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Early Modern Mendicancy: Franciscan Practice in the Bohemian Lands



Using the example of the Bohemian Franciscan Province, and its Olomouc convent in particular, this paper analyses mendicancy after the Reformation. In the early modern period mendicancy remained an important practice in the Franciscan Order. Apart from its economic function, begging was also an important means of interaction between the friars and the people. It was a complicated exchange of goods and services, which helped the friars to secure their position in society and export elements of their spirituality outside the walls of their convents.



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1 For the role of medieval mendicancies see Prudlo, Donald (ed.), The origin, development, and refinement of medieval religious mendicancies, Leiden 2011 .

2 See, for example, Dipple, Geoffrey, Antifraternalism and anticlericalism in the German Reformation: Johann Eberlin von Günzburg and the campaign against the friars, Aldershot 1996 .

3 Szittya, Penn R., The antifraternal tradition in medieval literature, Princeton 1986 .

4 Moorman, John R. H., A history of the Franciscan Order from its origins to the year 1517, Oxford 1968, 583–4. See also Nimmo, Duncan, Reform and division in the medieval Franciscan Order: from Saint Francis to the foundations of the Capuchins, Rome 1987 .

5 Armstrong, Megan C., The politics of piety: Franciscan preachers during the Wars of Religion, 1560–1600, Rochester, NY 2004, 3359 .

6 Mendicancy is traditionally seen ‘as a severe form of poverty in which, not only the individual religious possessed no personal property, but the order as a whole had, in theory, no fixed sources of income and very little if any corporate property’. It must be also noted that a mendicant order ‘was not merely a generic term, it was a canonical category, guaranteeing such religious particular rights, in particular that of begging publicly for alms without permission of the local bishop’: Augustine Thompson, ‘The origins of religious mendicancy in medieval Europe’, in Prudlo, Medieval religious mendicancies, 3–30 at pp. 18–19.

7 See especially Forster, Marc R., ‘With and without confessionalization: varieties of early modern German Catholicism’, Journal of Early Modern History i/4 (1997), 315–43, and Pollmann, Judith, ‘Being a Catholic in early modern Europe’, in Bamji, Alexandra, Janssen, Geert H. and Laven, Mary (eds), The Ashgate research companion to the Counter-Reformation, Farnham–Burlington, Vt 2013, 165–82.

8 Viallet, Ludovic, Les Sens de l'observance: enquête sur les réformes Franciscaines entre l'Elbe et l'Oder, de Capistran á Luther (vers 1450–vers 1520), Berlin 2014, 3247 .

9 The late medieval Observance in late medieval Bohemia is discussed thoroughly by Hlaváček, Petr, Die Böhmischen Franziskaner im ausgehenden Mittelalter, Stuttgart 2011 .

10 Nevertheless only four friars assembled at the provincial chapter in Brno in 1601: Minařík, Klemens, ‘Provinciálové františkánské české provincie v letech, 1601–1750’, Sborník Historického kroužku xviii (1917), 54.

11 During the siege of Brno in 1644 the oldest convent in the province had to be razed to the ground due to fortification works: Wrbczansky, Severinus, Nucleus Minoriticus, seu vera, et sincera relatio originis, et progressus provinciae Bohemiae, conventuum, et residentiarium, fratrum, et sororum sancti-monialium, Ordin. Minor. S. P. Francisci Strict. Observ. Reform., Vetero–Pragae 1746, 231.

12 For a general overview of the province see ibid. passim.

13 Elbel, Martin, Bohemia Franciscana: Františkánský řád a jeho působení v českých zemích 17. a 18. století, Olomouc 2001 .

14 For the Catholic restoration in Bohemia see Louthan, Howard, Converting Bohemia: force and persuasion in the Catholic Reformation, Cambridge 2009 .

15 The Olomouc house, for example, which the Observants vacated in 1571, was soon handed over to the Jesuits for the accommodation of their pupils: Archivum Conventum Olomucensis ad S. Bernardinum, Moravian Land Archive, Brno, E-21, Franciscans of Dačice, book no. 9, pp. 17–18.

16 On the Franciscan-Capuchin rivalry see Elbel, Martin, ‘The making of a perfect friar: habit and reform in the Franciscan tradition’, in Kontler, L. and Miller, J. (eds), Friars, nobles and burghers: sermons, images and prints: studies of culture and society in early modern Europe, Budapest 2010, 149–75.

