They were representatives of that particular form of religious life which the decree, Ne nimium, of the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 sought to organize by requiring them to live in community, to held elective chapters, to be under obedience to a major superior and adopt one of the Rules approved by the Church.
Some of these Tuscan hermits adopted the Rule of St Augustine, which in its brevity of instructions was suitable for simple eremitical (“hermit style”) living, while other hermitages chose the much lengthier and more detailed Rule of St Benedict, which was better-known in the church and used in far more religious houses throughout Europe.
The Little Union of 1244 attempted to gather together all hermitages in Tuscany that had not as yet adopted all of the requirements of the Fourth Lateran Council, and even drew in some hermitages that previously had followed the Rule of Benedict.
These hermitages became participants in the Little Union of 1244, and henceforth were known by the title, Fratres Heremitarium in Tuscia Ordinis Sancti Augustini, (“the Brothers Hermits of the Order of St Augustine in Tuscany”).
This algamation of Tuscan hermits was subsequently described as a "little" union in comparison to the more extensive Grand Union of 1256 i.e., the establishment of the Order of Saint Augustine that still exists today, of which these Tuscan hermits of 1244 were in 1256 to become a part.
From 1244 until 1256, the Brothers Hermits of the Order of St Augustine in Tuscany can be considered in terms of two geographical sub-regions in Tuscany: one was that of the provinces of Lucca and Pisa, the other that of Siena and the regions surrounding it.
In the former group were included, among many other hermitages, the hermitages of S. Maria della Spelonca, San Giacomo di Cella, S. Maria Maddalena di Valle Buona, S. Maria di Monteforte, S. Maria Maddalena di Carfagnana, San Giorgio and San Galgano di valle Buona, S. Maria di Brancoli, S. Maria di compito, San Michele di Buti, San Salvatore di Cascina and S. Maria di Lupocavo.
By the year 1223, four of the houses of the region of Lucca and Pisa had already united under one superior, and the same was true of two of the hermitages of the province of Siena in 1231. In other words, their progress towards some type of confederation was spontaneously happening well before the advent of the papal-promoted Little Union of 1244 and the more extensive Grand Union of 1256.
After the Little Union of 1244 the Pisa/Lucca province of the Brothers Hermits of the Order of St Augustine in Tuscany extended their foundations into Liguria, Romagna and Venetia, while those of the province of Siena acquired Monte Cimino in Latium, Centoceile (at Civitavechia, and not to be confused with Centumcellae) in the province of Rome, and in 1250, by grant of the Holy See, S. Maria del Popolo in the city of Rome itself.
For further reading