Blessed Lancelao of Hungary: A Franciscan Observant in Fifteenth-Century Italy
Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies
The Franciscan friar Lancelao of Hungary, allegedly a descendant of the Hungarian royal dynasty, moved from Hungary to Italy in search of a Minorite community in which he could truly observe the teachings and spiritual disciplines of St Francis. Lancelao spent the rest of his life in Observant communities in the central and northern part of Italy, acquiring fama sanctitatis already in his lifetime. This article deals with the emergence and evolution of the figure of Lancelao of Hungary in Franciscan literature, focusing on the two earliest redactions of his legend written in the vernacular by the renowned Observant Franciscan authors, Mariano da Firenze and Giacomo Oddi da Perugia around the last quarter of the fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth century, respectively. The present article provides insights into Mariano’s methods of rewriting Oddi’s exemplum-like account according to the requirements of a saintly biography. As a result of Mariano’s account, Lancelao endured as the typical representative of a humble and ascetic friar whose spirituality was formed by the eminent Tommaso da Firenze in the secluded reformed community of Scarlino. The final part of this article explores the specific religious and historical milieu in which Lancelao lived in order to shed light on some ambiguous details surrounding his legend.
Keywords: Franciscan hagiography, Observant reform in Italy, Giacomo Oddi da Perugia, Mariano da Firenze, Hungarian royal origin in hagiography.
A Franciscan friar from Hungary was buried according to tradition in the Chapel of Santa Ferma at the Convent of Santa Maria in Monte Muro in Tuscany. Although the impressive ruins of the convent and the adjacent church can still be seen today, the tomb in which the friar was allegedly buried is no longer visible. The friar is Lancelao, or La(n)zilao de Ongaria, called Lanzilaus, Lanceslaus or Ladislaus in the Latin sources. His story has come down to us in the Specchio de l’Ordine Minore, commonly known as Franceschina by Giacomo Oddi da Perugia as part of the vita of Francesco da Pavia; and as an independent biography in the collection of the lives of mainly Franciscan saints and beati by Mariano da Firenze that has never been fully published.
Frate Lancelao is not completely unknown in Hungary. In the late 1890s, Gyula Décsényi discovered Mariano’s version of Lancelao’s vita preserved at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Rome (BNCR) while he was researching materials regarding Hungary at libraries in Italy. In 1935, Florio Banfi wrote a book review of Nicolo Cavanna’s edition of Oddi’s Specchio dell’Ordine Minore in which he examined the numerous holy friars in the work who had some connection to Hungary, focusing on Lancelao. In his regrettably almost completely unknown study examining St Bernardino of Siena’s relation to the Hungarians published in 1944, Banfi dedicated a few pages to Lancelao as well and provided the transcription of his vita by Mariano da Firenze based on the copy that Décsényi had identified at the BNCR. In 2000, Clare Lappin offered an insightful analysis of Francesco da Pavia’s vision of Lancelao and examined the manuscripts containing Mariano’s collection of the lives of Franciscan saints and beati in her doctoral dissertation, which is a fundamental work about early Observant identity and ideals.
This paper aims to provide a comprehensive presentation of the emergence of Lancelao of Hungary, whose figure straddles the boundary between history and fiction. I start by reconsidering the relation of the two main versions of his legend by Giacomo Oddi and Mariano da Firenze. For the latter, I use Mariano’s autograph manuscript. After comparing the two texts, I establish their relation showing that Mariano reshaped and amended Oddi’s account of Lancelao with concrete data according to the criteria of a standard vita in order to place the friar on the tableau of the Observant family. Next, I look at the vita’s transmission in subsequent Franciscan historiographic works revealing some new elements incorporated into his hagiography. Finally, I place Lancelao in the specific religious and historical contexts in which he allegedly lived, first in Hungary then in Italy, and investigate some enigmatic aspects of the friar’s legend, specifically those concerning his origin and the point in time when he left his native land.
Authors and Works
The vite the Observant Franciscans composed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries regarding their eminent predecessors and near-contemporaries are quite different from the lives of saints written for the initiation of proceedings for canonization. As Daniele Solvi observed, the hagiographic construction of Observant identity—particularly after the friars ceased in the 1470s to take further steps towards the canonization of their confratelli—focused rather on catalogue-like works, such as those of Giacomo Oddi and Mariano da Firenze. In these works, the “traditional” saints of the Order were presented as forerunners of the Observant reform and the second generation, the Observant friars, as the heirs of the only true Franciscanism. In most cases, these Observant lives of the beati were recorded for the preservation of the memory of those members of the Order who were little known outside of their local environment and in whose conversio the most important Observant virtues (obedience, humility, poverty, etc.) were manifested. Since the above-mentioned authors aimed to edify and inspire the brothers and sisters with the stories and lives of eminent members of the Order, they composed their hagiographic-historic collections in the vernacular.
