Saint Crispin of Viterbo



Everyone's Friend and Brother of the People


MEMORIAL : MAY 19TH




A Philosophy of Life summed up in a few Pithy Phrases 

“You don't go to Paradise in a carriage."
“Paradise is not made for armchairs” 
"Whoever is born dies." 
"Every day another one goes by." 
“Divine Providence thinks of us more than we ourselves do.”
“Love God and do not falter. Do good too and drop the talking. (Ama Dio e non fallire, fa pur bene e lascia dire)”
“The one who loves the Mother and offends the Son is a counterfeit lover.”
"If you want to be happy in religious community, among other things you must observe these three things: namely suffer, keep silent and pray." 
"So great is the good that is waiting for me, that my Ev'ry pain, a pleasure shall be. (Tanto è il bene che mi aspetto, che ogni pena mi è diletto. )”
“My sons, do good while you are still young and suffer willingly because when you are old the only thing you will have left is good will.”
“You don't Paradise in a pair of slippers.”  
“Suffering is brief, joy is eternal.” 
"Death is a school for making all the crazy people who are attached to the world see sense."

These are but some of the short pithy phrases with which the Capuchin saint, Brother Crispin of Viterbo masterfully summed up his own Christian Philosophy of Life. He himself lived his life by these maxims and, with an ofttimes witty turn of phrase, managed to pass them on to others with whom he came into contact. But who, in fact, was this Saint Crispin of Viterbo?  

One Child - Two Mothers!
Crispin was born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1668 on the 13th of November 1668. His father was Ubald Fioretti and his mother was Marcia Antoni. At the time of their marriage Marcia was a widow who already had a daughter. On the 15th of November they had their newborn baby baptized 'Peter' in the church of Saint John the Baptist. But since his father Ubald died while Peter was very young, his mother Marcia was once more widowed. So Peter's uncle Francis came to help out with young Peter's education and had him enrolled in a Jesuit-run primary school. Afterwards he later took Peter on as an apprentice in his own shoe shop. 

Peter's very devout mother nourished a deep maternal love for her child. Once when they visited the Shrine of Our Lady of the Oak, she pointed out the statue of Our Lady to her son and said, "See! She is your Mother and your Lady: in the future love her as your Mother and your Lady!"  Young Peter took these words to heart and used to make altars of Our Lady everywhere, offering her 'the fairest of flowers'. 


Overcoming All Sorts of Obstacles to Become a Capuchin

During Peter's youth, a penitential procession praying for rain was held because of a drought in Orvieto and novices from the Palanzana Capuchin novitiate were among those taking part in the procession. On seeing them, Peter made up his mind to become a Capuchin Brother. The Roman Provincial Minister, who was staying at Orvieto at the time, wanted to receive twenty five year old Peter into the Order as soon as he saw him. But Peter had to overcome his family's opposition, especially that of his mother; so he reminded her that she had offered him to Our Lady when he was a child and finally secured her permission to enter the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor. However there still remained one opponent of Peter's vocation. That person was none other than the Master of Novices, who opposed Peter's entering the Order, because there were doubts as to whether or not the frail-bodied Peter would be able to live properly the Capuchins' tough life. Peter had to remain in the Palanzana novitiate friary as a mere guest until the Provincial Minister's final word finally arrived, but the Provincial Minister made his decision clear to the Novice Master and had Peter received into the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor. 

At the time of his investiture with the habit, Peter received the religious name 'Crispin'. Saint Crispin was the patron saint of cobblers and Peter was someone who had learned the art of shoemaking. However, in the Order, he never actually had a chance to ply this trade. 


Early Years of Capuchin Ministry

In any case, one year later, on the 22nd of May 1694, Brother Crispin completed his novitiate and was able to make his profession. And after doing so, he was sent to the Tolfa Local Fraternity (i. e. ‘Tolfa monastery or friary’) where he ministered for three years as cook. And he also ministered as infirmarian, gardener and cook in the province of Lazio's Rome, Albano and Montrotondo Local Fraternities. 


