Witness Statements in the Canonical Processes


Introduction by Costanzo Cargnoni OFM Cap

Translated by Patrick Colbourne OFM Cap

Translator’s note: This translation is based on the introduction, text and footnotes which were published by P. Costanzo Cargnoni O.F.M. Cap. in I Frati Cappuccini: Documenti e testimonianze del primo secolo, Edizioni Frate Indovino, Perugia, vol III/2, pp.4625-4646.

Table of Contents


1. Saints and sanctity today and yesterday

2. Canonical processes as historical documents

3. The first three processes of canonisation in the history of the Capuchins in Italy

4. Models of Capuchin life and sanctity

5. Provisional conclusion


Just as in the spiritual writings we came to know the ascetical and mystical theory of sanctity in how it was thought about, lived and proposed by the Capuchin friars, and in the evangelisation and apostolic works, explained by them in a variety of ways, we were able to verify the multiple forms of vitality in the apostolic activity of the Order, so too, by means of the testimonials to the personal experiences of the first holy Capuchins we see how these principles were expressed in the sanctity and apostolate of the friars. These two features are unambiguous characteristics of evangelical and Franciscan ‘perfection’ and sanctity.

1. Saints and sanctity today and yesterday

From the time that the first group of Capuchin friars came together in seclusion in the hermitage at Albacina the regulations that they drew up placed great emphasis on the need to “read the lives of the saints and what they had to say” and to follow the teaching, example and conduct of those who were undoubtedly holy men.”[1] The guarantee that a real reform existed was seen to lie in the continual practice of exceptional virtue that was based on the tradition of authentic sanctity that was part of the charism of the Church and which included a programme of spirituality that was composed of elements of reform that were evangelical and Franciscan.

References to saints and to concrete examples were repeated many times in the Constitutions of Rome S. Eufemia in 1536. The saints and the Angels should be the “spiritual friends” of the friars.[2] Their example, “the holy example of the saints”,[3] clearly teaches how to practice “the evangelical virtues,”[4] and to solve every problem regarding observance of the Rule and the way of life of the Friars Minor, as well as how to develop an atmosphere of spiritual solitude in the friaries that they built outside the towns.[5] Imitating “the very holy Apostles and other saintly preachers, and aflame with divine love,” the friars should be inspired to preach penance.[6] “All our ancient saints” inspired the Capuchins to wear the beard,[7] and to engage in manual work.[8] It was also their custom to recite the Litany of the Saints before morning meditation and “invoke the saints to pray to God with us and for us.”[9]

From the very beginning the Capuchin friars loved the saints. They looked up to them, loved them, prayed to them, imitated them, promoted their cult and dispersed their relics. Among other things they exemplified the poverty and humility of St Francis and the apostolic zeal of St Paul.

Today there seems to be a certain hostility towards the saints. They appear to be fossils from the past who are incompatible with the modern mentality. Modern theology and devotion try to be decisively Christocentric saying that Christ is at the centre by His presence in His Word and in the Church. He is the sole Mediator, the only holy one, the only Lord. Yet, the Church is filled with saints. This is true even in modern times. Such dissatisfaction does not seem to be due to the saints but to the way they were defined and presented in the past. It is rather an objection to a kind of abstract and generic notion of sanctity and the desire to have the saints described in our concrete terms that we recognise as being unmistakable.

Most of all, modern hagiography wants to see more of the human character than the mystical and ascetical qualities of the saints. We want to know what makes them like us, rather than what made then different from us. Today we want to see a biography that is less abstract and more than a story about a person who was perfect from birth. We want to see the story of someone who developed humanly and psychologically.

As Paul VI said “the world of the saints is a world filled with wonder. The ancient writers appreciated this more than we do and they looked for what was astounding and miraculous in the lives of the saints and they told the story using narratives that were full of details that were perhaps too legendary, unusual and extraordinary. However, they understood that a Christian life that is truly animated by faith and grace, has to be wonderful. Modern writers are more critical and prudent, but if they are wise, even they, discover what is beyond purely human capability.”[10]

We shall study the means of transmission of the evidence that proves the existence of sanctity and look for the factors that portray the image of a saint. To do this it is necessary to see what the Church does in processes of canonisation. It is a human task and therefore can be approached using the methods of historical research and the study of human behaviour. However, as far as Christians are concerned saints are also signs of the Spirit at work in the world and the Church recognises the authenticity of this action. Therefore, canonisation is not just a projection of the image that the Church has of its own nature, not just a catalogue of memories or traditions from the past. What is collected are reliable proofs that are recognised as such. They are testimonies of what the Spirit does in human activities. Indeed, for the communion of saints, which is the Church, they are a part of what we have inherited. At this level the historical study becomes a theological study and the traditional concept of what is involved in canonised sanctity.