Oddi’s Account of Lancelao
The earliest account of Lancelao can be found in the vita of the Observant Francesco da Pavia contained in the Franceschina written in the Umbrian vernacular by Giacomo Oddi da Perugia (?–1483) before the year 1474. After joining the Observant Franciscans around 1450, Oddi lived in the Convent of Monteripido in Perugia under the spiritual direction of Domenico da Genova for some time, and later was the guardian of Observant convents of Assisi, Perugia and Terni. The Franceschina seems to be his only work. This voluminous hagiographic collection consists of thirteen books, each of which is dedicated to a virtue such as obedience, poverty, chastity, charity, etc., which are illustrated in the legends or episodes from the lives of saints and beati of the Order of Minor Brothers ranging from St Francis to St John of Capistrano. Oddi included the biographies of more than 30 Observant beati, of which 29 were newly composed ones. His main sources for the work were Bartolomeo da Pisa’s De conformitate vitae B. Francisci ad vitam domini Iesu, Angelo Clareno’s Tribulationes, Chronica 24 Generalium attributed to Arnault de Sarrant as well as oral sources. The Franceschina survives in four codices used at male and female Franciscan communities in Umbria. Moreover, I have recently found a later copy of the legend of Francesco da Pavia in the Wadding Library at the Collegio Sant’Isidoro in Rome (MS Isidoriano 1/104) that closely follows Oddi’s text with some additional sentences of devotional character added by the copyist. I summarize here Oddi’s text about Lancealo because this will serve as the basis for comparison with Mariano da Firenze’s later version of his vita.
The hagiographic account of Lancelao in the Franceschina is presented in the form of a vision experienced by Francesco da Pavia, a friar from the Observant Convent “de le Carote” in Verona. There was a holy man called Brother Lancelao, originating from the Hungarian royal dynasty, who regarded poverty to be the highest among the virtues and joined the Franciscan Order. In order to experience life in absolute poverty, Lancelao set off and kept on wandering throughout the provinces of the Order, staying at any single convent for only a short time. Being a man of devout and contemplative character, he visited almost all the zealous communities living in poverty in the Province of St Francis (Umbria), during which he had various mystical experiences witnessed by other friars. Finally, on divine inspiration, he went to the Province of Milan, where he became the guardian of a convent. When the plague broke out in the convent, he witnessed the death and the glorious ascent to heaven of 20 friars as well as a layman. Francesco da Pavia, who was sent to this convent of Milan and would often converse with Lancelao, once asked him how it was possible to live with a clear conscience in such a sumptuous convent, especially for someone who had been searching for poverty in so many provinces. Lancelao responded that he had previously been wrong and that the true perfection of a Minorite is obedience, which entails poverty, chastity and all other virtues. Although this answer did not please Francesco, he chose to remain silent out of reverence. A few days after he had returned to his convent in Verona, Francesco learned that Lancelao had died and he became curious about the status of the friar’s soul, so he prayed to God and fasted until one night Lancelao appeared to him in a vision. In the vision, Lancelao took Francesco by the hand and led him to the choir of the church. The choir was illuminated by great light and Francesco saw entering the church a great multitude of angels, saints, and Franciscans dressed in splendid habits and, finally, Christ, who was so radiant that Francesco could not look at him. Experiencing heavenly light and detecting a sweet odor, Francesco was conducted to the main altar, to the feet of Christ, who assured him of his place in heaven as a reward for his obedience and revealed many other things that that he shared with no one until the final moments of his life. At this point, Francesco saw the whole assembly ascend to heaven accompanied by the singing of the Psalm In exitu. For about a year, whenever he heard this Psalm, he was immersed in the same sweet odor.
Apart from this account, there is another important reference to Lancelao in the Franceschina appearing in the vita of Tommaso da Firenze, according to which he was buried at Scarlino and his saintly fame was spread by Guasparre da Firenze.
Mariano da Firenze’s Vita of Lancelao and Its Major Deviations from Oddi’s Account
Mariano da Firenze (c. 1477–1523) joined the Franciscan Observants sometime before 1493 and even though he was as a parish priest for most of his life, he spent much of his time visiting Observant houses in central Italy to collect material for his historiographic and hagiographic works. Mariano was a prolific writer, composing histories of all the three Orders of the Franciscans as well as devotional and apologetic works in both Latin and the Tuscan vernacular, including the Defensorio della verità (c.1506), La Via Spirituale (1518) and a collection of biographies written in the vernacular, the so-called Vite de Sancti et Beati (c. 1510–23). His major work, the Fasciculus Chronicarum Ordinis Minorum, was lost in the late eighteenth century, though its synopsized version survives in his Compendium Chronicarum Ordinis Ff. Minorum (1521–22). Mariano included shorter accounts of Lancelao in his Latin works, the Fasciculus and the Compendium, and an extended one in his collection of vite.
