A Late Middle Ages religious sect known for challenging ecclesiastical hierarchy and advocating for an egalitarian society.
The Dulcinians were a religious sect that emerged in the Late Middle Ages, originally part of the Apostolic Brethren. They are named after their leader, Fra Dolcino of Novara (circa 1250–1307). This movement, inspired by Franciscan ideals and the teachings of the Joachimites, was deemed heretical by the Catholic Church.
The Dulcinian sect originated after the execution of Gherardo Segarelli, founder of the Apostolic Brethren, in Parma in 1300. Fra Dolcino joined the Apostolics around 1288-1292 and eventually became their leader. After Segarelli’s execution, the followers, including Dolcino, went into hiding. In 1303, Dolcino reunited the Apostolic movement near Lake Garda, along with Margaret of Trent (Margherita Boninsegna), who was either his lover or spiritual sister.
Beliefs and Practices
The Dulcinians sought significant reform within the Church and society. Their main tenets included:
- The fall of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the return of the Church to its original ideals of humility and poverty.
- The fall of the feudal system.
- The promotion of human liberation from any restraint and entrenched power.
- The establishment of a new egalitarian society based on mutual aid, respect, gender equality, and holding property in common.
Dolcino was influenced by the millenarist theories of Gioacchino da Fiore, viewing the history of humanity in four epochs, with the final period being that of the Apostolics, marked by poverty, chastity, and the absence of government.
Controversies and Conflict
In reaction to attacks by Catholic troops, the Dulcinians, under Dolcino’s leadership, were involved in criminal activities for survival, including plundering and devastating villages. Dolcino justified these actions with a reference to Saint Paul’s Epistle to Titus, claiming that their acts were pure and holy due to their spiritual state. This led to a violent clash with the authorities and the eventual downfall of the movement.
Execution of Fra Dolcino
Fra Dolcino and Margaret of Trent were captured and executed without a trial by the Church. Dolcino’s execution was brutal and sparked debate and controversy. Despite his actions, he was considered by some as a reformer and a precursor to the ideals of the French Revolution and socialism. In 1907, a monument was erected in his honor, which was later destroyed by Fascists in 1927 and rebuilt in a smaller size in 1974.
Legacy and Cultural References
Fra Dolcino’s radical ideas and the fate of the Dulcinians have been subjects of interest in various cultural works. The movement has been referenced in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Umberto Eco’s novel “The Name of the Rose,” and in John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.” Dario Fo’s “Mistero Buffo” includes an episode recounting Fra Dolcino’s rebellion.