The consideration of historical, psychological, sociological and theological factors is indispensable in modern research into the lives of the saints. We shall consider these factors as we investigate the early Capuchins who are saints.

2. Canonical processes as historical documents

This study of Capuchin sanctity in the first century of the Order is based exclusively on evidence that is contained in the processes of canonisation. Following the fundamental research carried out by André Vauchez, these processes have been recognised as important sources for reconstructing the way of life and the way of thinking that existed in the past.[11]

Most of these processes have not been published. Parts of them appear in some studies or can be read in literary reviews. The Bollandists quote fragments but regard them as not that important because they are repetitive. They have never received the attention that they deserve.

However, these documents are important, and they have captured the attention of modern scholars. A. Vauchez says; “the statements in the texts provide us with information not only about the life of the Servants of God but also about how their contemporaries remembered them, that is they give us a precise idea of what they thought about sanctity. This is what makes them so precious to present day historians who are quite sensitive about how people thought and what was their outlook. The attention that is being given to processes of canonisation is part of a growing trend that over a period of time has been looking for sources that had been overlooked for a long time when the focus was on getting the facts. Making use of the processes of canonisation we succeed in gathering information about what were very different social and cultural situations as they were reported by people who were there or who had been told about them. At the same time, we gain an insight into what they thought about Christian perfection and human achievements.”[12]

Leaving aside the heavy terminology, the documents enable us to get a glimpse into the way sanctity was perceived at the time and what signs were looked for as identifying i servi Dei.

These processes have been criticised for making certain criteria essential signs of sanctity. It was said that the accounts lacked spontaneity and did not go beyond the form of articuli interrogatorii, “the main purpose of which was to show how the person had certain traits, or was the object of local veneration, according to criteria set up by the Church.”[13] J. G. Schmitt called this “fabricating saints.”[14] It implied transforming the life of a man into the life of a saint.

Even just from the documents that we have chosen the reader can discover much more than annoying repetitions and compliance with the official mode of asking questions. The network of countless statements can be put aside easily or perhaps unconsciously so that the statements seem to be spontaneous. If the formula used at times seems to have been made up by the postulator in order to provoke an answer, we should remember that those being questioned were often lay brothers or ordinary people who did not know theology or scholastic terminology and who spoke in a simple way that depended on what they had heard in sermons about the saint, or what their superior had told them while they were novices.

This type of literature is very important. The saints not only paint a picture of who they were, but also of the social and ecclesiastical setting that produced them or, in the case of the Capuchin Order, the institution that formed them. As R. Grégoire said: “Each saint belongs to a group. He provides an example for those who belong to that group who look up to him as a model which they have already defined.”[15]

The sanctity that is presented in the processes is a reflection of the image of sanctity that was shared by many people who knew the person.[16] However, the processes of canonisation should not be understood solely in terms of sociology. They should also be analysed in the light of hagiography, which, according to E. Menestò, is “always the way to determine what is special about sanctity.”[17]

Therefore, we need to define who are the various ones who are involved and who are the witnesses. In general, what is said about sanctity is the expression of opinions of people who have never left the locality. However, for some saints such as San Giuseppe da Leonessa and San Lorenzo da Brindisi the evidence comes from a much wider cultural and geographical setting.

While the pressure of popular acclaim is necessary it is not enough to have a person declared a saint. By way of an interesting example, we have chosen two “saints” who have not yet been declared saints even though the canonical process has been completed.

The normal course of the process involves various phases. The first involves the existence of the reputation for sanctity in a Servant of God. This is conducted by means of a local enquiry undertaken by the local Bishop or the Superior of the Order in order to bring the merits of the saint to the attention of the Holy See. It consists of information de fama et miraculis in genere. The next step is inquisitio in partibus. This is conducted by three ecclesial judges in the place where the saint lived or where he was buried, and it involves witnesses who have been chosen by the postulator or the judges. It all takes place in a sacred place, either a church or a chapel. There are many sessions which could go on for months with a procession of people from all walks of life being questioned. The mass of testimonies provides the historian with a valuable assortment of documents.