Lancelao’s vita composed by Mariano has come down to us in two manuscripts. The older one is preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence (BNCF), MS Landau-Finaly 243, under the title Vite de Sancti et Beati and contains the “Vita di Lanzilao Hungero” as well as the vite of 33 other Franciscan and 12 non-Franciscan beati, most of whom were from Tuscany, and three treatises. The manuscript is partly autograph (which means that it was made before 1523) and the “Vita di Lanzilao Hungero” is among the texts written by Mariano himself. Composed in the Tuscan vernacular, Mariano intended the work for the whole congregation and selected those Observant beati who were known for living a contemplative life in strict poverty, prayer and seclusion. A more recent copy of this vita, “Del beato frate Lazilao Vnghero di casa Reale,” survives in MS Sessoriano 412 at the BNCR. This was the manuscript Décsényi found during his research and which served as the basis upon which Banfi based his transcription of Lancelao’s legend. The majority of the codex was copied in 1541 for the female Franciscan community of Sant’Orsola in Florence, although its title—Vite quaranta quattro di vari Uomini Illustri in Santità—was added by a later hand. It contains two books of a three-part work, the third book of which is preserved at the Franciscan Convent of Giaccherino. The contents of the two manuscripts are quite similar, but the order of the lives is different; moreover, the MS Sess. 412 lacks seven of the vite and the treatises that are reported in MS Landau-Finaly 243. My first-hand consultation of both manuscripts revealed that the two legends are nearly identical, containing only a few minor differences. In this paper, I use Lancelao’s vita from the MS Landau-Finaly 243 as the base text.
In the collection Mariano put together approximately a half century after the Franceschina, Lancelao is no longer one of the characters in the life of Francesco da Pavia, but is promoted to the constantly widening circle of the Observant beati thanks to the author’s elaborate presentation of his life in the form of a proper vita providing heretofore unknown details. Let me recapitulate the main differences between Mariano’s biography and Oddi’s text before moving on to the discussion of how the two versions are related.
First, Lancelao’s motives for wandering from province to province are basically the same in both redactions: he was seeking a community in which he could live in perfect poverty in true observance of the Rule of Francis. In Mariano’s version, however, the friar left for Puglia because “at that time in Hungary the friars had drifted so far away from the true observance of his rule that he could not observe the highest degree of poverty.”
Second, with regard to his sojourn in central Italy, Oddi writes only that the devout and contemplative Lancelao visited all the zealous communities living in poverty in the Province of St Francis and that he had mystical experiences. In Mariano’s redaction, Lancelao, after receiving permission from his minister, first went to Puglia, then to the Province of Sant’Angelo, where Giovanni da Stroncone and Tommaso da Firenze had recently initiated the reform of the Franciscan houses. But not finding what he was looking for, he departed for Tuscany and was permitted to stay in the reformed house of Scarlino, which was led by the simple and poor layman Tommaso da Firenze “under whose guidance his humility increased greatly and he forgot about his royal origin and priesthood.” Mariano underscores the profound impact that Tommaso had on Lancelao’s spirituality: he dedicated his life to prayer and contemplation in the wilderness, he was seen in a state of rapture by the friars several times, lived on bread and water, and wore only a shabby tunic and no shoes.
The third major divergence between the texts of Mariano and Oddi concerns the circumstances of Lancelao’s departure for Milan. In Oddi’s version, the friar was sent to the Province of Milan by God and while staying there he was made the guardian of the house of Milan. In Mariano’s version, the historical context is also revealed: after San Bernardino spread the “new observance” in Lombardy, the vicars of Tuscany sent holy friars to direct these convents so that the friars and the youth of Lombardy who opted for religious life would be nourished in the will of God and regular discipline. Thus, at God’s command, Lancelao was removed from the poor house of Scarlino and was appointed guardian at the house of Sant’Angelo near Milan, where there was a terrible plague at the time of his entrance.
Fourth, Mariano provides an elaborated version of Lancelao’s death combining two pieces of information found in two different vite of the Franceschina, in that of Francesco da Pavia and Tommaso da Firenze, namely that the friar died shortly after the plague had ended and that he was buried in Scarlino—to which Mariano added that he was interred in the same tomb as the other blessed friars of the community at the Church of Sancta Ferma. Moreover, in the very last part of the vita Mariano becomes the first to speak about Lancelao’s local cult at Scarlino:
And as strong brother Lanzilao proved to be in glory, he proved to be as strong for the mortal people who remained in this miserable life, who came to visit his tomb invoking him in their illness and other necessity, who were persuaded also to come and visit by the holy brother Guasparre da Firenze.
This is an important reference to the veneration of Lancelao as a holy person not long after his death as well as to the active role of the guardian of a community in the preservation of his memory and the urging of the faithful to pray for the intercession of a Franciscan Observant friar.
As Banfi has already pointed out, the accounts of Mariano and Oddi are genetically related. This relation is revealed most poignantly in the similar expressions and sentences and the same sequence of the events in their texts. The abundance of details in Mariano’s life of Lancelao excludes the possibility that it was derived from Oddi’s briefer version, while Oddi could not have used Mariano’s vita since it was written later. According to Banfi, the two authors presumably used the same earlier source. In my opinion, however, it is more probable that Mariano collected additional information about Lancelao and greatly revised Oddi’s narrative rather than that Oddi, who for more than two decades diligently collected the legends and miracles of the Observant friars before writing the Franceschina, abbreviated a more detailed existing legend omitting all the remarkable details about the early history of the Observant movement in Italy and Lancelao’s role in it, even if his focus was on Francesco da Pavia. Based on Oddi’s remark made in the legend of Francesco da Pavia, I propose that, in fact, he was the first to write about Lancelao in a relatively detailed fashion. The new details that emerge in Mariano’s text are derived from oral tradition and presumably the author himself, who was a great expert on the history of the Order of Minor Brothers, especially the Observants.
