The Servants of Mary, by A Servite Father

illustration of Saint Philip Beniti, Servite, from the article 'The Servants of Mary' by A Servite Father, May 1905, artist unknownArticle

The Servite Order, or Order of Servants of Mary, came into existence in the thirteenth century. It was founded by seven patricians of the city of Florence who, in obedience to the express command of Our Blessed Lady, had withdrawn from the world in order to lead a more perfect life. They were canonized by Leo XIII in 1888. and enrolled in the catalogue of saints under the following names: Saints Bonfilius, Alexis, Manettus, Amideus, Hugh, Sostehe and Bonajuncta. The century in which they lived although a period of sturdy Catholic faith was also an age in which the dark and gloomy clouds of envy and hatred were overshadowing Christian Europe, and the feuds of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines had caused the fair land of Italy to be torn with intestine strife. All this was repugnant to the peaceful dispositions of the seven youths, who had been taught in childhood to hold aloof from this spirit of rancor and enmity, and in the midst of the world and their business pursuits, the teachings of early days guided their conduct. For this reason they enrolled themselves under the banner of Our Lady in a pious confraternity called the “Laudesi,” or “Praisers,” composed mostly of nobles and wealthy merchants of Florence. The above named confraternity had been instituted in 1183 to promote devotion to Mary and to obtain her protection for the distracted Florentine republic.

It was in the year 1233, on the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, that a remarkable apparition occurred. The sun shone brightly in the clear Italian sky, the feathered songsters caroled their joyful lays, and all nature seemed to greet in a particular manner that happy day when our seven youths were pouring forth their hearts in thanks giving after Holy Communion. They were absorbed in prayer, their hearts were inflamed with Divine love, when suddenly they fell into an ecstasy. Each seemed to be surrounded by a brilliant light. At the same time he heard a voice calling upon him to leave the world and retire into solitude. It was the voice of Our Lady, who appeared before their enraptured gaze surrounded by choirs of angels; and having invited each to follow her, with a sweet smile upon her lips, she disappeared.

The last notes of the chant that ended the services had died away; the cry of prayer was hushed into secret aspirations, and the members of the confraternity, except the seven, had departed. Stillness reigned, and each of the privileged youths was gazing wistfully on the others, not knowing what to do or say in the overflowing fulness of heavenly affections, when the voice of the eldest, Bonfilius Monaldi, broke the silence, and he confided to his companions the vision and supernatural calling with which he had been favored. He learned with astonishment that the vision, the call, and the inward desire to comply with the invitation of their Blessed Mother, had been vouchsafed to each one. They decided to carry into effect the holy inspiration on the approaching festival of Our Lady’s Nativity.

