According to a twelfth-century tradition (i.e., a century before the Grand Union began the Augustinian Order in 1256), St Augustine stayed with the hermits on a mountain in Tuscany called Mons Pisanus in Latin and Monte Pisano in the Italian language. For many centuries a mountain in Tuscany has borne that name.
The tradition of Augustine’s having visited and/or stayed there was stated at the end of the Expositio in regulam S. Augustini (“An Exposition on the Rule of St Augustine”) by Hugh of St Victor (1096 – 1141), a canon of the Abbey of St Victor in Paris where the Rule of Augustine was followed.
Hugh was sometimes called “alter Augustinus” (“another Augustine”) because of his familiarity with the works of Augustine of Hippo. He was also described as "the most influential theologian of the twelfth century."
In his writings, Hugh of St Victor did not name any specific location on or near Mount Pisano, and there has never been the claim that a site called Centumcellae existed there. Even so, the earliest extant document concerning any hermitage with a close approximation of this particular name was written not earlier than 1243.
That happened in 1243 when Pope Innocent IV charged the apostolic legate, Cardinal Rainer of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, with consigning the church of S Severa, which had fallen into utter neglect, to the Prior and brethren of the hermitage of the Holy Trinity of Centumcellae. The pope confirmed the grant in the following year, and since then the place went under the name of S Severa de Centumcellis.
In that the location of S Severa de Centumcellis cannot be determined, and nobody claims it was on or near Mount Pisano, are these two separate traditions that do not merge? Or are these actually two distinct traditions which apparently offer no mutual support to one another?
In the fourteenth century, members of the Order of St Augustine believed in the earlier existence of a place named Centumcellae that had housed Augustine, but the fact that they believed it does not prove that it existed a millennium previously – if ever.
Such a place may have existed, yet that particular factor is irrelevant to the way that Centumcellae was used in the myth that four members of the Order of St Augustine consciously developed from about 1330 onwards.
The Augustinian friars writing in the fourteenth century set out to bolster the Order’s identity as containing the spiritual sons of Augustine of Hippo. They did so not just as being their own intention but also as brazenly suggest that it was Augustine’s intention as well.
Within a period of twenty-seven years, these four Augustinian writers developed and successively advanced this premise. From internal evidence in their manuscripts and from other historical sources, it is demonstrated that they knew each other, or at least saw copies of the manuscripts of those in the quartet who had written prior to them.
The first of the four to write, the so-called Anonymous Florentine, produced his Initium sive processus Ordinis Hermitarum santi Augustini (“The Beginning and Development of the Order of Hermits of Saint Augustine”) in 1330. In it he mentioned that Augustine’s eremitical (“hermit”) experience was “first in Italy, and then in Africa.”
He said that the site of Augustine’s eremitical experience in Italy was uncertain, but he nominated the three possibilities that it happened in Milan, Mount Pisanus (where was located the hermitage of S. Giorgio della Spelonca, at least from the late twelfth century onwards) or Centumcellae.
The reason given by the Anonymous Florentine for the uncertainty about the location was that more than nine centuries had passed between Augustine’s time in Italy and the author’s own time of writing his Initium in about 1330.
(Continued on the next page.)