The depositions are faithfully registered by a notary, who makes another authentic copy which is signed by the judges, the Promotor of the Faith, and the Notary. The document is then sent to the Congregation of Rites together with a document, prescribed by Urban VIII, which states that the saint has not been publicly venerated already. Then the apostolic procedure begins. With the authorisation of the Congregation of Rites the Bishop appoints a tribunal. This all takes place at the local level to assure the continuity of the person’s reputation for holiness after the collection of information has ended. It promotes the person’s reputation for heroic sanctity and provides for miracles that happened during or after his life. The Notary records all of this. Finally, everything is forwarded to the Congregation to make a definitive decision.[18]

In practice the whole process is based on the characteristics of holiness which are the practice of the virtues and the religious vows. Perhaps, this concept of sanctity has been somewhat put aside in the modern revival of hagiographical studies. Claudio Leonardi has observed correctly: “the saint’s life has, above all, been seen in relationship to the milieu in which it is lived out, and also, and often preferably, understood as a reflection of a mentality, whether that of those who hold power or of those who want to overthrow that power, and therefore in need of heroes modelled on the basis of those desires… What was especially interesting was to see reflected in the life of the saint the history of his time, more than just his own history, that is, the history whereby a man reaches perfection and becomes a model of perfection.”[19]

3. The first three processes of canonisation in the history of the Capuchins in Italy

Before embarking on an analysis of the processes of canonisation we want to describe the documentary material that we have chosen. We have chosen eight processes of canonisation that took place over a period of about fifty to sixty years between 1582 and 1641 because this was an important period for the development of the norms that the Church established for identifying saints. These are the years that include the Pontificates of Sixtus V and Urban VIII and the establishment of the Congregation of Rites by Sixtus V on 22nd January 1587, the decrees of Urban VIII in 1625 and, most of all, the Brief Caelestis Hierusalem cives that set down the requirements pertaining to canonisation which became the juridical stage in a centralised, bureaucratic process.

Showing a certain amount of distrust in miracles, which in the past had been emphasised, this system tried to collect information from contemporary witnesses about how the saint had lived a life of virtue.[20] It wanted to know what had happened rather than what pious people remembered. Delooz observed that the more this approach developed the more profane the methodology became until the process was almost the same as a public or criminal investigation.[21]

Obviously, this new methodology has affected the numerous testimonials we are about to study.

Another element that should be considered is the attitude towards the Counter reformation which influenced some of the processes as can be seen in the way the saint is presented as supporting what was defined at Trent, including authentic doctrine, commitment to the Church, heroic virtue and some certified miracles.[22]

Finally, these processes describe a particular social, religious and cultural environment and how it understood sanctity and the image that Capuchins wanted to portray at that time. In other words, they tried to see what were the ideals of sanctity that were in vogue at the time and how they were in harmony with the contemporary development of political and social structures.

Two of the processes deal with lay brothers who died in the sixteenth century, namely Felice da Cantalice (+ 1587) and Raniero da Borgo S. Sepolcro (+ 1589). The other six friars all died in the seventeenth century. Two were lay brothers: Serafino da Montegranaro (+ 1604) and Geremia da Valacchia (+ 1625), four were Capuchin priests: Lorenzo da Brindisi (+ 1619), Giuseppe da Leonessa (+ 1625), Benedetto da Urbino (+1625) and Francesco da Bergamo (+ 1626). The others came from the first decades of the seventeenth century.

The cultural and geographical area is centred in and around central Italy: Rome, Todi, Spoleto, Ascoli, Piceno, Fermo and Fossombrone with an excursion to Naples for Geremia da Valacchia. The most extensive European process involves Lorenzo da Brindisi, and it stretches geographically from Monaco di Bavaria to Spain. The areas touched on include Venice and Lombardy (Milan, Venice, Bassano, Verona, Villafranca), parts of Liguria (Genoa, Albenga) and Naples.[23]

Not all of the eight cases reached the end of the process of canonisation in the period of time that we cover. The earliest one was St Felice da Cantalice who was Beatified in 1625, but not canonised until 1712. For all the others the process dragged across two centuries. Serafino da Montegranaro was beatified in 1729 and canonised in 1767. Giuseppe da Leonessa was beatified in 1733 and canonised in 1767. Giuseppe da Leonessa was beatified in 1733 and canonised in 1746. Lorenzo da Brindisi was beatified in 1783 and canonised in 1881. The four Saints were followed by Blessed Benedetto Passionei in 1867 and Blessed Geremia da Valacchia in 1983. Two others, Br Raniero and Father Francesco Passeri were submitted to the inquisitio de vita et virtutibus, miraculis et fama between 1627 and 1792 but the process was put aside. It was raised again at the beginning of 1644 and subsequently raised for a second time in 1785. However, the testimonies are important because the opening of a canonical inquiry is already a tacit kind of recognition of the sanctity of the person and of the devotion that is being shown towards him. We have included this material because it gives us an insight into what people thought constituted sanctity and that is we want to study.