With the approbation of the zeal ous Bishop Ardingo de Forasboschi, they retired to a small country house, and there, clothed in a coarse gray tunic, they passed their time in contemplation, procuring the bare necessaries of life by alms which they begged from door to door in the streets of Florence; and as they went about, tradition tells us, they were greeted by infants in their mothers’ arms with the exclamation: “Behold the Servants of Mary.” The report of the heavenly favors they had received spread throughout the city, and their little hermitage was thronged by crowds who wished to place themselves under the spiritual direction of the saintly recluses. Their humility and the peace of their contemplative life were endangered. They therefore consulted the Bishop, who generously offered them the land which he possessed on Monte Senario, a spur of the Apennines, about ten miles from Florence. His offer was accepted, and thither they repaired to continue their lives of solitaries. It was the desire of the Bishop and Cardinal Castiglione, the Legate of the Holy See, that they should admit others to their community; but they did not wish to found a new Order. They promised, however, to implore the light of heaven and to consult the will of Our Lady. Her pleasure in their regard was soon manifested to them by a miracle. Near the crest of the mountain was a vine which the hermits had planted. They were astounded one day in the midst of the winter season to see it blossom and produce luscious grapes, whilst at the same time the ground all around it was covered with fragrant flowers. The same night the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bishop Ardingo, and, showing him a vine with a seven-fold branch, told him that it typified the seven hermits, who were to found a religious Order and were to be fathers of a numerous spiritual progeny. The Divine Will was clear, and preparation was made for the reception of postulants, which was to be preceded by a triduum to be celebrated during the three days before Easter. The evening of Good Friday arrived, and the seven saints were rapt in contemplation in the little chapel, when in the midst of the darkness Our Blessed Lady appeared, radiant with glory. She was robed in a long black mourning garb. A host of angels surrounded her, some bearing instruments of the Passion, others, habits of the same color as the Virgin’s mantle; one carried the Rule of Saint Augustine, and lastly was one who unfolded a scroll on which was written in golden letters the title: Servants of Mary. Our Lady seemed to clothe the seven in the habit, and after bidding them wear it in memory of her bitter sorrows, the vision faded away. The Servite Order was thus founded. It was not, however, till 1304, after repeated trials and persecutions, that it received the seal of papal approbation from Blessed Benedict XI, a Dominican. This was but one of many gracious favors extended both before and since that period to the Servants of Mary by the sons of Saint Dominic. Meanwhile, the work was progressing. Many defenders of the new Institute were found, among others the Dominican martyr, Saint Peter of Verona, whom Innocent IV in 1243 commissioned to inquire into the lives and teachings of the religious of Monte Senario. The man of God was favored with a vision in which our saints appeared as seven lilies, which he was given to understand symbolized their purity and sanctity preserved amidst the thorns of penance. He visited them at Monte Senario, and ever after was their firm and staunch protector.

The zeal of the saints and their first disciples in combating error, in upholding the rights of the Sovereign Pontiff, and in spreading devotion to the dolors of Mary, a devotion which appeals to the true Catholic heart so strongly, attracted many to the company of Our Lady’s Servants. Indeed, so flourishing did the Order become that at the death of the last of the founders, Saint Alexis, in 1310, there were six provinces, contain ing over one hundred convents and many learned and holy religious. One of the most renowned of these was Saint Philip Beniti, afterwards Prior General of the Order, who was spiritual guide to Saint Peregrine Laziosi and Saint Juliana Falconieri, the foundress of the Servite Third Order.

Saint Philip travelled through Italy, Germany and France, propagating everywhere devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. So successful was he as a missionary, and so famed for sanctity and learning, that, on the death of Clement IV, he was elected Pope. He refused the proffered dignity, however, and concealed himself in a retired spot till a new Pontiff had been chosen.

Since his time the work entrusted to the Seven Founders by the Mother of Sorrows has been carried on in different lands by their spiritual children. In recent years the vine has been transplanted to this country, and the American province now has five foundations: three in Chicago, one in Denver, and one, a house of studies and novitiate, at Granville, Wisconsin, in the Milwaukee archdiocese. Surely the future is rich in promise for the Order in the fair land of America, which is under the patronage of Our Lady, and where devotion to her is so strong in Catholic hearts.

Every religious Order has some one characteristic spirit, a mark by which it may be distinguished from others. This may be said to indicate the scope of the Order. It is mostly the spirit that animated the founders when they gathered their first companions around them, and drew up the code by which their lives were to be regulated. The mission of the Servite Order is to labor wherever the good of religion demands, to give missions and retreats, and to engage in parochial work. Its special mission is to spread devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, to compassionate her dolors, and to lead others to have recourse to her who was the most afflicted of creatures yet “comfortress of the afflicted.” To increase this devotion the scapular of Our Lady of Sorrows and the rosary of the Seven Dolors, since richly indulgenced by the Church, were introduced by the Seven Founders, and a confraternity established. Thus is their work still earned on, and the mystic vine which bloomed on Monte Senario nearly seven hundred years ago bids fair to continue to flourish long and to nourish with its fruits the humble clients of the Mother of Sorrows.

MLA Citation

  • The Rosary Magazine, May 1905. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 April 2018. Web. 13 November 2018. <>