The Franceschina reveals Oddi’s strong interest in the past and present of the Order: in addition to the written sources listed earlier, Oddi presumably collected written materials in the convents during his journeys and recorded numerous stories that until then had circulated only orally. As previously mentioned, Oddi was the first to compose the life and the miracles of Brother Francesco da Pavia, a work in which he included an account of Lancelao. It is worthwhile to take a closer look at Francesco, since the period he spent in the convent in Milan at the time of the great plague is of central importance as a result of the fact that Lancelao died soon after the epidemic ended. Francesco da Pavia, whose original name was Antonio Beccaria, was the descendant of a powerful noble family from Pavia. Francesco was born sometime before 1400 and as a youth joined the Franciscan Observants, likely motivated by the visits of Bernardino of Siena to Pavia, in 1417 and 1421, where he spent a total of 33 years. The year of Francesco’s death is debated: either 1450 or 1452, or 1454. Oddi was pivotal in the diffusion of the fama sanctitatis of Francesco da Pavia. The Perugian friar heard testimonies about him from his fellow brothers and traveled to the Convent of Monteluco near Spoleto to be at the bed of the gravely ill Francesco. Oddi alluded to his source as he underscored the authenticity of the vision of Lancelao by writing that Francesco shared this experience with his fellow brethren, who were all “trustworthy men from whom I [the author] heard all this.” This means that Francesco da Pavia’s confratelli were the earliest, albeit oral, sources about Lancelao and it was Oddi who then put his story on paper.
Mariano da Firenze, too, followed his predecessor’s footsteps and was a great collector and disseminator of the records of prominent Observants. As Lappin observed, the majority of his biographies of the Vite de sancti Frati Minori, including that of Lancelao, were about contemplative men turning to nature in order to find peace and the comfort of prayer, although at the same time many of them represented the fusion of the Literal and Regular Observant ideals. The content of the Vite de sancti Frati Minori is the product of a collection of written and oral testimonies from the Observant houses in central Italy that Mariano continually rewrote during his travels between 1510 and 1523. Mariano even had the chance to visit the functioning Observant Convent of Monte Muro at Scarlino, which had been transformed from the modest building where Lancelao had lived. However, it is doubtful that Mariano’s research at this convent was successful, as in the Vita di Thomà da Firenze, he complains about the failure of the brothers to record the works and the deeds of Tommaso and that he had to travel on foot to different parts of Italy in order to gain information from those who knew him personally or were his disciples. Mariano probably started to organize his hagiographic writings into a collection around the years 1520/21 in order to publish a book containing the legends and the lives of the three Orders of St Francis. Until recently, it seemed that the work was never published, perhaps due to the author’s sudden death in 1523, but some years ago Arnaldo Sancricca discovered a fragment of a piece of a work published in 1525 entitled La genealogia delle province de’ beati e santi della religione di S. Francesco that could be the planned work of the Florentine chronicler.
Elaboration and Authenticity
The elaboration of the lives of saints was quite common in the late medieval and early modern period. Dávid Falvay observed with regard to the Italian legends whose authors attempted to present the saints originating from Hungary in an elaborate and historically correct manner that these texts do not correspond more closely to a textual archetype but are the product of historical elaboration. This occurred mostly in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century texts, the erudite authors of which, judging the historical basis of a devotional text to be weak, used other sources in order to retrospectively provide a more precise background to the given work. Such “philological revision” occurred, for instance, in the case of a fifteenth-century manuscript containing the legend of St Guglielma, an alleged queen of Hungary who turned up in fourteenth-century devotional works written in the vernacular in which a later hand added notes to the text in order to make it more accurate and to add concrete historical data. In my opinion, Mariano did something similar: the most important pieces of information he integrated in order to substantiate Lancelao’s story came from the material he collected from oral and written testimonies. He retrospectively augmented Oddi’s account with new details, including pieces of information concerning Lancelao from the vita of Tommaso da Firenze. Mariano was careful not to radically change the information provided by Oddi; rather, he “filled in the blanks,” amplifying or making minor changes to the original short text in order to transform it into a genuine vita. The result was an emblematic biography of the period of transition of the Observance “from the desert to the crowd,” that is, of the transformation of the movement’s initial eremitic lifestyle to its promulgation of the evangelic message to the urban masses—a process in which in Bernardino of Siena had a fundamental role.
