caring for the sick, assisting the dying, and laying out their bodies or doing anything else. Mortification is required everywhere, even in the church, refectory, or the workplace. Our Superiors often correct us even in public and sometime when we have done nothing wrong.
  14. The first four years are spent in the rigorous conditions of the noviciate with the novice speaking to no one either outside or within the noviciate without the permission of the Novice Mistress.

Anyone who wishes to join the Capuchinesses should know how to read well because she must read in public in the refectory during meals and read the readings in the choir.

What is more, to lead the life of the Capuchinesses one should be physically healthy and strong, and have a strong desire to suffer until she dies. One needs to have a strong stomach as well as a strong mind to endure the fasts and lengthy vigils, to be dedicated to spiritual matters and mental prayer and to be continually focused on the presence of God.

She must be capable of not yielding to depression because this way of life is dismal, without any amusement. In order to carry such a burden, it is necessary that a person be gifted with a happy generous personality and capable of carrying the cross until death.

Praise be to Most Holy Jesus!