Saints of the Day – John of Capistrano

Saint John of CapistranoArticle

Born at Capistrano, Abruzzi, Italy, in 1386; died at Villach, Austria, October 23, 1456, canonized in 1724; feast day formerly March 28. Saint John of Capistrano had spent his early life vigorously engaged in secular affairs. His considerable talents drew attention to him early in life. He read law at the University of Perugia and, in 1412, was appointed governor of that city. At age 30, he married. During the war between Perugia and the supporters of Malatesta, he was captured and flung into a foul dungeon – the best thing that ever happened to him. There John experienced a conversion which made him repent of his past sins and seek the life of a friar. He was dispensed of his marriage vows, publicly repented of his sins, and submitted himself to the hard discipline of the Franciscans.

In 1416, he joined the Friars Minor, studied under Saint Bernardino of Siena, whom he greatly revered, and was ordained in 1420. For thirty years John used his chief skills – once used as a legal orator – as a preacher. Hundreds and thousands came to hear him preach as he travelled throughout Italy, where he worked in close association with Saint James of the Marches of Ancona, another missioner. The Holy Spirit used John’s sermons to draw thousands back to God. Soon he was asked to preach abroad in Bavaria, Saxony, and Poland, where his sermons stimulated a great revival of faith. He worked in Italy

Working also with his friend Saint Bernardino, John played an influential part in the efforts to heal the divisions in the Franciscan order. He drew up the plans approved by the general chapter of the Franciscans held at Assisi in 1430 for a short-lived reunion of the various groups of the order. The following year he was active at the Observant chapter at Bologna, and according to Gonzaga was appointed commissary general. In 1430, John helped elect Bernardino vicar general of the Observants and soon after met Saint Colette in France and joined her efforts to reform the Poor Clares.

He was inquisitor in the proceedings against the Fraticelli and the charges made against the Gesuats. His secular experience made John an excellent choice as a papal emissary; therefore, he was frequently entrusted with missions abroad on behalf of the popes. In 1439, he was legate to Milan and Burgundy to oppose the claims of antipope Felix V. In 1446, he was sent on a mission to the king of France.

When in 1451 Emperor Frederick III begged Pope Nicholas V to send someone to try to counteract the activities of the Hussites, John was chosen as papal inquisitor and sent with twelve Franciscans to combat their influence in the Austrian domain. John regarded these men and women with implacable hostility, as heretics and his methods with the obstinate were such as to incur the reprobation of later times. (So great was the reaction of later Protestants to John’s vehemence towards the Hussites that in 1526, the Calvinists threw his relics down a well.)

His campaign against the Hussites finally ended when John turned his attention to the Turks, who in 1453 had captured Constantinople. John of Capistrano, deeply anxious about the possibility that the Turks might overrun western Christendom the way they had conquered the east, preached a crusade against the invading armies, but he was unsuccessful in rallying the princes of Bavaria and Austria.

By 1456, the Turks were threatening Belgrade. John sought an audience with the Hungarian general Janos Hunyadi. Hunyadi, inspired by the saint, rallied the Hungarians to resist the invading Turks and personally led the left wing of the Christian army at the Battle of Belgrade in 1456. The failure of the Turks to capture the city in the ensuing siege saved Europe from being overrun by the Turks.

Within a few months both he and Hunyadi were dead of plague. John of Capistrano combined compassion for the poor and oppressed with excessive severity towards those whom he regarded as being culpably in error (Attwater, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Hofer).

In art, Saint John is a Franciscan pointing to a crucifix which he holds. At times, he may be shown (1) with a crucifix and lance, treading a turban underfoot; (2) preaching, angels with rosaries and IHS above him (he holds a crucifix; symbols for the four evangelists, among whom Saint John is not an eagle, but a Franciscan holding a crucifix – this refers to one of his sermons); or (3) banner of cross and cross on his breast (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 5 August 2020. Web. 20 June 2021. <>