Western religious orders in the wider region of the Aegean and Ionian Seas (11th – 19th centuries)

Marina Koumanoudi, George Koutzakiotis, Angeliki Panopoulou, Anna Lampropoulou

Western religious orders in the wider region of the Aegean and Ionian Seas (11th – 19th centuries)

Since the 11th century, the wider region of the Aegean and Ionian Seas had constantly been an area of coexistence of the Orthodox East and the Catholic West. Beginning from the establishment of communities of merchants from the Italian cities, Western presence will be consolidated in this area during the next centuries, since, following the Crusades and the dismembering of the Byzantine Empire, a large number of Latin possessions and states of Latin influence will be established. On a religious level, this establishment is reflected on the settlement and dissemination of Western religious orders, which will continue during the Ottoman period as well, as a result of the Capitulations. Benedictines, Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, Hospitallers and Military Orders Capuchins, Jesuits and Lazarist missionaries will compose, during the centuries, a wide and dense network of churches, monasteries, dependencies and missions, that expanded throughout both the islands and the urban centers where there were Roman-Catholic communities. Historical circumstances, the relations of the foundations with the lay and Church authorities of the place of origin and place of installation, as well as with the Holy See, were all parameters that decisively influenced the development and direction of their activities. The activity of religious orders, particularly during the first centuries, can be located in the fields of pastoral care, services and charities. With their scope of action exceeding that of spiritual guidance of their flock, the foundation of brotherhoods and schools, and their monasteries, they will become, during the modern era, the field of interaction par excellence of the Christian denominations and dissemination of scientific and technological knowledge. Moreover, the occupation of the monks with the collection and translation of relics from the East gave impetus for the development of hagiographical texts and translations (narratives of relic translations, miracles and martyrdom, saints’ lives, etc) that contributed to the introduction and propagation of the cult of saints who were unknown until then in the West. Furthermore, being established in cities and ports that served as important stopovers for travelers to Constantinople and the Holy Land, the missionaries played a key role in the dissemination of all kinds of information in Europe and the Mediterranean. Finally, being owners of landed property, the Western orders came into dialog with local communities, contributing to the economy and the formation of the urban structure of the places of installation.


The database for “Western religious orders in the wider region of the Aegean and Ionian Seas (11th – 19th centuries)” aims at:

I) depicting for the first time on a map the extent, density and diversity of the installations of Western religious orders in the specific geographical area from the 11th century to 1830, year of Greek Independence.

II) to collect and present the basic bibliographical documentation for these installations.

The data presented are based solely on published material. To be more precise, the following categories of published work was indexed for the collection of the data:

--Studies referring to the history of Western religious orders in the eastern Mediterranean,

--Publication of sources referring to local installations of Western religious orders in this specific region,

--Studies of general or local History, when the information on the installation of Western religious orders are based on primary sources.

The bibliographical documentation given to the user includes the basic published works. Thus, it was deemed unnecessary to cite older studies insomuch as their conclusions are adequately used in more recent bibliography.

From the indexing of the relevant bibliography, we arrive to the conclusion that our knowledge on the history of Western religious orders at specific areas is quite limited. Therefore, the time readings do not always indicate the continuous functioning of a church, a monastery, a dependency or a mission, particularly when this time span covers many decades. Respectively, it is not assured that the form of installation remains the same throughout many decades. In fact, in some cases the historiographical information on the function period or the form of the installation is contradictory. In these cases, the data entered was that found to be more reliable by the compilers of the database. It should be noted that the size of the religious communities varies depending on the organizational structure of each order and the different periods of time. Normally, the monastic communities were limited in number. Besides, they often failed to form a community with full religious life, while there are cases witnessed of individual Religious (monks, friars or regular clerics) who served the religious and liturgical needs of particular officials, military units or merchant communities. The local landed property of the orders came into being piecemeal, and its size changed with time, as a result of historical conditions and developments within these religious institutions. Given the difficulties from the volume and dispersion of information on the property assets of the orders, at this phase of the project the attempt was made to record property assets in three cases:

I) the Hospitaller order of the Crusaders

II) the military order of Saint Sampson, and

III) the Cistercians of Crete.

As starting point of the expansion of the orders we give the main or motherhouse, if applicable. Respectively, when the installation cannot be accurately located, the central position of the wider geographical area is noted on the map. Finally, in the cases when there are no precise chronological indications about the beginning and the end of their installation available, the dates given are approximate.

In the next phase, the database will be expanded geographically, in order to include Cyprus, and, chronologically, the 20th century. Moreover, it will be revised bibliographically and enriched with published and unpublished archival material.