The Beggar who became Everybody's Friend

In 1709 Brother Crispin was sent to Orvieto. He was given the task of quester and during 38 years there he faithfully fulfilled this duty. His 57 yearlong religious life was dedicated without interruption to the service of God, of his Brothers and of his neighbours. He knew all the local people of the area and the locals for their part loved Crispin as a good friend. When looking after plague victims he voluntarily and zealously undertook this task. He used to beg food not only for his Capuchin friars but also for his 'large Orvietan family.' But since, for his Capuchin Brothers, he only begged for necessities, he did not ingratiate himself with his confreres. In fact their were even some Brothers who secretly hoped to use Crispin's fame to ease their lot, and when Brother Crispin failed to meet their expectations, they did not hesitate to vent their resentment towards him. 


Capuchin Vita Mixta - A Textile Interwoven with Prayer and Apostolic Activity

In any case, Brother Crispin skillfully combined his active apostolate with his life of prayer, as an excellent example of the Capuchins' vita mixta(mixed life) in which the apostolate and contemplation mutually complement each other. 

As soon as he returned to the friary, Brother Crispin would give himself up to prayer. He used to decorate an altar for the statue of Our Lady and, before it, he would pray and sing hymns, often joyfully making her an offering of beautiful flowers. Despite the fact that Crispin, worn out by a day begging in faraway places, was dispensed form attending  choir(i. e. chorus - a chapel behind the altar of the church where the friars offer the divine office which is also called an prayer room), nevertheless he always attended nighttime Matins. He was invariably the first in church and the last to leave. And he spent long hours of adoration before the tabernacle and also whiled away much of his free time in the church. Before leaving the house, he would be sure to sing a short meditative hymn and then go out. On such occasions, he would always sing a Marian hymn, such as the Ave Maris Stella(Hail, Star of the Sea) in front of an image of Our Lady and when passing the 'Ecce Homo' Image of the Suffering Jesus he would stop and prostrating himself, pray thus, "I thank Thee, Lord, O Lord, I praise Thee." (His cell was decorated with sacred images such as that of 'the Holy Family' and that of the Suffering Jesus called 'Ecce Homo'). And when readings were being read in the refectory, he would listen attentively, especially to excerpts from the lives of Saint Felix of Cantalice, Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Saint Joseph of Leonessa and Saint Clare of Assisi. 

Throughout his life he always did his best to avoid idleness and though outside he was inclined to be a man of many words, with the Brothers he used words very sparingly. This was especially apparent when disputes about religious subjects arose in the fraternity. 


His Outlook on Contemporary Capuchin Religious Life

Though Crispin was well aware of the problems that beset Capuchin religious life at the time, he deeply treasured his Capuchin calling. The number of his maxims about Capuchin religious life is very great indeed but here are just a few of them. “O how obliged we are to the Lord who called us to this holy religion." Of the yoke of a quester's sack and wine skin which were his “cross”, he used to say, “But how much greater was that of Christ!” He also used to say that "the cross of religious was like straw compared to that of lay people. And there is no comparison between the crosses that the lay people carry, even if they are made of iron, and the cross that Christ carried." A tendency to criticize the problems of religious life that pervaded the age and a desire for a more dedicated religious life concretized by good deeds is clearly evident in his maxims. 

When Brother Crispin was admonishing ordinary people he was polite but with religious he was very forthright. He once scolded Brother Francis Anthony of Viterbo who was angry at his Guardian, telling him point blank, "Peasant, if you want to save your soul, you must observe these three things: love everyone, speak well of everyone and do good to everyone." 


Obedient in All Things - But without Violating the Rule ! 

Since Brother Crispin gave priority to obeying the Guardian's commands, he was particularly severe with religious who refused to obey. He used to give the following admonition. “The one who does not obey is a dead soul in front of God and Father Saint Francis, and he is a useless body to the Order.” “He resembles a young person without sense, foolish and vague within a family, who is only good for unsettling and disturbing others and creating confusion…” “He is like a dead body in a house, that is good for nothing except to plague it with its own fetid stench.”  

The following anecdote illustrates well Brother Crispin's spirit of obedience. Since at that time the Capuchin Friary was far from the city centre, for the convenience the questing Brothers, Brother Crispin and one or two confreres would lodge during the week in a shelter in the centre of the city of Orvieto. But a Guardian, who was strict about regular observance, commanded that all the Brothers, including Brother Crispin, should return to the Friary for supper each evening. Despite the great inconvenience, elderly Brother Crispin vigorously obeyed the command. All he did was to make his way home along the difficult uphill path, after which he ate only a mouthful of bread and took a little rest, but for him obedience always had priority over his own comfort and ease. 

