The Sack Friars (or Friars of the Sack, or Sackcloth Brothers) are included in this Augnet web site not because they had any official connection with the Order of Saint Augustine, but because the Order benefited from their dissolution by receiving some of their former religious houses.
The Sack Friars (officially the Order of the Penitence of Jesus Christ, and Saccati in Italian) had an origin that was part of the thirteenth-century mendicant movement generally.
Their beginning is traced back to two lay penitents in Provence, France in the period of 1245-1248, i.e., almost half a century after the formation of the Franciscans and Dominicans, and months after the Little Union of the various hermit-originating communities of Tuscany.
Like Francis of Assisi, these two men were lay penitents, and, as in the Augustinian tradition, they began in isolated areas but soon moved to ministry in the growing towns.
One of their founders, Raymond Athanulfi or Athenoux, saw to it that they adopted the Rule of Augustine and obtained approval from the Holy See, as indicated hereunder.
They followed the mendicant practice by begging for their sustenance when this was financially necessary, and in their humble desire for poverty wore robes made of an inexpensive fabric that was similar to sack cloth, hence their popular name of the Sack Friars (popularly in Latin, Fratres de Sacco).
They had their feet bare and wore wooden sandals. Their mode of life was very austere, and they never ate meat and drank only water.
In 1251 they numbered thirteen communities in Provence. In that year (i.e., eight years after the Tuscan hermits had done so for the Little Union of 1244), they petitioned Pope Innocent IV - pope from 1243 to 1254 - and asked for a degree of papal recognition and officially to be assigned a rule of community living.
As Innocent IV had done with the Tuscan hermits aggregated by the Little Union in 1244, he approved their use of the Rule of Augustine that a diocesan bishop in France had already assigned to them, judging it the rule most suited to their active life on behalf of the church in the growing towns and cities of Europe.
In 1255 Pope Alexander IV recognised them as a mendicant order (just a year before he convoked the Grand Union of the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine).
He granted to the Sack Friars permission to preach publicly, as long as the bishop of the locality approved. By 1258 they had four provinces, centred on Provence, the rest of France, Spain and England. A General Chapter took place in Paris in 1258.
By 1270 they had the patronage of royalty, clergy, and wealthy laity. For example, King Louis IX of France greatly admired their adherence to penitence, and supported a number of their individual houses. By 1270, the Friars of the Sack had in twenty-five years spread from Scotland to Palestine and Majorca, formed into seven administrative provinces, and opened 111 houses.
In his last will and testament signed in 1270, this king left 400 livres apiece to the Franciscans and Dominicans, 60 livres to the Sack Friars, and 20 livres to the Carmelites and 15 livres to the Augustinians.
In April 1272 they acquired the protection of the British Crown, which further spurred their expansion in England. They had settled in London in 1257, where King Henry III donated 100 Marks Sterling to them for the purchase of property. Although the exact date of arrival of the Augustinians in London is unsure, it is quite possible that the Sack Friars reached there before them.
Not only was their expansion at least as rapid as that of the Order of Saint Augustine, but also by the time of the Second Council of Lyons in 1275 the Sack Friars had over 122 houses throughout Europe, and possibly equalled the Order of Saint Augustine numerically. There is divided opinion as to whether at that time it was the Augustinians or the Sack Friars who were the third-largest mendicant order, i.e., after the Dominicans and Franciscans.
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