A branch of the Order of Saint Benedict for nuns, the founding of which is attributed to the sister of Saint Benedict, Scholastica. During the Middle Ages, Benedictine nunneries were closed aristocratic communities which attracted rich donations, also functioning as a safe haven for maidens or widows of higher social strata.


One of the oldest and most important orders of the Western Church following the Rule of Saint Benedict from Nursia (6th century). The Benedictine monasteries were initially autonomous and self-dependent communities, and during the first centuries of their existence functioned under the jurisdiction of the local bishop. They were owners of large landed property, and developed complex mechanisms for its administration that allowed for the attachment of dependent monastic communities, churches or dependencies to the main monastery. During the 10th and 11th century, many monasteries acceded to the Cluniac Reform, forming monastic communities under the guidance of one central monastery. In the 12th century, the Order fell into a long period of decline, accompanied by moral decadence and financial difficulties. The next centuries brought efforts for recovery and reform, during which confederations were founded, as well as monastic associations of reformed monasteries with an international structure. The Benedictines provided pastoral work, developed important missionary activity, particularly during the early Middle Ages, cultivated scholarship, and contributed to the invigoration of religious spirituality.


The Cistercian Order formed a branch of the Benedictines, and was founded at Cîteaux (Latin Cistercium), France, in 1098 by Saint Robert, abbot of Molesme. The Order expanded throughout Europe thanks to the efforts of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who is honored as its second founder. They wore white robes with black belts, in order to be distinguished from the Benedictines, who wore black habits. They kept the Rule of Saint Benedict with rigorousness, and preferred conventual life in nature and manual labor, hence founding monasteries in secluded areas, near sources of water. The architecture of their monasteries is considered to be among the best of the Middle Ages, influencing architectural forms that developed in 12th-century Europe.


The Italian Hospital Order of the Crociferi (Ordo Cruciferorum), was officially founded by Pope Alexander III between 1160 and 1170. The Order was initially based in Bologna, but was gradually supplanted by the Venice monastery. It expanded quickly throughout the Italian peninsula and the eastern Mediterranean until the first decades of the 13th century, after which it fell into decline until the 17th century when it was disbanded.


The starting point of the Order of the Knights of Saint John was the hospital that served as a guesthouse for Latin pilgrims founded in Jerusalem around 1070 by the Benedictine nunnery of the Virgin of Amalfi. The Hospitallers kept the hospital in service until the fall of the city to the Muslims in 1187, but the Order had already begun taking military characteristics from the 1130s. After the loss of Jerusalem, their headquarters was consecutively transferred to Acre (by 1291), Cyprus (by 1306), Rhodes (by 1522) and finally Malta (until its disbandment by Napoleon in 1798). The Hospitallers kept a hospital and a church in Constantinople since the 12th century. After 1204, the Latin emperors endowed them with lands in the Latin-occupied Greek territories, which they increased in 1312, taking advantage of the disbandment of the Templars. The conquest of Rhodes and the surrounding islands allowed the Order to develop from a religious organization into a sovereign state. Apart from the Dodecanese, the Hospitallers expanded during the 14th and 15th centuries to the Peloponnese, Mainland Greece and the coasts of Asia Minor, as well as Western Europe.


The Order of Solomon’s Temple, or Templars was founded in 1119 with the encouragement of the Latin King of Jerusalem Baldwin II, with the purpose of protecting the roads of Palestine from thieves. It also played an important role in defending the Frankish dominions of Palestine and Syria. The members of the Order formed a religious community that took the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Since 1129, when the Roman Catholic Church rendered its official approval, the Order developed rapidly in both members and power. With Papal protection and the favor of lay rulers, the Templars acquired privileges, a large property and bases throughout western Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, including Greece. Between 1205 and 1210, the Templars played an important role in the conquest of central Greece, and acquired property in Lamia, Ravennika, Sycamino (Oropos), Thebes, the Kingdom of Thessalonica, Euboea, the Peloponnese and Attaleia (Antalya, Asia Minor). After the loss of the Holy Land, however, support to the Order faded. Envy and resentment towards the Order, which was instigated by rumors for secret admission rites, led to the arrest and execution of many of its members in France in 1307, and to its final disbandment in 1312. The property of the Templars, with the exception of whatever they owned in the Iberian Peninsula, was handed over to the Hospitallers.