There is another quite important insight that can be deduced from the testimonies that were delivered before ecclesiastical judges. For a complete picture of this it would be necessary to see all the texts in the file containing the processes. Obviously, this was not possible because of the amount of material and the large number of people who were questioned. Still, what we have selected is very informative and more than enough to gain a glimpse of the concept of Capuchin sanctity.

Altogether, we have collected 128 testimonies. Eighty-four of these were delivered by Capuchin friars, forty-one of whom were lay brothers, thirty-eight by secular lay people, of whom fourteen were women and, finally five by church officials. In other words, two thirds of them come from a religious background.

Perhaps you might say that it would have been better to omit the testimony of lay brothers and that this would have shown more impartiality. However, more than anything else, we wanted to see what the friars thought about sanctity, whether they were priests or lay brothers, that is, what was their concept of sanctity and what did the Order think at that time. In fact, the testimonies cover a period of time that lasted from thirty-four to ninety years (from the case of Father Bonifacio d’Anticoli to the process for St Felice da Cantalice) which is a lengthy span of religious life, and which expresses itself in terminology that was crafted in a Capuchin environment.

Many of the lay brothers were uneducated and their testimonies are often filled with wonder, spontaneity, and simplicity. On the other hand, the testimonies given to the questions of the postulators by priests who were preachers were more erudite and were expressed in theological language. However, sometimes they produce something that is new, interesting, and original.

Those who were not Capuchins and who were interviewed came from a variety of occupations. Some were priests. One was a Canon, another a Parish Priest, another an Abbot. Many were simple citizens who lived in the town including wealthy men and women, members of confraternities, doctors, lawyers, widows, domestic servants, a worker and a girl aged nineteen. There was also an artist. All these give us an insight into how people understood sanctity at that time.

The last factor to be highlighted is the type of questions that were being asked and the kind of responses that were given. According to the traditional procedure of an inquisitio each witness introduced himself giving the relevant details contained on his “identity card”, stating what he did and proving the truth of what he was about to say by stating when he last received the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. He stated what he knew about the saint’s way of life through personal contact and what he had learnt from others who knew the saint. He then stated what he knew about the saint when he lived in the world and after he joined religious life.

The procedure in the process for saint Felice da Cantalice gives us some idea of how it was done in the past when there was not as much emphasis placed on the theological, cardinal or moral virtues as there would be in later processes. The witness was questioned about de eius vita et conversatione in religione, et presertim de oboedientia, paupertat, humilitate, patientia, constantia ac observantia Regulae et officio (the person’s life and behaviour in religion, especial with respect to obedience, poverty, humility, patience, perseverance and observance of the Rule and recitation of the office.) Information about these virtues was linked with his personal actions and sayings and any miracles in vita et post mortem, and anything that was remarkable.

The procedure in the articuli interrogatorii and in other processes was centred more clearly on the life, the theological and cardinal virtues, the vows, the miracles, prophesies, visions and revelations. This resulted in a clearer reconstruction of the main stages in the life of the saint, put together in chronological order, because of which, some processes, especially that of saint Lorenzo da Brindisi, seem to be short biographies, even if there is no strict adherence to a timeline since the text does not give the precise time of the events that are being described.

The texts pay special attention to the last illness and death of the saint and also to the physical signs post mortem that the saint was chosen by God. These include a beautiful facial expression, pleasing perfume, bodily flexibility, miracles and the presence of crowds of people etc. In the final analysis every aspect of the candidate’s life is subjected to meticulous investigation and so it is possible to recall all the moments in the saint’s life that were ablaze with numerous edifying miracles and stories about virtues.

4. Models of Capuchin life and sanctity

The pattern of sanctity that was acknowledged in the various processes is closely linked to a Franciscan concept of sanctity and the strict observance of the precepts of the Rule. As far as these saintly Capuchins were concerned the Rule was not just an ideal that provided inspiration but a genuine guide for achieving perfection and only by the literal observance of the Rule could one move closer to the perfection of the Founder. Conformity to Christ could be achieved by being conformed to Francis, because they regarded the Poverello as the forma minorum. All of this was supported by the evangelical, apostolic and seraphic spirituality proposed in the Capuchin Constitutions which, in practice, were the authentic expression of holiness as conformity to Christ and Francis and the most authentic norm and guarantee of a continued faithfulness.