17 Elbel, Martin, ‘On the side of the angels: Franciscan communication strategies in early modern Bohemia’, in Schilling, H. and Tóth, I. G. (eds), Religion and cultural exchange in Europe, 1400–1700, Cambridge 2006, 338–59.

18 The Riformati emerged at the same time as the Capuchins, but unlike them they never established an independent order. Instead, they developed a parallel administration within the Franciscan Order. Their houses created provinces which were answerable to a vicar general of the Riformati who in turn was subject only to the minister general of the Franciscan Order. While in Italy the provinces of the Riformati overlapped with old provinces of the Observants, north of the Alps entire provinces gradually converted to the Riformati: Iriarte, Lazaro, Franciscan history: the three orders of St Francis of Assisi, Chicago 1983, 178–80.

19 Armstrong, The politics of piety, 34.

20 The introduction of the Reform into the Bohemian province is recorded by Wrbczansky, Nucleus Minoriticus, 26–8.

21 The regulations of provincial authorities are summarised in the Statuta praecipua in Capitulis Provincialibus et Diffinitoriis Provinciae facta ab anno 1614,  Archives of the Bohemian Franciscan Province, National Archive, Prague, book no. 68, passim.

22 Charvath, Jan Damasus, Fractio panis in reflectionem Fratrum Minorum neb: Lámánj chléba k požjwanj bratrůw menssých: to gest: Krátký wýklad na Regulu bratrůw menssých, W Uherské Skalicy 1765, 203.

23 Wandel, Lee Palmer, ‘The poverty of Christ’, in Saffley, T. M. (ed.), The Reformation of charity: the secular and the religious in early modern poor relief, Leiden 2003, 1525 .

24 Mäkinen, Virpi, Property rights in the late medieval discussion on Franciscan poverty, Leuven 2001, 61.

25 Only some houses in the smaller towns were at least partly sponsored by the owner of the town (usually the annual revenue of victuals which covered the needs of twelve friars): Wrbczansky, Nucleus Minoriticus, passim.

26 Zukal, Josef, ‘Osudy bosácké řehole sv. Františka v Opavě’, Věstník Matice opavské xii (1904), 921 .

27 Minařík, Klemens, ‘Provinciál P. Bernard Sannig, učenec, spisovatel a organisátor františkánské provincie (1637–1704)’, Časopis katolického duchovenstva lxvi (1925), 458.

28 Kalous, Antonín, ‘Between Hussitism and Reformation, 1450s–1520s’, in Kalous, A. (ed.), Transformation of confessional cultures in a Central European city: Olomouc, 1400–1750, Rome 2015, 51–5.

29 Chronica Fratrum Minorum de Observantia Provinciae Bohemia, Library of the National Museum, Prague, sig. VIII F 75, pp. 310–12.

30 For the renewal of the convent see Archivum Conventum Olomucensis ad S. Bernardinum, Moravian Land Archive, E-21, Franciscans of Dačice, book no. 9, pp. 18–39.

31 Martin Elbel, ‘Consolidation, 1700–1750’, in Kalous, Transformation of confessional cultures, 135–57.

32 See Statuta praecipua.

33 Protocollum Archivi Conventus Olomucensis (part H: Collecturae Conventus), Moravian Land Archive, EH21, Franciscans in Dačice, book no. 10a, pp. 407–10.

34 The itinerary is recorded in the report for the bishop's consistory of 1773: Fassiones Conventus Olomucensis PP. Franciscanorum ad S. Bernardinum fideliter et obsequiosissime exhibitae, Land Archive, Opava, branch Olomouc, archbishopric of Olomouc, sig. Bb 38, inv. no. 2020.

35 Statuta praecipua.

36 Ibid.

37 Archives of the Bohemian Franciscan Province, inv. no. 2982.

38 Liber Raticinionum Conventus Olomucensis ad Sanctum Bernardinum inchoatus anno 1756, Moravian Land Archive, E-21, Franciscans of Dačice, book no. 10b.

39 The documents related to the dissolution of the convent are housed ibid. B2, Gubernium, sig. K20/36.

40 The value of the other monasteries dissolved in Olomouc was substantially higher in spite of the fact that they usually contained fewer people: Augustinian canons (17 canons), 209,000 fl.; Dominican nuns (36 nuns), 238,000 fl.; Carthusians (16), 280,000 fl.; Poor Clares (28), 187,000 fl.; Premonstratensians (90), 1,406,000. The value of the Jesuit college and seminary abolished in 1773 was 830,000. The Conventual convent (27) had a capital of 19,000 fl.: Bílek, Tomáš Václav, Statky a jmění kollejí jesuitských, klášterů, kostelů, bratrstev a jiných ústavů v království Českém od císaře Josefa II. zrušených, Prague 1893, 100358 .