The Teutonic Order’s presence began in 1190 at a field hospital in Acre during the Third Crusade, founded by pilgrims from Lübek and Bremen, during the Third Crusade. In 1198, the Order took military characteristics, adopting the Rule of the Hospitallers, which was approved by Pope Innocent III. It then had a rapid development, mainly under the leadership of Hermann von Salza (1210-1239), a period when the Order laid the foundations for becoming a state in the area of Prussia. Following the fall of Acre, the Order’s headquarters were transferred to Venice, and from there, in 1309, to Marienburg Castle in today’s Poland. The Teutonic Knights infiltrated into the Greek East during the Fourth Crusade, acquiring property and feudal lands in the southern and western Peloponnese. They are also considered to have owned a house in Constantinople, which played the role of headquarters until 1261. Their dominions in the region were under the administration of the Baliato di Romania, which had been founded in the 1240s. Finally, the Teutonic Order demonstrated great hostility against the Greeks of Mystras and the Turks.


The Order of Saint Sampson was a military-hospitaller Order founded in Constantinople by the Latin Emperor Henry of Flanders, during the visit of the Papal legate Benedict (1205-1206), who also compiled its Rule. The Order’s name is taken from the homonymous hospital hospice. During the 13th century, it acquired great wealth and extended its activity into Western Europe (Douai, Flanders). Later on, it faced serious problems, and, as a result, it was absorbed by the Order of the Hospitallers. When the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the monks of Saint Sampson fled to Corinth, where they built another hospital.


The Augustinian Order, or Order of Hermits of St. Augustine, resulted from the unification of smaller orders that followed the Rule of St Augustine. It was formally recognized as a mendicant order in 1256. It was international in character, and was organized into Provinces, directed by the Prior General. The Augustinian monasteries in Greece and Cyprus belonged to the Province of the Holy Land. The expansion of the Augustinians in this geographical area was small compared to other mendicant orders, but had a long presence, which was noticeable mostly in the Venetian-occupied territories.


The Dominican Order was founded by St Dominic de Guzman in 1215, and was formally recognized in 1217. The latter’s students would amass the people by their sermons, and were therefore called Friars Preachers (Ordo Fratrum Praedicatorum). There always educated members in the order, such as Thomas Aquinas, and many had a higher education and taught in universities. The Dominicans scattered throughout Europe and towards the end of the 13th century, they had 557 monasteries in Europe and Palestine with more than 15,000 friars, not counting the nuns and the Tertiaries (lay Dominicans). In 1303 they possessed monasteries in the Peloponnese, Euboea and Crete, as well as smaller installations in other areas (Pera, Chios, Mytilene, Phocaea, Smyrna).


The female branch of the Dominican order was founded in Fanjeaux, France between 1206 and 1207 by St Dominic de Guzman. The nuns followed the same Rule as the order’s friars but led a cloistered, contemplative life. The Dominican sisters are distinct from the nuns. The sisters are a way of living the vocation of a Third Order Dominican. The Dominican Laity -formerly known as "Tertiaries or the "Third Order"-, have existed almost as long as the Dominican Order itself. They are lay men and women associated in a special way with the life, spirituality, preaching and apostolate of the Order of Preachers..


A mendicant order that came in the forefront during the 13th century, owing its name to the holy Mount Carmel, south of Haifa in northern Israel. Although of eremitical origins, after its recognition it moved its headquarters to the outskirts of western European cities, where it developed pastoral activity.


The order of Capuchin sisters (Ordo Santae Clarae Capuccinarum) belongs to the family of Franciscan orders. It was founded in 1535 by Maria Lorenza Longo in Naples, Italy. In 1538, the first sisterhood acquired its very first monastery, Santa Maria di Gerusalemme. The members of the order follow the Rule of St Clara of Assisi, and are under the spiritual guidance of the Order of Capuchin friars. Their presence in Greece is documented only on the island of Syros, where its members continued living in their own homes (terziarie, tertiaires, tertiaries), although certain members dwelled in the monastery and lived as conventuals.


The Order of Friars Minor Capuchins (Ordo Fratrum Minorum Capuccinorum) is part of the Franciscan family of orders. It was founded at the beginning of the 1520s by Matteo da Bascio, in the Italian area of Marche. The founder’s main purpose was to reform the Franciscan Order of the Observants of the Rule (Observanti, Observantins), where he belonged until then. The new order was formally recognized in 1528, and during the next year it held its first synod in the church of Santa Maria dell'Acquarella, in Albacina (Fabriano) in the district of Ancona. The Capuchins stand for a frugal way of life, as taught by St Francis of Assisi.


The Order of the Servants of Mary (Ordo Servorum Beatae Virginis Mariae) was founded according to the rule of Saint Augustine by seven merchants in Florence, Italy, probably in 1233. It was recognized by the Pope in 1263, and officially approved in 1304, when it already numbered 250 friars, with 27 monasteries in Italy and 4 in Germany.