In fact, it is possible to find many expressions in the depositions which contain the same words as the words that are used in the Constitutions. The saint is remembered for what he did each day, for his asceticism, his silence, for what he said and for his deeds and actions. Special attention is paid to how he went about his activities, how he conducted himself, what he wore, the way he walked, ate, and slept, how he fasted, the corporal penances he undertook, how he mortified himself, how he prayed continuously, especially at night, how he showed charity towards the poor and those who are weak, his avoidance of praise, and how he conducted himself with submission and obedience, what he read or listened to, his devotional practices, his bodily penances, and how his heart was moved towards inner union.

The Capuchin saint should not keep his devotion within himself but should show it by means of many clear and observable signs. His actions are signs, in the Augustinian sense of the word. They are a kind of language, and like all languages, they are produced by patterns of thought which are influenced by both cultural and spiritual factors that had been taught during the noviciate under the direction of the master and the superiors.

These activities are impressed on the mind in the context of the environment in which the saint lives, be it in the friary or outside the friary, in the city, in the countryside, during vigils, during sermons, while questing up and down the street, during his conversations with people of all ages and from all walks of life. When his convictions are manifested in actions, they give Capuchin holiness the strength to produce interior Franciscan conversion. This creates a Franciscan environment that fosters a return to the primitive Franciscan spirit as well as to the original spirit of Christianity.

Religious spirituality comes to life. Piety becomes heartfelt rather than intellectual. Discipline becomes rigorous and manifests itself in intense acts of penance. The saint appears to be caught up in the daily life of the other friars of whom there were quite a number at the time. This promoted the tendency for superiors to be authoritarian in the running of the fraternity and this created more difficulties for the saintly lay brothers than for priests and preachers. What Valeriano Magni had to say about this is interesting.[24]

In reading these processes we come to realise that of the many friars who lived with these saints few of them recognised these exceptional friars. Superiors tend to hide these things while the saint survived by keeping silent, or laughing it off.

The extraordinary and continual travels of St Lorenzo da Brindisi are recorded in the processes by those who went with him. This is also true, but to a lesser extent, of St Giuseppe da Leonessa. The processes were usually more likely to report what happened in the daily life within the friary especially during the night and at dawn, when the image of the saint appears to acquire a special glow. However, for the whole time, whether day or night, the saint is described as being continually immersed in silence and prayer, as if he were absorbed in God and incessantly preoccupied with prayer and devotion.

However, his daily life was not repetitive or monotonous as if he were robotic and had no soul and kept on repeating what he was doing. He lived a very dynamic life which actively sought after new inner spiritual experiences.

Priority was given to liturgical sequence of the day which dictated the time for daily prayer, devotional practices, mortification, manual labour, study, preaching and apostolate. Nevertheless, the saint moved freely, within the concrete circumstances of the day fitting in times for prayer, penance devotional practices and acts of general and fraternal charity. Not all the saints enjoyed good health and yet they succeeded in being as strong as iron and enduring strict poverty because it was “an act of pure love” and was more mystical than ascetical. They undertook activities that were hard for them, but they did it joyfully without appearing to suffer.

The fundamental perception is that life in community is made up of a succession of events that include doing the necessary work that is linked to the seasons of the year, doing what is required in the friary, such as catering for guests, travellers, religious, the profession of novices and young friars, and assisting clerics and preachers to study, helping those who are sick inside and outside the friary, attending to poor people who knock on the door as well as those who live nearby or who are lying in the street and providing for them when they fall sick, die or need a funeral.

At a deeper level they have to actively provide for movements in the inner life, spiritual struggles and the desire for peace and quiet of spirit. It means that in everything that he has to do the saintly friar should be humble, practice simplicity of heart and be patient, be punctual and available, and most of all, overflow with mercy, consolation, spiritual happiness and joy and “always have a cheerful expression,” as one witness put it.