The notion of authenticity in the Middle Ages was broader and more flexible than it is today. It denoted authorization or approval from an institution that guaranteed the truth, that is, from the Church. Authentication could be derived from the authority of Church Fathers, the popes, the founding fathers of religious orders, or tradition. Truth was, in simplified terms, everything that relates to God. So in this sense, what one would call historical truth today was not of primary concern for Mariano da Firenze in his hagiographic works. Even if the new details originate from trustworthy testimonies, as Mariano emphasized, at least a half century had passed since the deaths of Lancelao and his master Tommaso da Firenze and in some cases it is not possible to tell whether the new details were based on actual facts or were plausible speculations made by the witnesses or by Mariano himself in order to directly link the events of Lancelao’s life with the spread of the Observance or whether they had been introduced for rhetorical purposes (e.g., that he went to Italy as a result of the decline of the Franciscan Order in Hungary, that he was a priest, that he was sent to Milan by the vicars of Tuscany). For Mariano and his readers, such considerations were valid and did not detract from the authenticity of Lancelao’s biography. There was no strict boundary between “this happened this way” and “this could have happened this way.”
Apart from Oddi’s Franceschina and Mariano’s collection of vite, shorter accounts about Lancelao were included also in Franciscan chronicles. In his Compendium Chronicarum Ordinis Ff. Minorum, Mariano summed up the essential information about the friar under the year 1445: “Under blessed Tommaso da Firenze, great perfection flourished at the place of Scarlin and [under his guidance] was also Brother Lanzilao, a royal descent of the king of Hungary, a particularly holy man.” Mariano presumably did the same in his Fasciculus. It is unclear on what basis, because he does not indicate that the friar died that year. The Portuguese author Marcos da Silva, whose Crónica dos frades menores (1554–56) was published in Italian translation in 1581–1582, also relied on Mariano’s Fasciculus. His account placed around the year 1445 states explicitly that it was Bernardino of Siena who invited and appointed Lancelao to serve as the guardian of a recently built convent near Milan (although its precise name is not mentioned) at which 20 friars died of the plague the following year. Mariano’s Latin works were also used by the Tuscan Franciscan Dionisio Pulinari, who dedicated an entry of his Cronache dei Frati Minori della Provincia di Toscana to “Fra Lazilao.” In this work, which itself is a continuation of Mariano’s Brevis chronica Tusciae (1510–14) until the year 1580, Dionisio provided a short biographical account about Lancelao in the section about the Convent of Monte Muro, depicting him as one of the holy friars of the early times of the Observant movement buried in the Church of Santa Ferma, though he does not mention his sojourn in Milan. In his De Origine Seraphicae Religionis Franciscanae ... published in 1587, Francesco Gonzaga, who was Minister General of the Order between 1579 and 1587, made a short reference to Lancelao in his entry on the history of the Observant Convent of Monte Muro at Scarlino stating that he was one of the holy friars buried at this location, though in his entry on the Convent of Sant’Angelo in Milan he does mention that Lancaleo allegedly once served as the convent’s guardian. The French Franciscan Arthur du Moustier used Marco da Silva’s Crónica as the basis for his account of Lanceleo in his Martyrologium Franciscanum published in 1638. Arthur du Moustier recounted both of Lancelao’s sojourns in the houses of Monte Muro and Sant’Angelo and places his death around the year 1445, designating September 20 as the date of his commemoration. The Irish Franciscan Luke Wadding, author of the major comprehensive history of his Order, worked on the basis of Oddi’s Franceschina and Mariano’s Fasciculus. Wadding recounted Lancelao’s memory at Scarlino under the year 1420 (the year when the hermitage was given to Tommaso da Firenze) and dedicated a longer account to him under the year 1445 describing Lancelao’s stay in Milan and his post mortem cult at the Convent of Monte Muro. The relatively detailed accounts of Lancelao in Wadding’s Annales and in Marcos da Silva’s Crónica are valuable because these works, together with Arthur du Moustier’s Martyrologium, became the standard reference books for Franciscan history, especially after the Fasciculus was lost in the eighteenth century. Lancelao would have remained virtually unknown to the Franciscans without the above-mentioned printed works as a result of the fact that Oddi’s Franceschina and Mariano’s works had a limited circulation in the area of Tuscany and Umbria. At the same time, these printed works—especially the Martyrologium—anchored the tradition of placing Lancelao’s death around the year 1445.
Lancelao’s stay in Tuscany and Lombardy, which coincided with the Observant movement’s spread from central to northern Italy, is an ill-documented period of Franciscan history. Checking the reliability of the biographical information provided by Oddi and particularly by Mariano in the vite of the Observant beati against other historical sources is challenging as a result of the fact that these works are the most important and in many cases the only sources of religious history for this period, thus compelling subsequent Observant chroniclers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to rely to a large extent on these works. Nevertheless, for a better understanding of the historical context of the communities in which, according to Mariano’s vita, Lancelao lived, it would be useful to briefly describe the state of the Franciscan Order in Hungary around the year 1400 as well as the origins of the Observant convents of Monte Muro at Scarlino and of Sant’Angelo in Milan and their importance in the reform.
