Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.


Franciscans (frănsĭsˈkənz), members of several Roman Catholic religious orders following the rule of St. Francis (approved by Honorius III, 1223). There are now three organizations of Franciscan friars: the Friars Minor [Lat. abbr., O.F.M.] (the second largest order in the Roman Catholic Church; only the Jesuit order is larger), formerly called the Observants; the Friars Minor Capuchin (see Capuchins), the fourth largest of the great religious orders; and the Friars Minor Conventual [Lat. abbr., O.M.C.]. Within 50 years of St. Francis's foundation, the order had a very strong wing of zealots—the Spirituals, who advocated absolute poverty, thus deploring the convents or any settled life. They allied themselves with the anarchical monks who were preaching the teachings of Joachim of Fiore. St. Bonaventure tried to reconcile the factions of the order, but the Spirituals grew stronger and saw one of their heroes made pope as St. Celestine V. His abdication made their agitation one of the major social and religious problems of Italy. So far as the order was concerned, John XXII settled (1322) the matter by putting the Franciscans on a level with every other order with respect to owning property corporately. He also put a stop (1323) to a Franciscan boast that their way was more nearly perfect than any other. However, within the order there still remained a desire for reform, and in the following years a movement developed toward restoring primitive practice. The friars of this tendency (Observants) gained recognition within the order and eventually were made independent (1517) by Leo X. Soon afterward a movement among the Observants established the Capuchins (1525) as a still stricter adherence to the rule. All the Franciscan orders have shared in home and foreign missions; the Franciscans were in many parts of America the dominant missionaries. They have had a continuous role in education and were leaders in medieval university life. They have had a major place in preaching among Catholics: from them come the Stations of the Cross and the Christmas Crib. Since the 15th cent. the Observants have been charged with the care of Roman Catholic interests in the Holy Places in Palestine. Besides the friars, the Franciscans include the Poor Clares, the order of nuns founded by St. Clare, and countless members of the third order (see tertiary), an order consisting of both men and women, some of whom live in communities and many of whom live in the world. There are scores of religious communities of sisters of every sort of charitable mission who are regular Franciscan tertiaries. Of canonized and beatified saints, far more have been Franciscans than members of any other order. The best-known of them is perhaps St. Anthony of Padua. The Franciscans were called Gray Friars. Their habit is now typically brown. For the place of Franciscans among orders, see monasticism.


See studies by J. Moorman (1968), K. Esser (tr. 1970), and T. MacVicar (1986).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a Catholic mendicant order founded in Italy by Francis of Assisi between 1207 and 1209 (as the Friars Minor) for the purpose of preaching poverty, asceticism, and love of one’s neighbor among the people. In 1223, Pope Honorius III approved the final rule of the order.

Mendicant orders originated with the Franciscans. Dressed in brown woolen robes girdled with rope and shod only with sandals, the monks wandered around the country preaching. The church used their example to undermine the influence of the heretics who had stigmatized the greediness and lack of discipline of the clergy. As early as the 1220’s the Franciscans gave up the ideal of poverty in practice. Having received donations, gifts from laymen, and bequests of property, the order was transformed into a wealthy proprietor. The enrichment of the Franciscans was legalized in the early 14th century by the papacy, which declared that the order’s property in fact belonged to the church and was only placed at the Franciscans’ disposal. Together with the Dominicans, the Franciscans carried out the work of the Inquisition. In 1256 the papacy granted the order the right to teach at universities.

The Franciscans, together with various other orders, were abolished in many European countries at the time of the French Revolution and the bourgeois revolutions of the 19th century; they were reestablished in the late 19th century, first in Spain and Italy and later in France and other countries. In the epoch of imperialism the Franciscans, like other monastic orders, became an instrument of clericalism.

In the mid-1970’s the Franciscans and their branches had about 40,000 members in such countries as Italy, Spain, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, the USA, Canada, Turkey, Brazil, and Paraguay. They control a number of universities and colleges and have their own publishing houses.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


13th-century religious order whose members lived in poverty. [Christian Hist.: EB, IV: 273]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
In a letter published July 8 on Patheos, an online site about religion, Karen, who chooses to not share her last name, states that she was sexually abused by a friar while attending Franciscan University from 1987 until she graduated in 1991.
The Franciscan family is celebrating this year the 800th anniversary of the meeting of St.
The two orders were the most significant religious orders operating in the early modern history in the area.The map of the Franciscan province, with four extensive legends, is accompanied by an overview of the Franciscan order.
Our desire is that the Franciscans have their own street in Srebrenica because their roots are from Srebrenica.
Through the pages of Music in Early Franciscan Thought, it becomes apparent that medieval Franciscans retained their founder's use and understanding of music, along with dance, gesture and drama, as being essential to their work in the world.
Mr Crawford said Fr Rosebotham told him he was going to leave the Franciscans and the priesthood to continue their relationship.
Unlike other religious orders, the Franciscans initially attracted primarily lay, poor, and illiterate men, a constituency that clashed with the medieval idea of religious life.
This cross-disciplinary collection stems from a conference at the Yarra Theological Union in November 2009, one of several events held worldwide to celebrate the eighth centenary of the founding of the Franciscan Order.
They each testify to the unique way in which Irish Franciscans have been shaped by the sociopolitical realities of their respective periods and the constant quest to rediscover their identity in the midst of tumultuous change.
The collection opens in 1534, thereby building on the solid foundation laid by Colman O Clabaigh in The Franciscans in Ireland, 1400-1534: from Reform to Reformation (2002).
Benfell III on "Peter John Olivi and the Franciscans" and how this influential Spiritual Franciscan influenced Dante's apocalyptic vision in Inferno 19 and Purgatorio 32.
The Pyramid Under the Cross: Franciscan Discourses of Evangelization and the Nahua Christian Subject in Sixteenth-Century Mexico.

Full browser ?