Let us now talk about the various kinds of sanctity dealt with by A. Vauchez. We might say that in general the Capuchin saints possessed the characteristics that were common in the vicinity of the Mediterranean. They were saints who normally loved sleeping on the bare ground, saints who were hermits and lived an introverted life, and who were well-known for practicing excessive asceticism. This implied that there was an implicit relationship between asceticism and sanctity. What is more they were saints “who were famous because, as a sign of what was required for perfection, they had given up what ordinary people enjoyed. They were detached from worldly goods, had renounced the pleasures of the senses, had abandoned their own will to aspire to profound humility and the exercises of penance.” This involved the community when it came to abstinence in food, the length of time for fasting and the intensity of privations. However, they also practiced voluntary penances: severe scourging, very harsh discipline, prolonged abstinence, rough clothing, unshod feet, long night vigils and heavy manual work. It was a spirituality that was explicitly focused on the persistent meditation of the Passion of Christ with the objective of reliving the sufferings and humility of Christ.[25]

Vauchez observed: “In the countries around the Mediterranean, especially Italy, the emotion that the faithful experienced when they saw a life lived in renunciation played a great part in determining what constituted sanctity. Even before it was manifested through miracles, sanctity was proved by how life was lived … The endurance of suffering was more effective when it was undertaken voluntarily for the love of God or neighbour. Thus, ascetical practices such as poverty and chastity which were aimed at ridding the body of sin also enabled the saint to become like Christ who was humble and who suffered. Sanctity was the fruit of a religious experience and most people thought that nothing would prove its existence more than a life of renunciation.”[26]

To a certain extent these Capuchin saints revived the way that hermits had lived in the past which meant living an austere life, living alone, being men of prayer and austerity and practicing voluntary penance when eating, when sleeping, when awake and when working. During the Middle Ages people admired saintly hermits instinctively. The anchorite was surrounded with respect because of his exceptionally ascetical lifestyle on account of which it was almost a miracle that he was still alive. This made him a unique person. By going beyond what was normal he deserved to be visited and revered while he was still alive.

The same could be said of the saintly Capuchins who were “persecuted” for having a good reputation. (This was especially true of Lorenzo da Brindisi). What is more, they also possessed some of the spiritual features of the ancient flagellants even though they were more directly connected to the spirituality of the Mendicant Orders.

Once again, the asceticism and mortification that they practiced was foremost as an instrument of renunciation and a manifestation of a desire to be conformed to the suffering Christ. However, the driving force behind this type of sanctity originated within the Church and can be found in the apostolate, the desire to win souls over to God, the spiritual zeal for the salvation of souls, even to the point of actually laying down one’s life, rather than just desiring to be martyred. Thus, there is a connection with the world and with one’s neighbour, that is manifested in a willingness to show compassion to the point of tears for those who are suffering in spirit or in the flesh and to show charity especially towards the poor, those in distress, those who are sick and the socially excluded.

In addition to all of these there was great love of Scripture, the Word of God, continual personal prayer and contemplation as well as common prayer and the liturgy. This was joined to unquenchable charity, perfect obedience, radical poverty and strict observance of the Rule.

These are the characteristic of the saintly Capuchins. Some have been influenced by the Counter reformation; San Felice da Cantalice, Raniero da Borgo S. Sepolcro and Blessed Geremia da Valacchia are less so. Whereas greater counter reformation influence can be noted in Serafino da Montegranaro and Benedetto Passionei, Giuseppe da Leonessa and Lorenzo da Brindisi, who is more European in outlook. Franceso a Bergamo, who speaks with the simplicity of a “simple” priest, is closer to the spirituality of saint Felice exhibiting some elements of the “will of God” aligned to the mysticism of Tauler and Canfield, which was popular at the time.

These saints spent more time in the friary during the night than during the day. They were not so attached to penitential solitude and contemplation that they did not manifest their virtues outside the friary both by means of their itinerant apostolate of evangelisation and the hard work of continuous preaching and by giving good example and performing works of mercy. Consequently, many people of all ages, both the poor and the rich, knocked on the door of the friary as if it were their last chance to find hope and obtain spiritual riches and discover how to live a holy life.

All of them sought to be close to the victim of Calvary and to identify themselves with the suffering Christ by inflicting voluntary acts of penance on themselves because they regarded themselves to be present-day “hermits”, present-day “penitents”, present-day “flagellants”. However, even though all of these were signs of sanctity, they were not the essential component of spirituality. They wanted to die to sin more than to die to themselves. Therefore, they did not want to just put pressure on their body and cause it to experience physical pain. They wanted to conquer the world and worldly desires by imitating Jesus as closely as possible by living in conformity with the Gospel and this involved being humble and surrendering one’s own will.

In other words, if we want to understand the evidence in the testimonies and what they say about the saints, we should consider not only the historical facts but also the frame of mind that is presenting the facts as something that we ought to imitate. We will then see that we are faced with much more than an account of disciplinary activity but are also being introduced into a wonderful spiritual experience that differs according to the character and temperament of each saintly person.