The Franciscan Order in Hungary around 1400
Even if it is not known exactly when Lancelao was born, the period when he was a Franciscan in Hungary would have been in the last decades of the fourteenth century or the first decade of the fifteenth century. By that time, the signs of decadence were obvious in the Franciscan Order also in Hungary: the friars were not only looking for privileges for their Order as a whole, but also requested and obtained benefits, positions and exemptions from the noble lords and the pope. The Observant movement simultaneously gained ground in Hungary as well: the first Observant houses were established as early as the 1360s in the southeastern part of the country, where friars from the movement were entrusted with missionary activities among the “heretics” and the “schismatics” who lived in this region. Despite the presence of the Observants in Hungary since the beginning of the second half of the fourteenth century, it began to truly expand in the country only around the early fifteenth century: while in 1390 there were only around a dozen reformed houses in Hungary, this number grew to 24 or 25 between 1400 and 1430. King Sigismund strongly supported the Observant Vicariate of Bosnia, and the improvement of his relationship with the papacy had a positive impact on the expansion of the Observants in Hungary. The Hungarian Observant Franciscans gained a significant degree of influence following their separation from the Bosnian vicariate in 1448, thus spurring a significant rise in the number of their convents.
The Convent of Monte Muro near Scarlino
Mariano narrates that Lancelao first went to the Province of Puglia, but since he did not find what he was looking for, he headed to the Province of Sant’Angelo, which was, in fact, that part of Puglia in which Giovanni da Stroncone and Tommaso da Firenze had recently started the reform of the Franciscan convents. Giovanni, who came from the circle of Paoluccio da Trinci, the “founder” of the Observant movement in 1368, was an eminent Observant who held important offices in the reformed branch of the Order and set up a number of reformed houses throughout Italy. A few years before his death, Giovanni embarked upon the dissemination of the Observant reform in Puglia and in Calabria together with one of his disciples, Tommaso da Firenze, known also as Tommaso Bellacci or Tommaso da Scarlino (1370–1447). Tommaso assumed Giovanni’s offices following his death in 1418, becoming the vicar of Puglia and Calabria and founding several convents in these regions. In 1419, Tommaso was entrusted with the task of eradicating the fraticelli de opinione in the area of Maremma, near Siena. He stayed in the Convent of San Benedetto della Nave at Montorsaio with a few other friars, possibly including Lancelao, who earned distinction by chasing away the fraticelli when they attacked the house. But Tommaso’s most beloved dwelling place was the hermitage of Scarlino, the predecessor of the Observant Franciscan Convent of Monte Muro. Tommaso’s community at Scarlino became an important spiritual center in Tuscany for those friars who wished to observe the rules of Francis living in a quasi-eremitic lifestyle. Lancelao came here due to the zeal and the sanctity of the “pura observantia regolare” in the Provinces of Tuscany and of St Francis (the two provinces functioned as one until 1440). The region was renowned for its reformed Franciscan spirituality and its abundance of saintly friars. As the Observant Franciscan Bernardino Aquilano noted in his Cronaca dei frati minori dell’osservanza (1480), “in the province of St Francis there were famous men of distinguished life and holiness.” Tommaso da Firenze was a renowned figure in his era and was highly esteemed by the leading figures of the second generation of the Observants as well. After his death during a mission in 1447, Tommaso was venerated as a blessed due to his conversio and the miracles that occurred at his tomb in the Church of St Francis in Rieti.
In the early 1420s the hermitage of Monte Muro near Scarlino was transformed into a convent housing a reformed Franciscan community and its spiritual milieu attracted people from all social strata, ranging from unlettered lay people to descendants of Tuscan and Roman noble families. Tommaso da Firenze’s disciples, in addition to Lancelao, included Clemente Capponi, Gerolamo della Stufa, Polidoro Romano and Guasparre da Firenze. The latter became an important figure in the subsequent history of the Observants at Scarlino: the convent was rebuilt at his initiative and he was a major propagator of the local cult of Lancelao. In the sixteenth century, the convent was attacked and looted by the Ottomans first in 1539 and again in 1566, after which the friars decided to leave the convent. However, at the initiative of General Minister Francesco Gonzaga, a decision was made at the Chapter of Poggibonsi in 1580 to repopulate the convent. In the opinion of Dionisio Pulinari, Gonzaga, who was “stimulated by the odor and the name of such great holiness,” proposed reviving the convent, probably due to the rather high number of friars buried there “because in those early times those early brothers were saints.” It shows that the importance of the burial place of saintly friars as a potential site of miracles and thus of local cult had not decreased with the Observant Franciscans more than a century later.
The Church and the Convent of Sant’Angelo in Milan
Lancelao did not spend all his life at the community of Scarlino. As his vita composed by Mariano reveals, after Bernardino of Siena had spread the “new observance” in Lombardy, on divine inspiration he was appointed guardian of the Convent of Sant’Angelo near Milan. The contrast between the hermitage-like Observant house at Scarlino and the convent of Sant’Angelo could not have been greater: the Sant’Angelo (“Vecchio” or “fuori le mura”) was the first Observant church and convent in Milan, established thanks to the celebrated preaching tour and peacemaking activities of Bernardino in northern Italy, during which he visited the city three times between 1418 and 1421. The construction of the church and the convent is traditionally associated with the first visit of Bernardino to Milan in 1418, although in fact it was only in 1421 that Filippo Maria Visconti approved the concession of an already existing oratory outside the city walls to the reformed friars. The Observant movement, and especially Bernardino, attracted so many people that the small chapel was soon no longer sufficient and had to be enlarged. The new church was dedicated to Santa Maria degli Angeli and the sumptuous and huge monastic complex was able to accommodate more than 100 friars. First the Franciscan tertiaries and some female communities and, from the mid-1440s, two Observant Clarissan communities were placed under the supervision of the friars. The Observant Vicariate of Milan was established in 1428.
