A radical Franciscan movement, known for their extreme poverty and opposition to the wealth of the Church.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Catholicism
Founded: 13th century
Ended: 15th century
Location: Primarily in Italy
Offshoot of: Franciscan Order
Other Names: Spiritual Franciscans

The Fraticelli, often viewed through the lens of heresy in the medieval Christian context, was as a splinter group from the Franciscan order, primarily in the 14th and 15th centuries, espousing a radical interpretation of Franciscan poverty. This group, split into various sects, was unified by their opposition to the perceived corruption and materialism of the Church, particularly under the pontificate of John XXII. They insisted on a literal adherence to the Franciscan rule of absolute poverty, rejecting any form of property ownership not only for individuals but for the Church itself.

The origins of the Fraticelli can be traced back to internal divisions within the Franciscan order over the interpretation of the vow of poverty. These divisions were exacerbated by the bull “Exivi de Paradiso” of Clement V, intended to reconcile factions within the order but ultimately leading to further dissent. The more radical elements, who would come to be known as the Spirituals, fled to Sicily under persecution, while those remaining faced excommunication and suppression by the Papal authorities.

The group was diverse, including the “Poor Hermits” of Monte della Majella, who adhered to Angelo da Clareno’s teachings, and the “Fraticelli de paupere vita,” followers of Michele da Cesena, who established a separate ecclesiastical hierarchy in defiance of the Papal Church. Their criticism of the Church’s wealth and power often led to severe repercussions, including imprisonment, excommunication, and execution at the stake, as demonstrated by the fate of Fra Michele Berti and others.

Despite their radical stance, the Fraticelli attracted followers from a broad swath of society, indicating widespread discontent with the Church’s direction. Their influence extended beyond Italy, even as far as Persia, though primarily confined within Italian borders due to vigorous suppression by Church authorities and the Inquisition.

The decline of the Fraticelli was gradual, coinciding with the waning of the Middle Ages and the rise of the Renaissance, which brought about new challenges and reformations within the Church. Their insistence on absolute poverty, critical stance towards the Papacy, and establishment of an alternative church structure, however, left an indelible mark on the religious landscape of the period, highlighting the tensions between ecclesiastical authority and the aspiration for spiritual purity​​​​​​.

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