It is what constitutes this spiritual experience in its various manifestations that we need to absorb. There are words in the testimonies, certain examples and certain stories that repeatedly emphasise a specific concept of sanctity.

For example, there is a presumption that a saint can be recognised more easily during than the night than during the day. This is because he tends to hide himself during the day, he is reserved, and is not easily recognised and can keep doing what the community is doing so that the community would be amazed to discover that he was a saint. However, in the silence and the dark of the night, when everyone was asleep, he is awake, and when nobody can see him, he takes himself off in fervent love and silence to pray before the Crucifix or the Tabernacle in the church where he uses wonderful gestures. He did not realise that some “prying” eyes might be watching. The nocturnal vigils reported in the testimonies are among some of the most beautiful accounts of the kind of sanctity which was hidden by day but at night shone sicut dies.

Something which took place during the day, and which is often reported in the testimonies is the variety of “tasty” foods that were rejected by the saints at meals, their creativity in penitential practices and their voluntary asceticism in addition to what was prescribed in the Capuchin modus vivendi.

The processes often contain detailed reports about the friendships of these saints, which friars they liked the most and who they confided in. However, these recollections should be taken with caution since they are often reported with the use of flowery language.

A topic that reoccurs frequently focuses on the worship of the Incarnation (the infant Jesus), Christ’s Passion and how the Eucharist should be adored, celebrated, visited and received with insatiable hunger and thirst. This is accompanied with a feeling of tenderness towards our Lady, and a special love for the angels and the saints, particularly St Francis.

In addition to the theological and cardinal virtues and the vows, the virtues that appear most frequently in the articuli interrogatorii are very strict poverty that is joined to humility and self-contempt, simplicity, uprightness and joy, and, most of all, charity and love together with prompt willingness to provide for all kinds of needs both within and beyond the friary. This comes from the spiritual charism of being merciful and giving consolation in seeking the salvation of souls through the apostolate and priestly work.

It would now be very interesting and informative to make a comparison between the eight examples of Capuchin sanctity that we have chosen. However, we shall leave this up to the reader as it would be too much for us. This kind of sanctity challenges us. It reveals the stains on our conscience, shows up our hidden way of excusing ourselves, our faulty reasoning and our superficiality, what we talk about but do not practice. In fact, Capuchin spirituality is a book that should be written in daily life under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in the light of what the Gospel teaches about the life and death of Jesus Christ. It should be written with the living blood of the Crucified with the objective of conforming to the poverty, humility and charity of the Incarnation, the Passion, the Eucharist and the Church in the way that the Poverello of Assisi passed this on to the Order and the Capuchin Friars Minor.

5. Provisional conclusion

These testimonies are meditations that present sanctity in a concrete manner within the context of a specific society. They are always incomplete models that do not exhaust all aspects of Christian sanctity, but make them accessible. They show us real people and how they lived in a way the made it easier to make concrete decisions. The saints make us look into our lives, set them in motion, inspire our emotions. Their power to persuade comes from the concrete character of want they did. It is therefore impossible for us to read their lives in the way that their contemporaries read them. Their lives are mirrors through which we come to know ourselves.

However, we should not think, as was said a few years ago in the review Concilium, that they are outdated models and, because they are old-fashioned stereotypes, that they could place obstacles in our path, or that they did not know how to absorb what is new in the Gospel, the apostolate or contemplative life.[27]Actually by reading the testimonies it is possible to see how one saint is different from another and how each one has a different temperament. Each of them walks a different road that unfolds in a unique way. Nevertheless, they have a lot in common. They all have the same unambiguous underlying quality as if they had been moulded by the same artist or grown in the same nursery or been planted in the same garden and yet still retained their different colours.

This was explained by Pope Paul VI: “Sanctity is a way of life that is completely dedicated to God … It is lived in response to His call, and is completely absorbed in prayer and in the performance of spiritual exercises and in enjoying simple and spontaneous conversations with God. … It is a way of life which is based on two principles that manifest themselves in two ways. One way is internal, where conscience, free will, creativity and the individual’s temperament, although experiencing constant tension, come together peacefully, yet without calling a cease-fire, to work towards “a life of virtue” and perfection which is some cases involves being heroic. The other way is external and involves the law, the Rule. It means that the virtuous action becomes observable and manifests discipline. It looks up to a superior will and expression of wisdom that comes from the will of God and by means of divine inspiration. Because of this the saint is made more free than other people, and at the same time more docile and obedient. Because of the unique combination of spontaneity and conformity to traditional law, which the saint displays by his lifestyle, this way of life appears to be admirable and to change a way of life, no matter how humble it may be, into something that is a thing of human beauty.”[28]

In the eight processes of canonisation which have been chosen here the internal and external aspects of sanctity, which are evident in the Capuchin way of life, seem to be united in the material context of life in fraternity and the spiritual way of life taught in the programme of formation. The exterior elements have absorbed the life blood of Christian and Franciscan spirituality.