Although a few parchment documents related to the Observant church and convent of Sant’Angelo from the period before their partial destruction in 1527 survive at the Archivio di Stato of Milan, none of the eight documents from the period between 1421 and 1460 record the name of Lancelao, the alleged guardian of the convent at an unspecified time. Neither Mariano’s Compendium, nor Dionisio Pulinari’s Cronache, nor Gonzaga’s De origine mentions Lancelao’s sojourn in Milan. Despite the various possible explanations of the causes of this omission based on the genre or the aim of the works, these chronicles clearly show that regardless the path a friar takes in his life, it is the place where he dies and is buried which, in the end, is of utmost importance: in Lancealo’s case, this was the convent of Monte Muro at Scarlino.
According to both Oddi and Mariano, Lancelao was guardian of the Convent of Sant’Angelo at the time of the plague in Milan. There were two serious plague epidemics in Milan during the fifteenth century—the first in 1424 and the second and more deadly one between 1449 and 1452. According to Giovanni Simonetta, the chronicler of Francesco Sforza, 30,000 people died of the plague in Milan during the latter outbreak of the disease. In Mariano’s redaction, the plague coincided with Lancelao’s entry into the convent, while his term as guardian ended after the plague and he died soon after his return to Scarlino. If Francesco da Pavia indeed died in 1450, the great plague epidemic during which Lancelao was the guardian of the Convent of Sant’Angelo could only be the one that occurred in 1424. The plague of 1449–52 could not be that to which Mariano referred in his work even if Francesco died in 1454, because he stayed in the Observant house “de le Carote” in Verona before moving to Umbria at an unspecified time prior to the year 1446.
The Hungarian Royal Origin and the Riddle of the United Provinces
There is little information regarding the life of Lancelao before he went to Italy and even the little that exists is ambiguous. “There was a holy brother in the Order called brother Lancelao, a native of the province of Hungary and a scion of the royal house of Hungary” says Oddi at the beginning of his account. Some decades later, Mariano da Firenze writes the same: “In the Kingdom of Hungary there was a most illustrious man of royal lineage or blood of the Hungarian king.” The ruler to whom Lancelao was related is not specified in any of the above sources. The royal descent of Lancelao has remained a constant attribute described in Franciscan hagiographic and historiographic works throughout the centuries. There were four monarchs, three of whom belonged to the Capetian House of Anjou, who reigned in Hungary during Lancelao’s lifetime and to whom, according to these works, he may have been related: King Louis the Great (1342–82); Queen Mary (1382–85); King Charles II (Charles of Durazzo; 1385–86); and King Sigismund (1387–1437). Not even Mariano brings us closer to answering the question when he writes in Lancelao’s vita that the friar “after obtaining permission from his minister, went to Puglia, which province was united with the province of Hungary.”
Décsényi interpreted “province” to mean “kingdom” and the union between Puglia and Hungary to be a reference to Louis the Great’s campaigns for the title of the King of Naples in the years 1347–48 and 1350–52, of which only the first was successful. Banfi added another period of union, the short reign of Charles II in the years 1385–86. If one accepts Décsényi’s interpretation, Lancelao could not have been born after the late 1320s or early 1330s, though if this is true, he could have hardly been one the disciples of Tommaso da Firenze and have personally known Francesco da Pavia. The other period of union seems more plausible, because in this case Lancelao could not have born much later than 1360 if he indeed left for Puglia in 1385 or 1386 even though this would mean that he spent more than three decades (!) wandering in different Franciscan communities in Italy before he settled down in the community at Scarlino at around the age of 60.
In order to clarify this enigma, I would like to propose another interpretation of the unity of the province of Puglia and the province of Hungary that can be found only in Mariano’s version. “Province” in the sense used by Oddi and Mariano can indicate a Franciscan geographical unit. In 1385, Raimondo del Balzo Orsini founded in Puglia the Convent of Santa Caterina di Galatina, which Pope Boniface IX attached to the Bosnian vicariate via the bull Pia vota of 1391, authorizing the Vicar of Bosnia Bartolomeo d’Alverna that the Bosnian friars could stay in this convent and instructing him to found other houses in the area. This became the custody of Santa Catherina, which was composed essentially of the convents of Puglia and one more of Crotone, from where the friars went to Bosnia to convert the “heretics” and the “schismatics” and which belonged to the Observant Franciscan Vicariate of Bosnia until 1446. The Observants of Hungary were part of the Vicariate of Bosnia until 1448, when Pope Nicholas V permitted the establishment of an independent Observant Vicariate of Hungary, which until 1523 was called familia Fratrum Minorum de observantia. A further argument in favor of this reading is that Mariano, as seen above, specified two parts of Puglia in his vita—the Province of Puglia and the Province of Sant’Angelo. I propose that the interpretation of the unity of the provinces between 1391 and 1446 makes it possible that Lancelao left Hungary later, presumably in the second half of the 1410s.
