Celestines were a Roman Catholic monastic order, a branch of the Benedictines, founded in 1244. At the foundation of the new rule, they were called Hermits of St Damiano, or Moronites (or Murronites), and did not assume the appellation of Celestines until after the election of their founder to the Papacy as Celestine V. The fame of the holy life and the austerities practised by the hermit in his solitude on the Mountain of Majella, near Sulmona, attracted many visitors, several of whom were moved to remain and share his mode of life. They built a small convent on the spot inhabited by the holy hermit, which became too small for the accommodation of those who came to share their life of privations. Peter of Morone, their founder built a number of other small oratories in that neighborhood.
This happened about the year 1254. A new religious community was formed, and Peter of Morone gave them a rule formulated in accordance with his own practices. In 1264 the new institution was approved by Urban IV. The founder, having heard that it was probable that Pope Gregory X, then holding a council at Lyon, would suppress all such new orders as had been founded since the Lateran Council, having commanded that such institutions should not be further multiplied, went to Lyon. There he succeeded in persuading Gregory to approve his new order, making it a branch of the Benedictines and following the rule of Saint Benedict, but adding to it additional severities and privations. Gregory took it under the Papal protection, assured to it the possession of all property it might acquire, and endowed it with exemption from the authority of the ordinary. Nothing more was needed to ensure the rapid spread of the new association and Peter the hermit of Morone lived to see himself "Superior-General" to thirty-six monasteries and more than six hundred monks. Peter, however, cannot be accused of ambition or the lust of power when a monastic superior, any more than when he insisted on divesting himself of the Papacy, to which he was subsequently raised.
As soon as he had seen his new order thus consolidated he gave up the government of it to a certain Robert, and retired once again to a still more remote solitude to give himself up more entirely to solitary penance and prayer. Shortly afterwards, in a chapter of the order held in 1293, the original monastery of Majella being judged to be too desolate and exposed to too rigorous a climate, it was decided that the monastery which had been founded in Sulmtona should be the headquarters of the order and the residence of the General-Superior, as it has continued to be to the present day. The next year Peter of Morrone, having been, despite his reluctance, elected Pope by the name of Celestine V, the order he had founded took the name of Celestines. The hermit Pope found time in the few short months of his Papacy to confirm the rule of the order, which he had himself composed, and to confer on the society a variety of special graces and privileges. In the only creation of cardinals promoted by him, among the twelve raised to the purple, there were two monks of his order. He found time also to visit personally the great Benedictine monastery on Monte Cassino, where he succeeded in persuading the monks to accept his more rigorous rule. He sent fifty monks of his order to introduce it, who remained, however, for only a few months.
After the death of the founder the order was favoured and privileged by Benedict XI, and rapidly spread through Italy, Germany, Flanders, and France, where they were received by Philip the Fair in 1300. Subsequently the French Celestines, with the consent of the Italian superiors of the order, and of Pope Martin V in 1427, obtained the privilege of making new constitutions for themselves, which they did in the 17th century in a series of regulations accepted by the provincial chapter in 1667. At that time the French congregation of the order was composed of twenty-one monasteries, the head of which was that of Paris, and was governed by a Provincial with the authority of General. Paul V was a notable benefactor of the order. But in consequence of later political changes and events the order has been dissolved.
Description of order
According to their special constitutions the Celestines were bound to say matins in the choir at two o'clock in the morning, and always to abstain from eating meat, save in illness. The distinct rules of their order with regard to fasting are numerous, but not more severe than those of similar congregations, though much more so than is required by the old Benedictine rule. In reading their minute directions for divers degrees of abstinence on various days, it is impossible to avoid being struck by the conviction that the great object of the framers of these rules was the general purpose of ensuring an ascetic mode of life.
The Celestines wore a white woollen cassock bound with a linen band, and a leathern girdle of the same colour, with a scapular unattached to the body of the dress, and a black hood. It was not permitted to them to wear any shirt save of serge. Their dress in short was very like that of the Cistercians. But it is a tradition in the order that in the time of the founder they wore a coarse brown cloth. The church and monastery of San Pietro in Montorio originally belonged to the Celestines in Rome; but they were turned out of it by Sixtus IV to make way for Franciscans, receiving from the Pope in exchange the Church of St Eusebius of Vercelli with the adjacent mansion for a monastery.