A medieval monastic movement embracing humility, labor, and strict adherence to Benedictine principles.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Catholicism
Founded: 12th century
Ended: 16th century
Location: Italy (primarily Lombardy and Tuscany)
Other Names: Humiliati, Order of the Humiliati

The Humiliati, originating in Lombardy during the 12th century, were an Italian religious order whose journey from humble beginnings to papal suppression encapsulates a significant chapter in the history of medieval religious movements. Initially, noble captives of Lombardy, taken by Emperor Henry V following a rebellion, were exiled to Germany. Suffering hardships, they adopted a penitential lifestyle, donning grey garb and dedicating themselves to charity and mortification. Emperor Henry V eventually allowed their return to Lombardy, following their vow of future loyalty.

Their name, “Humiliati,” derived from their simple, uniform dress, was emblematic of their commitment to humility and poverty, contrasting with the day’s fashion. Their early interactions with St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the subsequent formation of a monastic community in Milan under his guidance mark a pivotal moment in their development. Despite St. Bernard’s efforts, the Humiliati initially lacked a fixed rule. Their ethos of living a humble life, refraining from lies, oaths, and lawsuits, and their unauthorized preaching activities led to tensions with the papal authorities, culminating in excommunication.

The Humiliati’s evolution continued with the adoption of the Rule of St. Benedict, tailored to their unique needs by St. John of Meda, which signified their move towards formal recognition and organization as a religious order. They were divided into three branches: laymen, laywomen, and priests, with the latter eventually claiming precedence and adopting a white habit in contrast to the original ashen one.

The turning point for the Humiliati came under Pope Innocent III, who reconciled them with the Church in 1201, approving their constitution and formalizing their status within the Church’s hierarchy. This integration, however, did not erase the underlying tensions, and the order faced internal divisions and external suspicions of heresy, primarily due to their autonomous preaching and communal gatherings.

Despite their contributions to society, particularly through their involvement in the wool industry and the civic life of their communities, the order faced decline due to material accumulations, leading to laxity and abuses. This decline prompted intervention by St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, whose reforms sparked a conspiracy within the order that ultimately led to an assassination attempt against him. This scandal, coupled with the broader challenges facing the order, led to its suppression by Pope Pius V in 1571. The male branch of the order was dissolved, and its assets redistributed among other religious orders and charitable causes. The women’s branch, although impacted by the suppression of the male branch, continued in some form into the early 20th century, dedicated to prayer, fasting, and caring for the sick​​​​​​.

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