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A suppressed order of hermits, which takes its name from their first hermitage in the Apennines

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Fonte-Avellana, a suppressed order of hermits, which takes its name from their first hermitage in the Apennines. Its founder, Ludolph, the son of Giso, came of a German family that had settled in Gubbio. He was born about the year 956; in 977 he left his home and, with a companion called Julian, began to live the life of a hermit in a valley between Monte Catria and Monte Corvo, in the Apennines. This valley was known as Fonte-Avellana, from a spring among the pine-trees. Disciples soon gathered round the two hermits; by 989 they were sufficiently numerous to receive a rule from St. Romuald, who was then in that district. This rule seems to have been of great severity. The hermits lived in separate cells and were always occupied with prayer, study, or manual labor. Four days a week they ate nothing but bread and water in strictly limited quantities. On Tuesdays and Thursdays they added a little fruit and vegetables. Wine was used only for Mass and for the sick, meat not at all. They observed three “Lents” during the year, that of the Resurrection, that of the Nativity, and that of St. John the Baptist. During these they fasted on bread and water every day except Sundays and Thursdays, when they were allowed a few vegetables. They wore a white habit and their feet were bare. Every day, in addition to the office, they recited the whole Psalter before dawn. Many wore chains and girdles or other instruments of mortification, and each, according to his devotion and strength, was accustomed to scourge himself, to make many genuflexions and to pray with arms extended in the form of a cross.

At first the body of hermits was known as the Congregation of the Dove, from the pure and gentle character of its founder; but when, about the year 1000, he built them their first regular hermitage, which was dedicated to St. Andrew, they soon became known as the Hermits of Fonte-Avellana. Ludolph is said by Ughelli to have resigned the office of prior in 1009 and to have become Bishop of Gubbio, but by leave of Benedict VIII he resigned this office in 1012 and retired again to his hermitage. It is not improbable that he was succeeded in the priorate by Julian about 1009, but there seems to be no satisfactory evidence that he was ever Bishop of Gubbio. He died in 1047. In 1034, St. Peter Damian became a hermit at Fonte-Avellana, at a time when, it is supposed, the famous Guido d’Arezzo was prior. St. Peter Damian succeeded to the office of prior about 1043 and held it until his death in 1072. He made some modifications of the rule; permitting the use of a little wine, except during the three Lents; restraining the immoderate use of the discipline, which had outgrown all prudence; and introducing the solemn observance of Fridays as a commemoration of the Holy Cross, for which reason the hermitage, since the year 1050, has been known as Holy Cross of Fonte-Avellana.

During the priorate of St. Peter Damian several hermits of great sanctity were members of Fonte-Avellana. The earliest of these was St. Dominic Loricatus, so-called from the breastplate (lorica) which he always wore next to his skin. This extraordinary ascetic was born about the year 990, and destined for the priesthood by his parents, who brie a bishop to ordain him before the canonical age. After living for a few years as a secular priest, he was struck with contrition for the sin of simony to which he had been a party, and became a monk. This was probably at the hermitage of Luceoli, as we are told that he placed himself under the direction of John of Monte Feltro. Here he remained till about 1044, when, desiring to increase the severity of his penances, he came to Fonte-Avellana to be the disciple of St. Peter Damian. The record of his mortifications is almost incredible. Besides his cuirass, he wore habitually iron rings and chains round his limbs, and loaded with this weight he daily prostrated himself a thousand times or recited whole psalters with arms extended in the form of a cross. Day and night he lacerated his body with a pair of scourges.

It had become the custom to regard the recital of thirty psalms while taking the discipline (i.e. about three thousand strokes) as equivalent to one year’s canonical penance. So that to scourge oneself while reciting the whole psalter was to execute five years of penance. St. Dominic Loricatus is related to have accomplished in this manner one hundred years of penance (i.e. twenty psalters), spreading the penance over one week. And during one or two Lents he is said to have fulfilled in this way one thousand years of penance, scourging himself night and day for forty days, while he recited no less than two hundred psalters. Daily he used to recite two or three psalters, and daily in Lent eight or nine. Meanwhile he ate only the stricter diet of his fellow-hermits and he never slept save when, from sheer fatigue, he fell asleep in the midst of his prostrations. In 1059 St. Peter Damian appointed him prior of the hermitage of Sanvicino, near San Severino. Here he continued his terrible penances up to his death about 1060. His body still lies under the altar in the church at Sanvicino. Another saintly companion of St. Peter Damian was his biographer, St. John II of Lodi (Bishop of Gubbio), who entered Fonte-Avellana about the year 1055 and became prior of the hermitage soon after the death of his friend in 1072, which office he retained till he was made Bishop of Gubbio, one year before his death in 1106.

In addition, there were the blessed brothers Rudolph and Peter, who in 1054 gave their castle at Campo Regio to St. Peter Damian and retired to Fonte-Avellana. Rudolph became Bishop of Gubbio in 1059 and in that year attended a council at Rome. He died in 1061. Of his brother Peter little is known save that he lived a life of great mortification. Four years after the death of St. Peter Damian, Gregory VII in 1076 took the hermitage of Fonte-Avellana under the special protection of the Holy See, and for 250 years popes and emperors and nobles showered privileges upon it. In 1301 Boniface VIII subjected the hermitage immediately to the Holy See, and in 1325 John XXII raised it to the status of an abbey, and ordained that its abbots should always receive their blessing at the hands of the pope or of his legate a latere. In the early fourteenth century it had grown to be a great congregation with many subject houses. But the glory of Fonte-Avellana was soon to pass. In 1393 it was given in commendam to Cardinal Bartolomeo Mediavacca, and the evils that follow this practice soon appeared. Slowly the fervor of observance departed, and the religious lived rather like secular clergy than like her- . mits. By the sixteenth century the habit had changed, and they wore a short white cassock, a blue mantle, shoes, and a white biretta.

In 1524 the great Camaldolese reformer, S. Paolo Giustiniani, suggested that the congregation of Fonte-Avellana should be united to his own order. The project then came to nothing, but in 1568 Cardinal Giulio della Rovere, the commendatory abbot of Fonte-Avellana, joined with his brother the Duke of Urtf in urging on Pius V the canonical visitation of the hermitage. This was performed early in 1569 by Giambattista Barba, general of the Camaldolese, and in November of the same year the pope, by the Bull “Quantum animus poster”, suppressed the order of Fonte-Avellana, transferred its members to Camaldoli or any other house they might choose, and united all its possessions under the jurisdiction of the Camaldolese Order. On January 6, 1570, the Camaldolese solemnly entered into possession, and the order of Santa Croce of Fonte-Avellana ceased to exist.



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