monks of the strictest observance of the rule of St. Francis, called Capuchins on account of the great pointed capuchon (or cowls) which they wear. Matteo di Baschi, an Observantine friar, of the convent of Monte Falcone, in the duchy of Urbino, in Italy, was the founder of this reformed order in 1525. Pretending that the Franciscans were no longer strict followers of St. Francis, as they wore a different cowl, did not let their beard grow, and had mitigated the vow of poverty, he, with the pope's permission, and accompanied by some others, retired into a solitary hermitage of the Camaldoli near Massacio. The reformed monks were much persecuted by the Franciscans, who drove them from place to place. In 1528 Pope Clement VII allowed them to put themselves under the obedience of the Conventuals, and to take the title of Friars Hermits Minors, with the right of electing a vicar general. Their first establishment was at Colmenzone, near Camerino. In 1529 they held the first general chapter at Alvacina, and drew up the rule of the new association, which received alterations and additions in 1536 and 1575. It enjoins, among other things, that the Capuchins shall perform divine service without singing; that they shall say but one mass each day in their convents; that they shall observe hours for mental prayer morning and evening, days for disciplining themselves, and days of silence; that they shall always travel on foot, and avoid ornament and costly furniture in their churches, contenting themselves with having the curtains of the altar of stuff and the chalices of tin. Pope Paul III, in 1586, gave them the name of Capuchins of the Order of Fiars Minor, and subjected them to the visitation and correction of the Conventuals. In the same year the two founders and first vicars general of the order, Matteo di Baschi, and his friend Ludovico di Fossombrone, were excluded from the order for disobedience. The fourth vicar general, Ochino, one of the most famous preachers of Italy, became a Protestant in 1543. For a time the whole order was forbidden to preach, and threatened with suppression, but their submission and humble petitions averted this danger. From this time dates the development of their peculiar character, their rapid spread, and great influence in the Romish Church. A severe asceticism, a designed neglect of both mind and body, and a coarse, cunning eloquence, made them the favorite preachers of the lower classes of the people. The order has never produced great scholars, but has been joined sometimes by princes (e.g. Alfonso di Este, duke of Modena) and by statesmen tired of the world. In 1573 the order was introduced into France, in 1606 into Spain, and in 1619 their superior was permitted to take the name of General. In the last century they counted more than 50 provinces, 3 custodies, nearly 600 convents, and 25,000 members, without taking into account the missionaries in Brazil, Congo, Barbary, Egypt, and the East.
In 1858 the order had 39 provinces, 4 custodies, and 5 vicariates general in partibus infidelium, with about 11,300 members. A province must have at least 4 complete convents. Houses with less than four monks are called residences. The greatest number of provinces was, until 1859, in Italy; but, together with other monastic communities, nearly all the convents of the Capuchins have since been suppressed by the government of the kingdom of Italy. It has also convents or residences in France, Switzerland, Austria, Prussia, several other German states, Belgium, Holland, Ireland, England, Poland, Turkey, Greece, India, the Seychelles, and South America. In most of these countries the number of convents is on the increase. The custodies (with less than four convents) are in Ireland, Croatia, Lucca, and Westphalia. The latter, which comprises Prussia, Hanover, and Hesse- Darmstadt, was established in 1851, The first convent in England was founded in 1858 by Viscount Fielding. The vicariates general with episcopal jurisdiction are in Tunis, Abyssinia, Patna, Bombay, and Agra. In South America they have some residences, and are penetrating more and more into the interior. About 500 members are employed as foreign missionaries, and there is a seminary for preparing chosen young Capuchins for foreign missions in Rome.
There is likewise an order of Capuchin nuns (Capuchines or Capucines), also known as Nuns of the Passion, instituted by Maria Lorenza Longa, the widow of a noble Neapolitan. Their first establishment was at Naples, in 1538, when they took the third rule of St. Francis. They, however, soon quitted this for the more rigid rule of St. Clara. Of this order only a few convents are left, most of them in Italy and Switzerland, with a few in France, Bavaria, and South America. See Annales Sacr. hist. ordinis minorum S. Francisdc, qui Capucini nuncupantur (Lugd. 1632); Wadding, Annates ord. Minor. t. 16; Fehr, Gesch. der Mönchsorden, nach Henrion, 1:308.