Lady Jacoba and the Third Order — Part II

I think my promised discussion of the Church of San Francesco a Ripa will have to wait until next time, as I want to add some more from my continuing research on Jacoba as a member of the Third Order.Lady Jacoba

As I said last time, the early Franciscan writers and chroniclers don’t describe Lady Jacoba as a member of the Third Order. That had to wait for the work of the first real historian of the tertiaries, Mariano of Florence (1450-1523), a friar of the Observant reform. In addition to writing a treatise on the Third Order in 1521-22 – at the request of the tertiaries themselves -- Mariano compiled a long chronicle of the history of the Franciscan order, which he completed around 1516.[1] This work is now lost, but before then the autograph manuscript was used by the seventeenth-century Franciscan chronicler Fr Luke Wadding in his Annales Minorum. (More about Wadding’s work later).

However, Mariano also wrote a shorter chronicle, which still exists, called the Compendium Chronicam Ordinis Fratrum Minorum, which he completed in 1523, the year of his death.[2] In it, he writes that when St. Francis was in Rome in 1212, “he preached and received some people into penitence and religious life.” Among them, he says:

A certain very noble matron named Jacoba di Settesoli became his follower; she was a widow, who by the merits of Bl. Francis, arrived at such grace that, always full of tears and devotion for the love and affection of Christ, she seemed almost another Magdalen. Her body is buried with blessed Francis.[3]

Later, in describing the foundation of the Third Order in 1221, Fra Mariano says that Francis received a number of holy people into it. Among them “he also received Lady Jacoba di Settesoli, a most illustrious matron, who achieved worthy fruits of penance.”[4]

Mariano clearly believed that Lady Jacoba was a member of the Third Order. And he did an enormous amount of research on the tertiaries, so he perhaps had come across a source that reassured him on this point.

Wadding, writing in 1625, who used Mariano’s longer lost chronicle, seems to have reproduced it fairly exactly. It is full of very interesting detail:

Then there adhered to the holy man, drawn by the power of his preaching the illustrious and distinguished matron, Jacoba de Settesoli, a widow, the noblest and wealthiest among the women of Rome. . . Moved by the fame of the man, she wanted to hear his preaching; from the preaching arose an ardent desire to speak with him. At length she obtained this, and after she had very frequently been instructed by him in this way about heavenly things, as a result she despised all her earthly goods, nor did she care any longer for anything else but about purity of life, perfect continence and reforming of her conduct. Therefore, when she had transferred the care and solicitude for family matters to the two sons she had, who were one after another later Roman Senators, she wisely devoted her attention to her soul, and having accepted from heaven the gift of tears, she shed floods of them daily for her past life, which she had spent heedlessly.

She conceived a heartfelt devotion toward Francis and his companions; she used to always receive them with a hospitable welcome and with all charity, offered them kind services.[5]

It’s clear that Wadding, like Mariano, conceived of Lady Jacoba as a penitent, who had a true change of life, loved Jesus and strove after Gospel perfection. but unlike Mariano, neither here or elsewhere in his treatment of her, or in his treatment of the founding of the Third Order, does Wadding ever say definitively that she was a tertiary.

This raises some interesting questions. Did Mariano also describe Jacoba as a member of the Third Order in the chronicle Wadding used, but Wadding left it out because he thought it wrong? Or did Mariano not have anything about this in his earlier work? Could Mariano have included this this only in his later, 1523 chronicle, which Wadding may not have had? These are the types of questions historians often have to deal with. We can look a little closer, and perhaps find a hint of an answer.

Mariano’s iterest in the Third Order could have arisen from his ministry in the Observant reform. In addition to trying to recover the original poverty, humility and asceticism of the order, the friars of the reform engaged in popular preaching on a large scale. One of the earliest great preachers among the Observants was St. Bernardino of Siena, whose preaching set the laity of his time on fire. Naturally, the Observant friars were very attentive to find possible models of holiness for the laity among the saints of the Third Order. A recent biographer of St. Rose of Viterbo, Rosa Mincuzzi, finds that the Observant movement in the city of Viterbo, with the preaching of St. Bernardino there, may have been the impetus for beginning the second canonization process for St. Rose in 1457.[6]

In light of this, he has a very interesting statement in his Treatise on the Third Order. In regard to St. Elizabeth of Hungary, he writes:

