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In the fourth century, certain Roman ladies, following St. Paula, embraced the religious life in Bethlehem, putting themselves under the direction of St. Jerome, who had founded a monastery in that city. It is not to be inferred from this that he composed any monastic rule or founded an order. Some Hieronymites of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, indeed, asserted as much, but their claims rest upon no substantial basis, so that no historical link is to be looked for between St. Jerome and this religious family. The congregation was formed in Spain and Italy in the fourteenth century, by the amalgamation of several groups of hermits, and the sovereign pontiffs, while granting it their approval, imposed upon it the rule of St. Augustine, though the name of St. Jerome, whom the religious had chosen as their model and patron, was retained.
In Spain the cradle and centre of this congregation was the monastery of San Bartolome de Lupiana. Its first prior, Fernando Pecha, in conjunction with Peter of Rome, obtained from Pope Gregory XI Bulls confirming their order, 8 October, 1373. The pope received their solemn vows and gave them their habit, which consisted of a white tunic, a brown scapular and mantle. Their constitutions resembled those of the Augustinians of St. Mary of the Sepulchre at Florence. Fernando Pecha received the profession of the other hermits in 1374. Their numbers rapidly increased; in the reigns of Philip II and his successors and their prosperity was extraordinary. Charles V held them in high esteem. In 1389 they received the monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Estramadura, in which is preserved the image of the Blessed Virgin most venerated throughout Spain. In 1415 their houses numbered twenty-five. They were then removed from the jurisdiction of the ordinary and made an exempt order. They were established in Portugal, and the religious of these two countries formed one congregation (1595). Philip II built on a grand scale the monastery of St. Lawrence of the Escorial, in which the kings of Spain are buried. Its library is one of the richest in Spain, and it possesses many works of art. The kings of Portugal are buried in the monastery of Belem, founded by King Manuel in 1497, which was the largest and finest in the kingdom. Emperor Charles V, on his abdication (1555), withdrew to the monastery of St. Jerome of Yuste, where he died. The monasteries of Madrid and Seville must also be mentioned. The hieronymite nuns founded by Maria Garcias, who died 10 February, 1426, occupied the monasteries of St. Paula of Toledo, of La Concepción Jeronima of Madrid (1504), of St. Paula of Seville (1473), of St. Martha of Cordova, and St. Paula of Granada. The Hieronymites became celebrated for their generous almsgiving. The authority which they gained from so holy a manner of living allowed of their being employed efficaciously in the reformation of other religious orders, among which were the Premonstratensians, the Trinitarians, the Canons Regular of Coimbra, of St. John the Evangelist, the Knights of the Order of Christ and of St. James of the sword. It was by their help that St. John of God was enabled to found his first hospital. They cooperated in the evangelization of the New World. The government of the island of San Domingo was at first confided to them. Many of them have been raised to the episcopal dignity.
Lupo de Olmedo introduced into this order a reform which issued in the establishment of the Congregation of the Monk-Hermits of St. Jerome of the Observance (1424). Their manner of life resembled that of the Carthusians. Their constitutions were drawn up with extracts made from the writings of St. Jerome. The monastery of St. Jerome of l'Acella and others which existed in Spain were incorporated with the Spanish Congregation of the Hieronymites (1595); those which Lupo de Olmedo had founded in Italy retained their independence, and were known as the Hermits of St. Jerome of Lombardy, their general residing at San Pietro del Ospitaletto, in the Diocese of Lodi . They had seventeen houses, notably that of St. Alexis on the Aventine, at Rome.
There were two other congregations at Rome under the patronage of the same Doctor of the Church : the Hermits of St. Jerome [of the Congregation] of Blessed Peter of Pisa, and the hermits of St. Jerome of Fiesole. The former came into existence at Montebello, in Umbria, about the year 1375; Blessed Peter of Pisa, its founder, died in 1435. Its constitutions were not drawn up until 1444, and St. Pius V gave the congregation its definitive form in 1568. It was augmented by the incorporation of several ermitical groups: that of Blessed Nicola di Furca-Palena, under the generalship of Blessed Bartolommeo Malerba, after 1446; that of the Hermits of Monte Legastro, near Genoa (1579), founded by Blessed Lawrence; lastly the Tyrolese and Bavarian hermits (1695). The forty houses of Italy formed the two Provinces of Ancona and Treviso. At Rome these religious occupied the monastery of Sant' Onoforio on the Janiculum. Their habit was brown and consisted of a tunic, a hood, and a mozzeta, with a leathern girdle. Many of the congregation have been beatified - Pietro Qualcerano, Nicola di Furca-Palena, Bartolommeo of Cesna, Filippo of Sant' Agata, and others.
The Hermits of St. Jerome of Fiesole were founded by the Blessed Charles of Montegraneli. Cosimo de' Medici defrayed the cost of their first monastery. Innocent VII approved the congregation in 1406, and in 1441 Eugene IV gave it its definitive constituti ons. They had as many as forty houses, all in Italy. The church of Sts. Vincent and Anastasius at Rome was served by them. But in time their numbers diminished, and Clement IX suppressed them in 1668. The other Italian Hieronymites disappeared during the troubles which followed the Revolution; those of Spain were suppressed in 1835, and those of Portugal shortly afterwards. The literary activity of this order has been confined to Spain and Portugal. Antonio Nicolás in his "Bibliotheca Hispana nova", vol. II, p. 314, enumerates the works of these religious, of whom some of the best-known names are: Diego de Carceros, moralist and theologian (1638); Diego de Yepes, author of a life of St. Teresa (1643) and a history of the persecution in England (1599); Diego de Zuniga, philosopher and exegete (about 1600); Fernando de Talavera, Bishop of Granada (1507), ascetical writer; Francisco de todos Santos, author of a history of the Escorial (1657); Garcias de Toledo, canonist (about 1560); Hemengildo de San-Pablo, the historian of his congregation (1670); Jerónimo Gazia, moralist (1652); Jeronimo of Guadalupe, a commentator on several books of the Bible (about 1600); Juan of Toledo, theologian (1662).
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