The Fratres Cruciferi (cross-bearing brethren) are a Roman Catholic religious order. There were four main independent branches of Fratres Cruciferi: an Italian order, a Portuguese order, a Belgian order, and a Bohemian order. They were also known as Crutched Friars, Crossed Friars, Crouched Friars or Croziers because of the staff they carried with them surmounted by a crucifix.
The origin of these friars is somewhat uncertain. They claimed to have been founded in the East, in the 1st century, by St. Cletus, and to have been reconstituted by St. Cyriacus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the 4th; however, there is little record of them prior to 1100.
It is not known when the Fratres Cruciferi came to Italy, but they were certainly there in the 12th century, for in 1169 Pope Alexander III gave them constitutions and a rule of life similar to that of Augustinian canons. Their habit was originally brown or black, but later on Pope Pius II prescribed for them a blue habit and substituted a small silver cross for the larger wooden one they had hitherto been accustomed to carry in their hands. It was from this custom that they obtained their name. They also wore a red cross on their habit.
Their monasteries were at one time numerous in Italy, numbering two hundred and eight, divided into five ecclesiastical provinces: Bologna, Venice, Rome, Milan and Naples. The priory of Santa Maria di Morella at Bologna was made the chief house of the order by Pope Clement IV. They kept the Hospital of the Holy Spirit in Acre in the Holy Land.
Their first appearance in England was at a synod of the Diocese of Rochester in 1244, when they presented documents from the Pope and asked to be allowed to settle in the country. They established eight or nine houses in England, the first being at either Colchester (according to Dugdale), or at Reigate (according to Reyner), founded in 1245. They settled in London in 1249, where they gave their name to the locality, near Tower Hill, still called Crutched Friars. Other houses were at Oxford; York; Great Welnetham (Suffolk); Barham (Cambridgeshire) (a cell to Great Weltham); Wotten-under-Edge, Gloucestershire; Brackley, Northamptonshire; and Kildale, Yorkshire. The order was dissolved, along with other Catholic orders, by Henry VIII in 1539.
The Fratres Cruciferi appeared in Ireland at some time before 1176 when they are first listed as being in possession of the Hospital of St. John without the New Gate in Dublin. It is likely that they based this hospital on the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem. The founding of these hospitals gave care to both men and women from all religions. The Hospital (which became known in later centuries as Palmer's Hospital and had a capacity of 155 beds) had been founded by the Norse-Gael Ailred the Palmer and his wife some time prior to 1188 when Pope Clement III granted the Hospital certain privileges. The Hospital occupied the site on Thomas Street, Dublin now occupied by the Augustinian Church of Saint Augustine and Saint John the Baptist now served by the [Mendicant] Order of St. Augustine (not to be confused with either the Augustinian Canons – who had many foundations in Ireland, introduced by St. Laurence O'Toole as Archbishop of Dublin to, amongst other churches, Christ Church Dublin – or the Fraters Cruciferi). The Register and Charters of the Hospital have survived in manuscript; they were published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission in 1937 (in the original Latin).
The order owned several hospitals and priories in Ireland, including Palmerstown (which was owned by the Hospital of St John the Baptist without the Newgate in Dublin pictures, County Dublin (the town of Palmerstown is named after [Ailred de] Palmer named the founder of the hospital); Kilkenny West, County Westmeath; the Priory and Hospital of St. John the Baptist of Nenagh, County Tipperary; Rindoon, County Roscommon; King's Island, Limerick City; Ardee, County Louth; Castledermot, County Kildare; Athy, County Kildare; New Ross, County Wexford; St. John's Priory, Trim; and Dundalk, County Meath. The dissolution by Henry VIII of the Order in England in 1539 also applied in Ireland. George Dowdall, last head of the Irish order, was compensated by becoming Archbishop of Armagh.
During the Reformation the order was unable to reform itself in line with the trends of the Counter-Reformation and purge itself of the corruptions which crept into the order: from that and other causes their numbers dwindled down to no more than fifty houses in 1656, when the order was suppressed by Pope Alexander VII.
Other Fratres Cruciferi orders
A Portuguese Order of the Holy Cross (Ordo Canonicorum Regularium Sanctae Crucis, ORC) was founded by Saint Theotonius in Coimbra in 1132, and is still in existence today. The Order's mother house is the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, and they maintain a presence in Austria, Germany, Italy, India, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
The Belgian Order of the Holy Cross (Ordo Sanctae Crucis, OSC), or Croziers, was founded in Huy in 1211 by Theodorus de Cellis (1166–1236) and four others returning from the Third Crusade. As well as surviving in Belgium and the Netherlands, it today maintains a presence in the United States, Rome, the Congo, and Indonesia.
Also associated in its origins with the Fratres Cruciferi is the Hospitaller Order the Cross with the Red Star which was founded in Bohemia in 1233. Unlike the other three orders, this is a military order of Catholic Knights dedicated to the protection and care of the sick, and was made an independent hospitaller order by Pope Gregory IX in 1237. They spread into Moravia, Silesia, Hungary, and Poland. It is believed they had three houses in Scotland, but floundered when they tried to grow in England in 1260, where they had a house in Guilford, partially due to the confusion that ensued from so many 'Orders of the Cross' in England. Their Provincial House in Vienna is located just behind the Karlskirche. In their home territory, the order moved in 1990 back to their monastery next to Charles Bridge in Prague after the fall of communism.
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