John of Capistrano
|St. John of Capistrano, O.F.M.|
Illumination depicting St. John of Capistrano
June 24, 1386|
Capestrano, Abruzzi, Kingdom of Naples
|Died||October 23, 1456
Ilok, Syrmia, Kingdom of Croatia in personal union with Hungary
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Canonized||1690 or 1724, Rome by either Pope Alexander VIII or Pope Benedict XIII|
|Feast||23 October; 28 March (General Roman Calendar, 1890-1969)|
|Patronage||Jurists, Belgrade and Hungary|
Saint John of Capistrano (Italian: San Giovanni da Capestrano, Hungarian: Kapisztrán János, Polish: Jan Kapistran, Serbian: Јован Капистран, Jovan Kapistran) (June 24, 1386 – October 23, 1456) was a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest from the Italian town of Capestrano, Abruzzo. Famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor, he earned himself the nickname 'the Soldier Saint' when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade with the Hungarian military commander John Hunyadi.
Elevated to sainthood, he is the patron saint of Hungary, jurists and military chaplains, as well as the namesake of the Franciscan missions San Juan Capistrano in Southern California and San Juan Capistrano in San Antonio, Texas.
As was the custom of this time, John is denoted by the village of Capestrano, in the Diocese of Sulmona, in the Abruzzi region, Kingdom of Naples. His father had come to Italy with the Angevin court of Louis I of Anjou, titular King of Naples. He studied law at the University of Perugia.
In 1412, King Ladislaus of Naples appointed him Governor of Perugia, a tumultuous and resentful papal fief held by Ladislas as the pope's champion, in order to effectively establish public order. When war broke out between Perugia and the Malatestas in 1416, John was sent as ambassador to broker a peace, but Malatesta threw him in prison. During the captivity, in despair he put aside his new young wife, never having consummated the marriage, and started studying theology with Bernardino of Siena.
Friar and preacher
Together with James of the Marches, John entered the Order of Friars Minor at Perugia on October 4, 1416. At once he gave himself up to the most rigorous asceticism, violently defending the ideal of strict observance and orthodoxy, following the example set by Bernardine. From 1420 onwards, he preached with great effect in numerous cities and eventually became well known.
Unlike most Italian preachers of repentance in the 15th century, John was effective in northern and central Europe - in German states of Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Kingdom of Poland. The largest churches could not hold the crowds, so he preached in the public squares—at Brescia in Italy, he preached to a crowd of 126,000.
John was known as the "Scourge of the Jews" for his inciting of antisemitic violence. Like some other Franciscans, he ranged over a broad area on both sides of the Alps, and John's preaching to mass open-air congregations often led to pogroms. In 1450 the Franciscan "Jew-baiter" arranged a forced disputation at Rome with a certain Gamaliel called "Synagogæ Romanæ magister". Between 1451 and 1453, his fiery sermons against Jews persuaded many southern German regions to expel their entire Jewish population, and in Silesia, then Kingdom of Bohemia, at Breslau some were burned at the stake.
When he was not preaching, John was writing tracts against heresy of every kind. This facet of his life is covered in great detail by his early biographers, Nicholas of Fara, Christopher of Varese and Girlamo of Udine. While he was thus evangelizing, he was actively engaged in assisting Bernardine of Siena in the reform of the Franciscan Order, largely in the interests of a more rigorous discipline in the Franciscan communities. Like Bernardine, he strongly emphasized devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus, and, together with that saint, was accused of heresy on this account. In 1429, these Observant friars were called to Rome to answer charges of heresy, and John was chosen by his companions to speak for them. They were both acquitted by the Commission of Cardinals appointed to judge the accusations.
He was frequently deployed to embassies by Popes Eugene IV and Nicholas V: in 1439, he was sent as legate to Milan and Burgundy, to oppose the claims of the Antipope Felix V; in 1446, he was on a mission to the King of France; in 1451 he went at the request of the emperor as Apostolic Nuncio to Austria. During the period of his nunciature, John visited all parts of the Empire, preaching and combating the heresy of the Hussites; he also visited Poland at the request of Casimir IV Jagiellon. As legate, or inquisitor, he prosecuted the last Fraticelli of Ferrara, the Jesuati of Venice, the Crypto-Jews of Sicily, Moldavia and Poland, and, above all, the Hussites of Germany, Hungary and Bohemia; his aim in the last case was to make talks impossible between the representatives of Rome and the Bohemians, for every attempt at conciliation seemed to him to be conniving at heresy.
John, in spite of this restless life, found time to work—both during the lifetime of his mentor, Bernardine, and afterwards—on the reform of the Order of Friars Minor. He also upheld, in his writings, speeches and sermons, theories of papal supremacy rather than the theological wranglings of councils (see Conciliar Movement). John, together with his teacher, Bernardine, his colleague, James of the Marche, and Albert Berdini of Sarteano, are considered the four great pillars of the Observant reform among the Friars Minor.
The soldier saint
After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire, under Sultan Mehmed II, threatened Christian Europe. That following year Pope Callixtus III sent John, who was already aged seventy, to preach a Crusade against the invading Turks at the Imperial Diet of Frankfurt. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. John succeeded in gathering together enough troops to march onto Belgrade, which at that time was under siege by Turkish forces. In the summer of 1456, these troops, together with John Hunyadi, managed to raise the siege of Belgrade; the old and frail friar actually led his own contingent into battle. This feat earned him the moniker of 'the Soldier Priest'.
Although he survived the battle, John fell victim to the bubonic plague, which flourished in the unsanitary conditions prevailing among armies of the day. He died on 23 October 1456 at the nearby town of Ilok, Kingdom of Croatia in personal union with Hungary (now a Croatian border town on the Danube).
Sainthood and feast day
The year of John of Capistrano's canonization is variously given as 1690, by Pope Alexander VIII or 1724 by Pope Benedict XIII. In 1890, his feast day was included for the first time in the General Roman Calendar and assigned to 28 March. In 1969, Pope Paul VI moved his feast day to 23 October, the day of his death. Some Traditionalist Catholics observe calendar of the 1890 to 1969 period.
As a Franciscan reformer preaching simplicity, John became the eponym of two Spanish missions founded by the Franciscan friars in the north of the then-Spanish Americas: Mission San Juan Capistrano in today's Southern California and Mission San Juan Capistrano just outside the city center of today's San Antonio in Texas.
He is patron saint of military chaplains and jurists.
- Church of St. Wojciech, in Kraków, Poland, sermons
- Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California
- Mission San Juan Capistrano in San Antonio, Texas
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- Antisemitism: a historical encyclopedia of prejudice and persecution, Richard S. Levy, published by ABC-CLIO, 2005, and available here 
- Will Durant, The Reformation, Simon & Schuster (1957), page 731
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- ST JOHN OF CAPISTRANO (A.D. 1456) Retrieved September 13, 2006; Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 106)
- Engelhardt, Zephyrin, O.F.M. San Juan Capistrano Mission. 1922. Standard Printing Co., Los Angeles, CA.
- Craughwell, Thomas (23 October 2009). "St. John of Capistrano: Patron of Military Chaplains". CatholicMil.org (reprinted from Arlington Catholic Herald). Retrieved 2009-12-28.
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