41 The metaphor of mendicants as vampires appeared in Richter, Joseph, Bildergalerie klösterlicher Misbräuche: eine nöthige Beylage zur Bildergalerie Katholischer Misbräuche, Frankfurt–Leipzig 1784, 251.

42 Popis královského hlavního města Olomouce sepsaný syndikem Floriánem Josefem Louckým roku 1746, ed. Spáčilová, Libuše and Spáčil, Vladimír, Olomouc 1991, 56.

43 Cf. von Thiessen, Hillard, Die Kapuziner zwischen Konfessionalisierung und Alltagskultur: Vergleichende Fallstudie am Beispiel Freiburgs und Hildesheims, 1599–1750, Freiburg im Breisgau 2002, 224–51.

44 Matrica III: Ordinis S. Francisci Olomucii: ErneVertes VerzeIChnVs Deren Wertesten BrVDern VnD SChWestern eInes preIsWVrDIgsten DrItten so erWehnten BVsser OrDens Vnseres grossen ErzVaters FranCIsCI (1746–1782), Moravian Land Archive, E-21, Franciscans of Dačice, book no. 11.

45 It was the case with Bohumír Josef Hynek Bílovský, a popular preacher and writer, who co-operated with the friars and supervised a religious confraternity at a pilgrimage shrine at Jaroměřice initiated by the Franciscans: Bilowsky, Gottfried Joseph, Societas Jesu Salvatoris, die hochlöblichen Gesellschaft … Jesu Christi, Ollmütz 1708 .

46 Elbel, Martin, ‘Pilgrims on the way of the cross: pilgrimage practice and confessional identity in early modern Czech Lands’, in Andor, E. and Tóth, I. G. (eds), Frontiers of faith: religious exchange and constitution of religious identities, 1400–1700, Budapest 2001, 275–83.

47 Communicationes Viae S. Crucis, Archive of the Bohemian Franciscan Province, book no. 352.

48 On gifts see Mauss, Marcel, The gift: forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies, London 1966 , and, more recently, Liebersohn, Harry, The return of the gift: European history of a global idea, Cambridge 2011 . For the early modern period see the inspiring study by Davis, Natalie Zemon, The gift in sixteenth-century France, Oxford 2000, 167–81.

49 Sannig, Bernard, Rituale Franciscanum, continens varias absolutiones, benedictiones etc. ad utilitatem Christi fidelium et praxim sacerdotum, maxime Ordinis S. Francisci ex variis Ritualibus coordinatum, Neo-Pragae 1685 .

50 Cf. von Thiessen, Die Kapuziner, 428–49.

51 I used a quotation from the English edition: von Born, Ignaz Edler, Monachologia; or, Handbook of the natural history of monks, arranged according to the Linnæan system, Edinburgh 1852, 57.

52 The practice is thoroughly discussed in Charvath, Fractio panis, 156–90.

53 Archivum Conventum Olomucensis ad S. Bernardinum, Moravian Land Archive, E-21, Franciscans of Dačice, book no. 9, p. 31. The chronicle was initiated after 1650 by Modestus Meerstein, superior of the convent, as an attempt to ‘reconstruct’ the memory of the old medieval convent in order to support the Franciscan restoration in Olomouc: Elbel, Martin, ‘Sacred re-enactments: representations of the Franciscan past after the Reformation’, in Arbeit, Marcel and Christie, Ian (eds), Where is history today? New ways of representing the past, Olomouc 2015, 91100 .

54 The only syndic who was not a member of the city council was the architect Matthias Kniebandel who supervised and partly sponsored the expensive reconstruction of the convent buildings in the 1740s.

55 Archivum Conventum Olomucensis ad S. Bernardinum, Moravian Land Archive, E-21, Franciscans of Dačice, book no. 9, p. 37.

56 Johannes Freyberger to the bishop's office, 6 Dec. 1773, Land Archive, Opava, branch Olomouc, archbishopric of Olomouc, sig. Bb 38, fo. 143r.

This study was supported by the ESF OPVK project ‘Confessional Culture between the Middle Ages and Modern Times’, at the Department of History, Palacký University, Olomouc, reg. n. CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0192.

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