Nevertheless he refused to go against his conscience and obey commands that were contrary to the Rule of Saint Francis. Once a certain Guardian commanded him to collect money, something which is forbidden in the Rule of Saint Francis. Brother Crispin, who refused to obey this command, was shifted from Orvieto and moved to the Bassano Fraternity. When the residents of Orvieto heard this news, they would not give alms to any quester but Brother Crispin and after three months Brother Crispin was obliged to return to Orvieto. The Guardian who had made that command was moved elsewhere and in the end went on to leave the Order. In his dealings with other Guardians, even if they were harsh, Brother Crispin never criticized them. This was because he deemed the chance to serve God in the Order to be a great grace.


Service to Those in Any Kind of Need

He did a great deal of good in the areas of social welfare and spirituality while remaining faithful to his duties as quester. He energetically ministered to sick people, prisoners, unmarried mothers, the poor and those who had lost all hope and he ably completed various jobs both inside and outside the friary. In particular, he was unsparing in his encouragement and help towards poor people, who came to the friary door. Of this help, he used to say that God will always provide abundantly for us "when we keep open two doors: namely the door of the choir for the greater glory of the Lord, and the door of the friary lobby for the benefit of the poor." And he also used to say that “The front door supports the friary.”  

He visited the sick every day. Moreover, he often went to see prisoners and he would also to speak up in their defence them, urging the prison warders to respect the their human rights. He distributed bread, chestnuts and tobacco to prisoners and he saw to it that better-off families cooked tasty dishes for them. 

He himself would take babies who had been abandoned at the Friary front door to an orphanage: nor did he content himself with this alone but he consistently showed an interest in these children and keep in touch with them until they had grown up. 


His Sense of Humour - a Remedy for his Fiery Temper!

Brother Crispin was an extremely witty and cheerful man but, according to some witnesses, he used to moderate and control his innate fiery temperament by using witty remarks. He used this wit and his sense of humour to get along with all sorts of different people. For this reason his ministerial activities were always joyful. He had a especially ability to discern people's needs and there was no need so small that it escaped his notice. 


Crispin and his 'Lady Mother'

Furthermore, whenever task Brother Crispin began any task, he would always first pray to Our Lady. Ofttimes holy maxims about Our Lady also flowed from his lips. He used to call her "my Lady Mother" and insisted that "anyone who is devoted to Mary Most Holy cannot be lost." and that “Whoever offends the Son does not love the Mother.” And he used to say “Someone who displeases the Divine Son is not a true devotee of Our Lady.” And he used to teach people to recite and repeat he following prayer: “Mary, Most Holy, be Thou my light and companion, especially at the moment of my death.” 

If if people asked him for prayers for someone critically ill, (and usually in such cases they were hoping for a miracle), he would say  “Let me speak with my Lady Mother for a little while, and then come back.” Or else he would say  “I will send my Lady Mother a reminder, and we will see the reply” Of course, the reply was not always the one that was hoped for. The case of Francis Laschi was a casein point. To him, Crispin said “My Lady Mother has not endorsed the reminder I sent about the health” of your son.


A Learned Lay Brother and Wise Spiritual Director

In contrast to other Capuchin lay brother saints of that era, Brother Crispin could read and write due to the fact that he was educated. Through listening to sermons and reading a broad range of books necessary for his spiritual life, he managed in many ways to become quite culturally refined. Called the 'learned lay brother", He was filled with insight and wisdom, and high-ranking prelates, including Pope Clement XI, as well as scholars and nobles, used to seek out his advice and spiritual direction. In letters he wrote to diocesan priests on can read how exquisitely he dealt with various spiritual problems, such as scruples. His spiritual advice is evident in one letter he wrote to one such diocesan priest afflicted with spiritual anxiety. “Be stouthearted and manly. Go cheerily to fulfill your duties which are often most delicate, taking no notice of any turmoil. Try to stay happy in the Lord and to keep yourself occupied with works that appeal to you, with works that are worthy of your calling. Our life is continuous warfare. but this is a sign that we are destined, through the mercy of God, to be great princes in paradise." 