Although the possibility that Lancelao was indeed related to the Hungarian royal house cannot be excluded despite the lack of sources that would support this assumption, it may well be that affirmation of his royal lineage was merely a hagiographic topos. André Vauchez observed that, beginning in the fourteenth century, the royal origin of saints was in many cases the “invention” of the hagiographers, especially when available biographic information about the relevant saint was scarce. Vauchez also noticed that Hungary had acquired a privileged role compared to other countries in this respect. Due to the exceptional number of saints and blessed from the Árpád dynasty between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries, the tradition of royal holiness as a hereditary trait (beata stirps) was widely applied in representative purposes by the royal house. This was continued in the fourteenth century by the subsequent ruling dynasty of Hungary, the Angevins. As Dávid Falvay has shown, the attribution of royal origin to saints and other legendary and historical figures was a frequent phenomenon in vernacular hagiographic works produced in central Italy. These personages were often represented as the offspring of the Hungarian king, who was described either as pagan or recently converted. Falvay found that the Hungarian origin of a saintly person, be it real or fictitious, did not serve as historical data, but as a rhetorical element. The examination of both devotional and secular texts in Western Europe in which the protagonists were credited with Hungarian royal origin has led Enikő Csukovits to conclude that the attribution served to enhance their reputation by representing them as members of the ruling dynasty of a distant, though nevertheless important, kingdom. In addition to this, turning away from courtly high society and embracing poverty represented a recurring motif in the hagiographic literature produced by the mendicant orders that goes back as far as the thirteenth century. It must be said, however, that the fictitious royal origin of saints turned up in legends and exempla that originated in the centuries before this attribute was added to them. In any case, Lancelao’s (alleged) royal origin underlines the sharp contrast between his choice to join the Franciscans in order to live in poverty and his journey to find a community that truly observed the Rule of Francis that eventually led him to Tuscany.
The earliest sources regarding Lancelao of Hungary are devotional texts combining biographical and historical events with hagiographic topoi. The two main redactions of his legend have come down to us as parts of works written in the Umbrian and the Tuscan vernacular, which suggest that the Observant authors had in mind a popular Franciscan audience. The texts that Oddi and Mariano wrote regarding Lancelao are based on oral tradition collected primarily from the Observant friars who preserved and transmitted information regarding the lives and the deeds of their saintly forefathers. The importance of Oddi’s text is that it recorded in writing the existence of Lancelao and likely drew the attention of Mariano to the friar many years later, while the greatest merit of the latter’s work is that it furnished the historical context for Lancelao’s life. I have argued that Mariano’s redaction of the vita of Lancelao is not based on a textual archetype, but it is the elaborated version of Oddi’s short account that the historian-hagiographer shaped to the requirements of a biography. Oddi’s account was not suitable for Mariano’s purposes: Francesco da Pavia’s vision about Lancelao resembles an extended exemplum in which the protagonist is a Franciscan friar whose figure exhibits the fusion of the medieval topoi of the wandering knight and Hungarian royal origin. The latter, supposed or real, was a recurring motif in the vernacular hagiographic texts produced in Italy beginning in the fourteenth century, and this tradition survived until the early modern period. The additional information Mariano included in the vita of Lancelao could be based partially on that which he collected through oral communication from those who still had some memories of the disciples of Tommaso da Firenze and partially on a possible retrospective reconstruction Mariano made using his common sense and vast knowledge of the history of the Franciscan Observants in Italy.
Both Oddi and Mariano state in their hagiographic collections that Lancelao was the disciple of Tommaso da Firenze at the house of Scarlino and had been buried there. Mariano’s remark from the last lines of Lancelao’s vita regarding his local cult at Scarlino asserting that the faithful visited his shrine for the purpose of healing suggests that Guasparre da Firenze was successful in the enhancement of the friar’s saintly reputation. The convent at Scarlino was regarded already by near contemporaries to be an emblematic place at which the true sons of the Observance were raised under the guidance of Tommaso da Firenze and it later became a kind of pantheon dedicated to the early friars of the Observance, all of whom were regarded as saints. Its fame as a sacred site had not faded completely even by the late sixteenth century, which could be one of the reasons for the decision to repopulate the abandoned convent. Repeated Ottoman attacks brought an end to Lancelao’s local cult, as well as those of the other friars of Scarlino, because it seems that the Francesco Gonzaga’s initiative to repopulate the Observant convent of Monte Muro was not successful.
It was thanks to Oddi that the figure of Lancelao survived, while it was due to Mariano that he endured as the typical representative of a humble and ascetic friar living at the Franciscan community of Scarlino in seclusion and whose spirituality was formed by the teachings of the eminent Observant Tommaso da Firenze. As a result of the works of Franciscan historiography and collective memory over the following centuries, the name of Lancelao is still associated with the ruins of the former Convent of Monte Muro that today has become a significant tourist attraction.
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