Bernardine of Feltre
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|Blessed Bernardine of Feltre|
The Blessed Bernardine of Feltre (sometimes Bernardinus of Feltre) was a Friar Minor and missionary, b. at Feltre, Italy, in 1439 and d. at Pavia, 28 September 1494. He is remembered in connexion with the monti di pietà of which he was the reorganizer and, in a certain sense, the founder, together with the Blessed Michele Carcano. The feast of Blessed Bernardino is kept in the Order of Friars Minor on 28 September.
Born Martin Tomitani, he belonged to the noble family of Tomitano and was the eldest of nine children. In 1456 St. James of the Marches preached the Lenten course at Padua, and inspired Bernardine to enter the Franciscan order. In May that year he joined the “Observantine” Franciscans, an austere branch of the Franciscan friars. He completed successfully his studies at Mantua and was ordained priest in 1463. He was small, shy, and stammered but his superiors assigned him to preach home-missions. Cured of an impediment in his speech, Bernardine began his apostolate up and down the Italian peninsula. Every city of note and every province from Lombardy in the north to Sardinia and the provinces of the south became successively the scene of his missionary labours.
He was an extremely popular sermonizer because he spoke simply and powerfully against the vanity, ambition and greed rife at the time. The crowds that flocked to hear him were too large for the local churches, so he addressed them in the city squares and the fields. Like many other missioners of his century, he had made a vast outdoor bonfire called “burning the Devil's stronghold”. The crowds were asked to throw into the fire all objects of vanity and sin such as playing cards, dice, pornographic books and pictures, jewelry, wigs, superstitious charms, cosmetics, and so forth.
Bernardine was able to reconcile warring communities. He also sought civic legislation to correct public injustices such as usury, the charging of excessive interest for loans, which was especially onerous on the poor. In 1484, Bernardine established the charitable credit organization, mont-de-piétés run by a joint committee of clergy and laymen. The institution was founded as an alternative to the high interest loans of the Jewish money lenders and Lombard traveling bankers of the Middle Ages. His insistence on charging a low interest to protect the institution's permanency raised a controversy among the theologians who thought it promoted the continuance of usury. In 1515, Pope Leo X declared the institution meritorious and it spread rapidly throughout France, Italy, and Spain.
A collateral effect of his iterant preaching against usury was an outbreak of anti-Judaism in Trent leading to accusations of blood libel against Jewish residents after the death of Simon of Trent, resulting in the torture and execution of seventeen Jews and the expulsion of Jews from that city which lasted 300 years.
Bernardine is generally represented in iconography as carrying in his hand a monti di pietà, that is, a little green hill composed of three mounds and on the top either a cross or a standard with the inscription Curam illius habe (a snippet from the Vulgate translation of the Gospel of Luke's Parable of the Good Samaritan).
The authorship of the well-known Anima Christi has as often as not been ascribed to Bernardine of Feltre. The fact, however, that the Anima Christi was composed sometime before 1439 disproves any claim that he might have of being its author, though much like Ignatius of Loyola, Bernardine made frequent use of it and recommended it to his brethren.