Matthew of Bassi
Founder and first Superior-General of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchins (1495-1552)
Bassi, MATTHEW OF, founder and first Superior-General of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchins, the principal branch issued from the Reform of the Observance, b. in 1495, at Bascio, Diocese of Montefeltro, in the Duchy of Urbino; d. at Venice in 1552. At the age of seventeen he entered the Order of the Observants at Montefiorentino. In 1525 he was a priest and missionary, being a member of the Reformed Province of Ancona. Moved by the need of reform which was felt almost all through the Franciscan family, he resolved, in 1525, the year of the Jubilee, to begin a more austere life, choosing a form of garb more resembling that of St. Francis. Clement VII granted his request and also permitted him to preach everywhere and to have a companion. Some other members of the Observance asked and obtained permission to join him, and on the 3d of July, 1528, the pope issued the Bull “Religionis zelus”, by which the new Reform was canonically approved and placed under the nominal jurisdiction of the Conventuals. The name “Capuchin”, at first given by the people to the new Franciscan monks, was afterwards officially adopted. In the pontifical decrees Bassi’s followers are variously styled “Capucini”, “Capuciati“, “Capulati”, and “Fratres de Observantia Capucinorum”.
In April, 1529, the new order held its first chapter at Albacina, where Matthew of Bassi was elected vicar-general by acclamation. A code of constitutions which was to serve as a basis to the Reform was elaborated. But the humble founder did not hold his charge very long. After visiting his brethren, wishing to resume his apostolic career, and perhaps feeling powerless against the difficulties which menaced his disciples, he resigned his office. Thence-forward he took no part in the government of the order. He even decided, about 1537, to return to the obedience of the Observants, through fear of incurring some ecclesiastical censure. As it was, these last had obtained, at different times, Bulls or Decrees against the new Reform. Bassi preached through the whole of Italy and part of Germany. He died at Venice, in the midst of his labors, and was buried in the Church of the Observants of that city in the presence of a vast concourse of people attracted by his reputation as a saint. The following eulogy by Arthur du Monstier is read in the Franciscan Martyrologium under the 3d of August: “There died at Venice, Blessed Matthew, confessor, founder of the congregation of Capuchins. His continual fastings, vigils and prayers, his most high poverty and ardent zeal for souls, lastly his extraordinary holiness and the gift of miracles made his memory glorious”.