More of his Maxims
Brother Crispin's spiritual direction was better expressed in proverbial sayings and short poems than in long letters. He would say things like, “Anyone, who loves God with purity of heart, will live contented and then die happy. (Chi ama Dio con purità di cuore, vive felice e poi contento muore)", “Nothing adverse will ever befall anyone who does the Lord's will.” and “Let us love this God because He deserves it.” Once there was a severe famine and Brother Crispin stirred up trust in God like this: "Place your hope in God so that you may possess every abundance. (Poni in Dio la tua speranza, ché averai ogni abbondanza)." Also to Brother Francis Anthony of Viterbo he said “Peasant, whatever we do and all we have to carry out is to be done for the love of God……. I would not lift a straw if it were not done for the love of God." And he added that, if someone did otherwise, he or she "would be a martyr for the devil." 

Brother Crispin was certain that “It takes more effort to go to hell than to gain heaven with holy works.” And he used to emphasize to people that they should have trust in God. Therefore if people were doubtful about their salvation and asked him about this, he promptly answered that, if they had hope of being saved they would be and suggested that God's mercy was infinite. To a certain lady who was living an immoral life he said “God’s mercy, madam, is great. Rid yourself of a bad habit with a good confession.” And he also said this: "The power of God creates us; the wisdom of God governs us; the mercy of God saves us." To Paula Schiavetti who suffered acutely form scruples, he said, “When a person on her part does all she knows and can do, with regards to all the rest, she must throw herself into the sea of God’s mercies.” 



He Thirsted for Social Justice

Furthermore Brother Crispin was sure that the material and spiritual unhappiness which was pervasive in human society was often the result of inequality. Therefore he confronted and fought against such inequalities, recommending fair and honest profit-making activities to merchants and defending the just rights of workers. With an innate sense of humour and talent, he composed maxims which were appropriate to such situations, and he reproved one person who asked him to heal his gout, saying, "Your ailment is more gout of the hands than gout of the feet, since you do not pay those who should have been paid: your workers and servants are crying."   And he used to warn merchants, in particular, to "note that God sees the contract and the goods." And again “Be careful, don’t be ninnies, because God is watching.” 

He asked people to pay their debts, in so far as possible, and if conflict broke out he always strove to mediate without any hesitation whatsoever. And he used to also say that "worldly things do not lead to God."


Crispin's Critics

Despite all these meritorious deeds, Brother Crispin was not without his critics. He found himself under attack from critics not only from inside the Capuchin Order but also from outside. Some complained that he was self-righteous and abrasive and others called him a hypocrite. For thirty years, a sister in a certain convent he often called to used to insult him. Once citizen who was averse to giving towards charity sent a letter to the General Minister of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor demanding that Brother Crispin be relieved of his duties, and a certain priest of the Cathedral Church in Orvieto used to openly confront Brother Crispin, shouting, "You are a hypocrite." But Crispin, who was well aware of his own shortcomings, endured all these things heroically.


Crispin's Humility and Self-deprecating Humour

Brother Crispin always considered himself to be worthless. Once he described himself like this: “I am worse than a Seville orange. At least you can get a little juice from them, but what can they hope to get from me.” To escape popular praise and complements, Brother Crispin often used witty figures of speech. When someone who took pity on him going about in the pelting rain, he joked, “Friend, I walk between the drops.”  

His humility is particularly clearly apparent in his grateful heart. Until the day, he died he spoke of himself as ‘a poor sinner, a little miserable me, a little poor man" and he used to send 'thank you letters' to friends who had remembered him. He prayed always for his benefactors and friends and these, in turn, readily shared their joys and sorrows with this "Brother of the People,"

Crispin was very much a practical man but neither scientists nor medical scholars can explain the miracles and healings that surround him. To those who followed him around, marveling at his miracles, Brother Crispin used to say, "What are you so amazed about? That God should perform miracles is no novelty" Again “Don’t you know, friend, that Saint Francis knows how to perform miracles?” He reproved the people of Montefiascone, who were trying to cut strips of his mantle to keep as relics, saying, “Poor people, what are you doing?! You’d do much better to cut the tail off a dog! … Are you crazy? So much a din for passing donkey! God to church and pray to God!”


"Do you want to grab the Lord by the beard?"
And he used to teach patience to those who demanded quick-fix miracles. When the Princess Barberini demanded urgently that he heal her son, Charles, Brother Crispin replied, "Eh! Is it not enough for you that he be healed during the Holy Year? Eh! Do you want to grab the Lord by the beard? It is necessary to receive favours from God when He wishes to do them."


