Saints of the Day – Seven Founders of the Order of Servites

detail of the painting 'The Seven Holy Founders of the Order receive the religious habit of the Virgin Mary' by Antonio Balestra,  early 18th centuryArticle

13th century; canonized in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII.

In 1233 seven wealthy councilors of the city of Florence, who had previously joined the Laudesi (Praisers), gave up the pleasures of this world in order to devote themselves to God through particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Their previous lives had been by no means lax or undisciplined, even though Florence was then a city filled with factions and immorality, and infected by the Cathar heresy (the belief that the body was evil and we are the souls of angels inserted by Satan into human bodies). Under the direction of James of Poggibonsi, who was the chaplain of the Laudesi and a man of great holiness and spiritual insight, they came to recognize the call to renunciation. On the Feast of the Assumption, 1233, the seven had a single inspiration or vision to withdraw from the world to form a new society within the Church devoted to prayer and solitude.

Of course, there were difficulties: Four of the men had been married, although two were widowers and the other three celibate. Each of them made provision for their dependents, and with the approval of their bishop withdrew from the world 23 days after the Assumption. At first they lived just outside the city gates at La Camarzia, humbly obeying the dictates of the bishop of Florence.

As their fame spread the seven moved further away to the wilder hills around Monte Sennario, where they built a church and a hermitage. For seven years they lived there, eating little, fasting and praying and allowing no new recruits to their company. But in 1240 Bishop Ardingo of Florence and Cardinal Castiglione visited them after hearing about the sanctity of the seven. The cardinal was suitably impressed but had one criticism, “You treat yourselves in a manner bordering on barbarity: and you seem more desirous of dying to time than of living for eternity. Take heed: the enemy of souls often hides himself under the appearance of an angel of light. . . . Hearken to the counsels of your superiors.”

Bishop Ardingo went on to explain a vision that they had had of a vine that blossomed with green leaves and fruit in the middle of a cold March day. He told them that this was God’s way of leading them to branch out into the world. The prelates insisted that the seven must welcome others who wished to follow so rigorous a life, and gave them rules for their order based on Saint Augustine and the Dominican Constitutions. They were to adopt the black habit of Augustinian monks and to live as mendicant friars.

As always, the hermits prayed for light, and again Our Lady appeared to them. On Good Friday, April 13, 1240, their mission was further defined in what they believed to be a vision of the Blessed Virgin, who they understood to say, “You will found a new order and you will be my witnesses throughout the world. This is your name: Servants of Mary. This is your rule: that of Saint Augustine. And here is your distinctive sign: The Black scapular, in memory of my sufferings.” She held in her hand the black habit, while an angel bore a scroll inscribed with the title “Servants of Mary.”

From that time they became known as Servites (or ‘the Servants of Mary’) because they meditated especially on the sorrows in the life of the mother of God. They were clothed in the habit by their bishop, took new names in religion, and all except Saint Alexis, who in his humility begged to be excused, were ordained as priests. So many joined the Servites that new groups were set up in neighboring Tuscan cities, such as Siena, Pistoia, Arezzo, Carfaggio, and Lucca. In 1250, to commemorate the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, the seven founders built the superb church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence, which is still served by their order.

The Servites were recognized in 1259 by the papal legate Raniero Cardinal Capocci and solemnly approved by Blessed Benedict XI in 1304. It has since spread into many parts of the world and continues to attract men and women, devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Many of their houses are dedicated to the education of children and the care of the poor and sick. The Servites fostered the devotion known as the Seven Sorrows of Mary, a development of the late medieval devotion to Our Lady of Pity, which offers a counterpart to the older one of the Seven Joys of Mary.

Of the seven founders, four became priors-general, two founded monasteries in France and Germany, and Alexis, who outlived the others, remained a lay brother his entire life. Short biographies of the seven founders are given for today. Note that some accounts give other names to the founders.

Alexis (Alessio) Falconieri. (Born c. 1200; died at Monte Sennario on February 17, 1310). Son of Bernard Falconieri, a wealthy Florentine merchant and a Guelph, joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin in Florence about 1225. They were all ordained except Alexis, who felt he was not worthy enough to be a priest and devoted himself to the material needs of the community and helped build the Servite church at Cafaggio. He was the only one of the seven still alive when the order was approved by Pope Benedict XI.

Bartholomew (Bartholomes, Amadeus) degli Amidei. Amadeus governed the important convent of Carfaggio, but returned to Monte Sennario to die.

Benedict (Manettus, Manetius, Manetto) dell’Antella. (Died August 20, 1268.) In 1246, he attended the Council of Lyons. When the order was divided into two provinces in 1260, Manettus governed Tuscany. He later introduced the order into France at the invitation of King Saint Louis. When Manettus became the fourth prior general, he sent missionaries to Asia. He retired in deference to Saint Philip Benizi, on whose breast he died.

Buonfiglio (Bonfilio) Monaldi (Monaldo). (Died January 1, 1261.) Bonfilio, the eldest of the seven, was the first superior of the Servites, serving until 1256

Gherardino (Gerardino, Sostenes) Sostegni (Sostegno). While Manettus governed the Tuscan province after 1260, Sostenes ruled that of Umbria. He later carried the order into Germany.

John Buonagiunta (Bonaiuncta). The youngest of the seven, Buonagiunta was elected in 1256 as the second prior general of the Servites. Soon after his election he died in the chapel while listening to the Gospel account of the Passion.

Ricovero (Hugh) dei Lippi-Ugoccioni (Uguccione). (Died at Monte Sennario, Italy, May 3, 1282). Hugh accompanied Saint Philip Benizi to France and Germany and was vicar-general of the order in the latter for eight years. Hugh and Sosthenes were recalled from foreign lands (France and Germany) in 1276, and died of illness on the same night (Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Walsh).

I found the following unattributed prayer for their intercession:

“Servants of Mary, bless all laypeople on their spiritual journey. Help us look to Mary for examples of faith, service, and humility. And help us to remember that God calls us to love him in his children and our neighbors. Remind us that it is more important to live for eternity than to die to time. Amen.”

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 May 2020. Web. 5 July 2020. <>