The Franciscan Order (Ordine dei Frati Minori) was founded in 1209 in Assisi, Italy, by Saint Francis, according to the first Rule, which he himself compiled in 20 chapters, and which was orally approved in 1210, and in its final form in 1223. The only possessions allowed by the Rule were a robe, a belt and sandals. Even before the Saint Francis’ death, internal divisions arose among the Spirituals (spirituali), i.e. those who followed the Rule strictly, and the moderates, i.e. those who did not reject ownership, and lived in convents. These two directions resulted, after approximately two centuries, in the foundation of the Orders of the Observants (Frati Minori Osservanti) and the Conventuals (Frati Minori Conventuali). In 1523, the Reformists (Frati Minori Riformati), who seceded from the Observants, were formally recognized, and in 1555, the Discalced (Scalzi) were also founded. The Order extended throughout Europe rapidly after its foundation. In 1316 it had more than 1400 monasteries, and numbered 35,000 monks.


The female branch of the Franciscan Order was founded by St Clara and bears her name (Clarisses). The Order was approved by the Pope in 1212, and their Rule in 1253.


Clerical pastors who live collectively according to the Rule of Saint Augustine, but have not taken monastic vows.


The origins of this order can be traced back to the First Crusade. According to a legend, it was founded by Godfrey of Bouillon immediately after the conquest of the Holy Land by the Latins, in an effort to organize the lands both religiously and militarily. The head of the Order was the King of Jerusalem Baldwin I. The Order included the Canons (fratres), lay friars (confratres) and the Knights, who were chosen from among the Crusader army for their bravery and dedication. Its goal was initially to protect the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Land, but later, after the fall of Jerusalem and Acre, it lost its military character and focused on preaching, defense work and charity. The Order created branches throughout Europe.


This order was founded in 1039 in the region of the Dauphiné in Avignon, France. It had a great impact on the canonical movement during the 11th century not only in France, but in Germany and the Iberian Peninsula as well.


The abbey of Saint Loup near Troyes in Champagne, France was founded during the 9th century in order to house the relics of the city’s homonymous bishop and protector Lupus de Troyes. In 1135, the monastic community underwent reformation by Bernard de Clairvaux, and adopted the Rule of Saint Augustine.


The Canons of Prémontré, also known as Premonstratensians, Norbertines or White Canons (from the color of their garment), is a Roman Catholic order of clerics founded in Prémontré near Laon in 1120 by Saint Norbert, later Archbishop of Magdeburg, and officially approved six years later. They followed the Rule of Saint Augustine and lived by great austerity and strict obedience of the rules. Their activity involved preaching and pastoral ministry in priories or in parishes near their abbeys. The Premonstratensians were the only ecclesiastical order to have attempted an organized and systematical colonization of Greece. It was involved in the Crusades and acquired two monasteries in Palestine. When it was driven out of the area, it founded a monastery in Cyprus, and during the 13th century, it reached into Latin-occupied Greece, where their future was tied to that of the Latin rulers.


The Society of Jesus (Societas Jesu) was founded in 1534 by Ignatius Loyola in the quarter of Montmartre, Paris, and was formally recognized in 1540. Apart from the three established monastic vows (poverty, chastity, obedience), the members of the Order also vowed for “special obedience to the Pontifex Maximus regarding missions”. The Jesuits were active mainly in missionary work and education. The Society of Jesus was disbanded by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, but it was re-established in 1814 by Pope Pius VII. Throughout this period, however, the Order continued to exist in Russia, where Czarina Catherine II did not give her consent for the execution of the papal order for disbandment in the territories of her Empire.


The Congregation of the Mission (Congregatio Missionis) was founded in 1625 by Vincent de Paul in Paris, and was formally recognized in 1633. Its members, the Priests of the Mission, were also called Lazarists because of their establishment in 1632 in the building of the old Saint Lazare hospital, which served as their first monastery. After their foundation, the Lazarists took up the direction of the episcopal seminaries. Their educational work, the establishment and function of schools and seminaries will later mark their missionary activity as an order. The Priests of the Mission settled in the Ottoman Empire in 1783, replacing the Jesuits, the order of which had been disbanded.


The Ursulines were the first sisterhood, and it was dedicated to Saint Ursula. It was founded in 1535 by Angela Merici in the city of Brescia, Italy, and was formally recognized in 1544. In 1536 the first Rule of the Order of Saint Ursula was approved, stating that its members would live in their family homes. In 1572, however, the Order became monastic. The Ursulines were charged with the tasks of educating girls, caring for the ill and destitute, and working close with the chaplains to ensure the right conditions in the parish churches for Mass. In Greece, the Ursulines first appeared on the island of Tinos, and initially lived in their family homes, according to the first Rule.