Some people have wanted to say that she did not belong to the Third Order, because “in her legend we don’t find it expressly stated, for this reason we can only conclude that she didn’t belong to the Third Order.” And the same answer is given about St. Louis the king of France and St. Yves of Britanny and St. Elzear. There are two reasons why it is not expressly stated in their histories that they beonged to the Third Order. The first is because this Order, from its beginning up to the time of Pope Nicholas IV,[7] was not called an Order, but those who professed it were called brothers and sisters, and by some penitents . . . But then Nicholas IV in his bull that begins Supra montem catholice fede began to call it an Order, and it was entitled the Order of Penitents. The second reason is because the said saints in their legends are not called “of the Third Order” because the Order of Friars Minor did not intervene in their canonization, but they were canonized at the request of secular lords; and therefore since they weren’t proposed by the Third Order of St. Francis, they were not registered in the bulls of canonization [as being] of this Order, but indeed [were such] by their penitence and humble and abject dress, as is manifested by St. Louis, of whom his legend says that he did not wear scarlet or green, but humble dress. . . And St. Elizabeth also dressed in gray. . .[8]

Mariano then, might have had a different set of criteria than Wadding did for determining who was a member of the Third Order; his writing does suggest he may have studied the early sources enough to determine other criteria for himself, such as dress. His way of determining Third Order membership is similar to other texts of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries about St. Elizabeth as a penitent that I published in my dissertation.[9] It is interesting to note that in her 1457 process, supported by the Franciscans, Rose of Viterbo is presented for the first time explicitly as a saint of the Third Order, but in her case, there is very early evidence from primitive sources that she made a profession in a fraternity or confraternity that probably belonged to the Third Order,[10] though this was not discussed by those writing about her prior to that time. Examination or research similar to Mariano’s could have brought this out; it was not necessarily just wishful thinking.

I only recently came across this pertinent information from Mariano’s treatise on the Third Order again in the last couple of days; in fact, had forgotten about it. While I was in Rome for the celebration of the beginning of the seventh centenary of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in 2006, I found a copy of the treatise in a bookcase in the guest house of the friars of the TOR where I was staying. At the time, I was interested mainly in what Mariano said about St. Elizabeth, and so I copied some passages from that portion, but unfortunately I don’t recall whether he said anything about Jacoba! I will have to do further research in this text, which I think may show more about how he saw the penitents, perhaps including Lady Jacoba.

Next time I will delve into what Wadding and others say about the Church of San Francesco a Ripa in Rome and its connection with Lady Jacoba. Some new information has come out in connection with the recent excavations at the church and restoration of the cell of St. Francis that I think you’re going to be interested in.


[1] For a recent treatment of Mariano’s work, which gives the date for the chronicle, see Lezlie S. Knox, Creating Clare of Assisi: Female Franciscan identities in Later Medieval Italy. Boston: Brill, 2008, p. 144.

[2] For the date see “Un’opera sconosciuto di Mariano da Fiorenza.” Miscellanea Franciscana 10:4 (1906): 57-59.

[3] “Compendium Chronicarum Ordinis FF. Minorum,” ed. Teofilo Domenichelli in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 2 (1909): 92. The translation from the Latin, here as elsewhere, is mine.

[4] Ibid., p. 98.

[5] Luke Wadding, Annales Minorum an. 1212, xxxiv (London: Claudius Landry, 1625), vol. 1, p. 98.

[6] Rosa Mincuzzi. Santa Rosa da Viterbo, penitente del XIII secolo, Estratto da Analecta TOR 31 /165 (2000), pp. 49, 91.

[7] Mariano wrote “Innocent” here, he but clearly ment “Nicholas,” as his conclusion shows.

[8] Mariano da Firenze, Il trattato del Terz'Ordine o vero "Libro come Santo Francesco istitui et ordinò el Tertio Ordine de Frati et Sore di Pentientia et dell dignità et perfectione o vero Sanctita Sua.” Ed. Massimo D. Pape (Roma: Ed. Analecta TOR, 1985), pp. 481-82.

[9] Lori Pieper, “St. Elizabeth of Hungary and the Franciscan Tradition,” (Doctoral dissertation, Fordham University, 2002).

[10] See Mincuzzi, Santa Rosa da Viterbo,pp. 47-55.

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