A Capuchin Vocation Prophesied
When Brother Crispin met Jerome, the son of Magdalene Rossati, he sang out "Without bread and without wine, little brother of Brother Crispin. (Senza pane e senza vino, fraticello di fra Crispino)”, thus prophesying that the boy would become a Capuchin. He did indeed become a Capuchin and was known as Brother Hyacinth of Orvieto; he was a candidate for the priesthood, but died a holy death at Palestrina before he had reached the age of twenty. 


Brother Crispin's Typical Day

While living in Orvieto, Brother Crispin used to lodge in a boxroom on the first floor of a small downtown temporary dwelling, or hospice(hospitium), which had been lent to the Friars. His normal schedule there was as follows.  He used to rise early in the morning and pray either in his own small room or the common room on the ground floor and, when the Cathedral doors opened, he would attend a number of Masses. After that, he came back to the dwelling and, if his companion had slept late and missed Mass, he accompanied him to church before going out begging. Then he visited the sick and met with convicts in prison. For lunch, he only ate a little vegetable soup or a mouthful of bread dipped in water, and afterwards went out to visit people who needed help. Sometimes he would welcome visitors to his hospice, saying a few words of blessing to them and giving out food. In the evening, he would go to church and listen to sermons or adore the Blessed Sacrament of the Lord's Body, and then, for two or three hours he would read his Latin Bible and 'The Imitation of Christ' or perhaps some other spiritual book and devote himself to mediation. And if there were members of the faithful who where dying, he would always accompany the priest going to give them the Sacrament of the Sick, and besides, he never missed their funerals. And also if there were sick Brothers in the Fraternity, who did not want to go to the infirmary, he always took them to his hospice and took care of them himself. Because of this sort of lifestyle, he was able to live an upright life in the midst of people, sharing in their joys and sorrows. 

When Summer came around, he used to go to sleep on the rooftop covered with stars and, in his old age, he used to write many letters and memorize poetry from Italian literature. He invited Francis Barbareschi, a pharmacist from Orvieto who was suffering f개m gout, to "take 'Achilles's' spear" in the "villa Crispiniana." (By this he meant that he should come and work with his spade(Achilles's spear) in the small vegetable patch that Crispin cultivated(Villa Crispiniana") to provide vegetables for benefactors). And when he had miraculously rescued a Capuchin Brother who almost drowned crossing a flooded river, Crispin sang him a short ditty that he himself had composed: “Murky you seem to me and murky you remain. If I were to cross, I'd be insane. (Torbida si vede, torbida si lassa; son un gran matto, se si passa.)”


His Final Years in Rome
In the Winter of 1747, Brother Crispin became critically ill and was moved to the Capuchin infirmary in Rome. Because his fame was known far and wide by the citizens of Rome, many people came to see him at the Roman Friary on the Via Veneto. When one Brother attempted to console him by telling him that, though he be beset with suffering, he should not lose his joy, he told him that the bother he gave to those who were caring for him was more painful than any illness he had to endure. And he knew how to practice holy self-abandonment, saying, “God gave it to me and God will relieve me of it. May His Most Holy Will be done.” He cheerfully answered someone who commiserated with him over his sufferings, “When do you want to suffer for the love of God? After you have died?”, "Hey! do we want to wait to suffer when we are in the cemetery('pilozzo')?"


"I rejoiced when I heard them say 'Let us go to God's house.'"

Fortunately Brother Crispin's illness improved somewhat. In May 1750, however, Brother Crispin caught pneumonia and was moved once more to the infirmary. He had predicted that he would die in Rome, having received the 1950 Holy Year Indulgence, and now he told Prince Barberini, "I've got to go off……. I've to go off to our everlasting dwelling place." When one Brother consoled Crispin by telling him to think about the Lord's Passion, he said, "Ah, yes, Father Angelus Anthony! It is there that have I placed all my trust." When the Brother Infirmarian informed him that his death was imminent, he sang out the words of the Psalm "I rejoiced when I heard them say 'Let us go to God's house.'" But he promised not to die on the 17th or the 18th of May, lest he disturb the feast of Saint Felix of Cantalice. On the 19th, he kept on repeating this prayer, as he had done for a few days previously, "Complete, O my God, the work of Thy mercies. and by the merits of the Most Holy Passion of my Lord Jesus Christ save this soul of mine." Before he died he shouted at the devil who was tormenting him, "You ugly beast, there is nothing you can do to me now. For I believe firmly in the mercy of God, in the protection of my Lady Mother, Mary Most Holy, and the assistance of my Seraphic Father, Saint Francis."


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