Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order - February 17

StephenD'Souza Seven Holy Founders, also called Seven Servite Founders, was founded in the 13th century, The Order of Servites, or Servants of Mary, is an order of friars, who follow the rule of …More
StephenD'Souza Seven Holy Founders, also called Seven Servite Founders, was founded in the 13th century,
The Order of Servites, or Servants of Mary, is an order of friars, who follow the rule of Saint Augustine. It was instituted in Italy in the thirteenth century by seven rich men of Florence, and has for its special object meditation on the Dolours of the most holy Virgin, that its members may feel and share them with her, and propagate this devotion among the faithful.
The coming of the Friars marks the very heart of the Middle Ages. St. Dominic was born in 1170, St. Francis in n 82, St. Bonfilius, the eldest of the Servites, in 1198; and the special task of each of the three Orders was closely allied to those of the others. St. Dominic took the doctrine of Christ as his charge, to preach it everywhere, and set it forth in all its splendour; St. Francis embraced Christian morality, to practise it in all its heroism, and show the inexpressible sweetness which underlay its most austere observances. The Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order, like loving and tender children, devoted themselves to her, who had borne Christ Himself in her immaculate bosom, Christ, source of all truth and principle of all good; to her, the inseparable coadjutrix of Jesus in the redemption of souls; to her who gave to the world the Word full of grace and truth, the Saviour sacrificed in His infinite love for the salvation and the blessing of all men.
Thus while St. Dominic and St. Francis manifested Christ to those eager to know and to love Him, the seven Saints of Florence showed forth the sweet and radiant face of the Virgin, the Mother who from Bethlehem to Calvary encircles with the aureole of her love Him who wrought the glory of God, who is the Conqueror of souls.
Innocent III. was in the chair of St. Peter, keeping a brave heart among the many distractions of the Christian world. Germany was a prey to civil war between the Emperor Otho IV. and Philip of Swabia; France was under the glorious rule of Philip Augustus who, having returned from the third Crusade, conquered Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Poitou, but showed himself a true son of the Church in submitting wholly to Innocent in the question of his marriage, having wished to repudiate his wife Ingeburge. Not so John in England, more disloyal to the Holy See than any King of England, till he arose who brought about the great apostacy. Spain was in the agony of the Mahomedan invasion. In the East, Jerusalem had again fallen into the power of the Infidel, and the Pope incited and arranged the fourth Crusade. But the Eastern Empire alone fell, and the Holy Places were not freed.
Coming nearer to his own realm, the Pope looked out on a stormy and distracted land. Except the States of the Church and the kingdom of Sicily, then under a Regency, all the important towns were at strife with their neighbours, either forming round them independent communes, or becoming the centres of small republics. They lived in a state of perpetual feud, happy only if they had peace within their own borders, as Florence had for the moment. Later, in Dante's time, who probably knew some of the early Servite Saints, there were no less than seven intrenched camps belonging to different factions within the City of Florence itself. Though of course politically divided by the two great parties, the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, their dissensions were but political; war with those without had not become civil war.
The Church and the offices of religion constituted the whirlwind's heart of peace, and the many confraternities to which pious laymen belonged, brought men together, who would not otherwise have known each other, of all opinions and all stations. In them, Guelf and Ghibelline, merchant and prince, met on an equal footing. Such a Confraternity was that of the ” Laudesi,” or the Elder Society of Our Blessed Lady, founded in the year 1183. It was in fact just such a confraternity or sodality as we now know, mainly in connection with Jesuit churches, and under one of the titles of Our Lady. It was composed of the nobles and merchants of Florence, and met at the church of Santa Reparata. In the year 1233, just fifty years after its foundation, it numbered two hundred members, all of the best families in Florence, and was under the direction of a young priest, James of Poggibonsi.
Of these two hundred members, seven became the saintly founders of the Servite Order, and the Confraternity of the Laudesi was, in the good providence of God, to serve as their noviciate.
Bonfilius Monaldi was the eldest. He was born in 1198, the year of the election of Innocent III. The Monaldeschi, for such was the original name, were of French extraction, related to the royal House of Anjou. What may have been his occupation in the world is not known, but he was noted as being a young man of prayerful and ascetic life, who took the lead among his friends in all exercises of piety, so that, as soon as there was question among them of community life, they turned to him as their natural superior. He retained in religion his baptismal name.