These individuals display the charism of the Order in practice. They display God’s goodness and how it is to transmitted in the mission that has been entrusted to us Capuchins by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the exemplary value of what they teach is not diminished by the passage of time. So, by dwelling on their lives, it is possible to gain present-day insight into what should be the “identity” of a Capuchin. From these processes of canonisation, we are able to deduce some of the fundamental features of the Order, and, ultimately, the most effective path for authentic renewal.

  1. Cf. Alb. 67: n.148.
  2. Const. 1536, n. 57, 8: n. 239.
  3. Ibid., n. 141: n. 411.
  4. Ibid., n. 64: n. 264.
  5. Cf. ibid., n. 77: n. 264.
  6. Cf. ibid., n. 118: n. 372.
  7. Ibid., n. 118: n. 372.
  8. Ibid. n. 65: n. 247.
  9. Ibid., 42: n. 217.
  10. Address 13th October 1963 during the beatification of Giovanni Nepomuceno Neuman. Cf. Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, vol. I 91963), Città del Vaticano 1965, 223s.
  11. Cf. A. Vauchez, La sainteté en occident aux demiers siècles du Moyen Age d’après les process de canonisation et les documents hagiografiques, Rome 1981; id., La santità nel Medioevo, Bologna 1989; id., Les laices au Moyen Age: Pratiques et experiences religeuses, Paris 1987.
  12. Cf. A. Vaunchez, La santità nel Medioevo, 13.
  13. Ibid., 14.
  14. Cf. J. C. Schmitt. La fabrique des saints, in Annales ESC 39 (1984) 286-300.
  15. Cf. R. Grégoire, Manuale di agiologia. Introduzione alla letteratura agiografica, Fabriano 1987, 64.
  16. Cf. P. Delooz, Sociologe et canonisations, La Haye 1969.
  17. Cf. E. Menesto, Il processo di canonizzazione di Chiara da Montefalco, Firenza Oerugia 1984, CI.VI.
  18. Regarding the declaration of sanctity and the juridical process of canonisation cf. P. Delooz, Sociologie et canonisatiions, 23-140.
  19. Cf. C. Leonardi, Santità femminile, santità ecclesiastica, in Il movimento religioso femminile in Umbria nei secoli XIII-XIV. Atti del Convengo internazionale … Cità di Castello, 27-28-29 ottobre 1982, a cura di R. Rusconi, Firenze 1984, 21.
  20. Cf. A. Rocca, De Sanctorum Canonizatione commentarius, Romae 1610, which describes the method used from the end of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth century and contains a lengthy treatment of the testimony of miracles.
  21. Cf. P. Delooz, Sociologie et canonisations, 38.
  22. Cf. R. Grégorire, Manuale di agiologia cit., 171. See also R. De Malo, L’ideale eroico nei processi di canonizzione della Controriforma, in id., Riforme e miti nella Chiesa del Cinquecento, Napoli 1973, 257-287, with a preface by a. Vauchez who said: “Contrary to what even some recent authors have said, other historians of spirituality say that the idea of heroic virtue did not originate with the Renaissance or the Counter reformation, even though it was commonly used after that.” (La santità nel Medioevo cit., 534 and note 42).
  23. Cf. Melchor de Pobladura, Los proceaos de beatificiὸ y canonizaciὸn del nuevo Doctor de la Iglesias san Lorenzo de Brindisi, in CF 29 (1959) 363-428.
  24. Cf. I Frati cappuccino Documenti e tetimonianze del primo secolo, vol (, 2042, n. 1895.
  25. Cf. A. Vauches, La santità nel medioevo cit., 149-151.
  26. Ibid., 179.
  27. Cf. Christian Duquoc, Modelli di santità, in Concilium 15/9 (1979) 21.
  28. From the homily on the occasion of canonisation of san Benildo dei Fratelli delle Scuole Cristiane, 29 ottobre 1967. Cf. Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, vol. V (1967), Città del Vaticano 1968, 572s.