Blessed Agnellus of Pisa

Franciscan Priest († 1236)

Agnellus was born in Pisa towards the end of the twelfth century. He entered the Order as a young man and was among those present at the Chapter of Mats. Saint Francis appointed him over the Custody of France, before sending him to England. He died in 1236 and the cult of Blessed Agnellus was formally confirmed in 1892 by Pope Leo XIII.

An excerpt from Butler’s Lives of the Saints

At the famous gathering, the Chapter of Mats, William the Englishman asked Francis to send friars to England, and Francis appointed Agnellus to found the Province, though the latter was still only a deacon. Of the seven brothers chosen to go with him, three were Englishmen, but none was in priestly orders. On their way through Paris they were joined by a devout English priest, Richard Ingworth, who received the habit from Agnellus and accompanied him to England. They had no money, and monks at Fécamp paid their passage to Dover. They made Canterbury their first stopping place, and four went on to London to see where they could settle. The rest were lodged at the Poor Priests House, sleeping in a building that was used as a school during the day. The community was penned up in a small room at the back and only after the scholars had gone home at night could they come out and make a fire for themselves. The time was March 1224, and the friars must have suffered great discomfort, especially as their ordinary fare was bread and a little beer, which was so thick that they had to dilute it first. The Provost of the Priests’ House built them a little church and would have given them a dwelling, but they said they could not own property. The matter was settled by making the dwelling over to the Corporation for use by the brethren. They had come with a commendatory letter from Pope Honorius III so that the Archbishop of Canterbury, announcing their arrival, said: “Some religious have come to me calling themselves Penitents of the Order of Assisi, but I call them the Order of the Apostles.” This is how they were first known; and when some of them were to be ordained acolyte at Canterbury Cathedral four months later, the archdeacon bade them come forward: “Come near, ye Brothers of the Apostles.”

When the London community was settled, Agnellus took charge of it. Matthew Paris speaks of the latter’s familiarity with King Henry III; and Henry gave them more than one grant of land for the foundation at Oxford. Agnellus established a teaching centre which greatly influenced the University at Oxford, and induced Grosseteste to act as lecturer there. Agnellus seems to have died at the age of forty-one, just eleven years after arriving at Dover. There remained a vivid memory of his zeal for holy poverty; the infirmary he built at Oxford “did not exceed the height of a man”. In 1233 he was chosen to negotiate with the rebellious Earl Marshal in the Marches of Wales, to bring him back to allegiance to the King. His health is said to have suffered by his efforts in this cause and by a long painful last journey to Italy. He returned to Oxford, where he died with intense suffering, continually praying: “Come, most sweet Jesus.”


Almighty God,
by whose grace Blessed Agnellus persevered
in imitation of Christ’s humility and poverty,
grant through his prayer that
we also may remain faithful to our vocation
and so come to that perfection
which you have set forth for us in your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.