Alexis Falconieri was born in 1200, of a noble family, originally of Fiesole, but long settled in Florence. He was the eldest son of Bernard Falconieri, a knight, and one of the merchant princes who created the greatness of his native city. The family were all strong adherents of the Pope, and opponents of the Emperor, in their unhappy quarrels. He made his course at the University, studying what were then known as the Humanities, Latin and Greek, the usual classical course, as well as belles lettres, with great success; but he was marked as especially prayerful, fond of reading religious books, and avoiding general society. At an early age he vowed himself to celibacy long before he knew what outward form his life would take. He never became a priest, but remained all his life Brother Alexis, he also keeping his own name.
Benedict de l'Antella was born in 1203, of a wealthy family, of foreign, perhaps German, or, as some think, Eastern extraction, who, long settled at Antella, had but recently come into Florence and become bankers. Benedict was extremely well educated, of very remarkable beauty, and called on by his position to mix much in society. He was afterwards known in religion as Father Manettus.
Bartholomew Amidei was born in 1204, of one of the oldest, richest, and most powerful families of the City. He claimed to be ancient Roman by origin. The Amidei were Ghibellines, and that Bartholomew received a most Christian education is among the many proofs that the bitter political strifes of the age were merely political, and hindered neither side from being good Catholics. His family, who lived much in the world, allowed him to follow a secluded and religious life, which found its natural development in a religious Order. He took in religion his family, rather than his baptismal, name.
Ricovero Uguccioni was born in the same year as Amidei, of a family both noble and mercantile. The lad was from a very early age remarkable for obedience, compassion for the poor, and love of solitude; he was devoted to pious reading, yet none the less was a leader among his young companions who looked to him in all things. In religion he was known as Hugh.
Gherardino Sostegni was born in 1205, of good family, but beyond this little is known of his worldly state. In religion he bore his family name Sostegni.
John Manetti was born in 1206; of the higher ranks of the Florentine aristocracy, both in birth and riches. In religion he was afterwards known as Fr. Buonagiunta, or Bienvenu.
Of these seven the eldest was thirty-four, the youngest about twenty-seven, when their great change in life came to them. They lived in various quarters of the city, they held divers views on politics, their one bond of union was the confraternity of Our Lady, though some among them knew one or two others with more or less intimacy. Monaldi, Amidei, Sostegni and Manetti were married, but Monaldi and perhaps another had already become widowers. Alexis Falconieri alone had, as has been said, taken a vow, but Antella and Uguccioni showed plainly to their families that their wishes tended in the same direction. There were many reasons why even those who sought after perfection should in Italy, and at that time, enter into the marriage state. The Cathari, a sect of heretics who had great success in Florence, made light of marriage, and under pretence of purity were grossly immoral. It was as necessary to uphold true purity by affording examples of holy married life, as of celibacy. But whether married, widowed, or single, these seven were especially eager after a life of perfection, in which they were aided, and to which they were stimulated, by their director.
No new development in the Church of God is sudden; and it had come to pass that Gregory IX. in his pontificate gave special favour to two devotions, afterwards to be so closely associated with the servants of Mary. These were the Angelus and the Salve Regina. In 1230 Ardingo de Forasboschi became Bishop of Florence, himself a native of the city, and belonging to one of the great Guelf families. Both on religious and on social grounds he had an especial affection to the Laudesi, and its members.
On the Feast of the Assumption, August, 15th 1233, these seven young men, with other members of the Laudesi, having confessed and communicated, were each and all making their thanksgiving after Mass. Each, unknown to those about them, fell into an ecstasy. Each seemed to himself surrounded by supernatural light, in the midst of which Our Lady appeared to them accompanied by angels, who spoke to each of them the words; “Leave the world, retire together into solitude, that you may fight against yourselves, and live wholly for God. You will thus experience heavenly consolations. My protection and assistance will never fail you.”
The vision faded, the congregation dispersed, only …
Saints of the Day: servites/ (Optional Memorial)