Cistercians as administrators in the thirteenth-century Italian communes

Paolo Grillo

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


During the thirteenth century, as the contributions to this volume confirm, numerous Italian cities made use of religious orders for tasks of government, especially in the sphere of financial administration. Previous scholarly attention has focused particularly on the role of the Humiliati, Friars Minor and Dominicans. The employment of Benedictine monks, especially of those belonging to reformed orders such as the Ordo Sancti Benedicti de Padua, and above all the Cistercians, has passed almost unobserved. Yet these last were appointed to important offices in various parts of the peninsula, confirming that although the order was, in theory, enclosed and heremitical, it was quickly able to construct stable and productive links with the urban world. Some years ago, Luisa Chiappa Mauri underlined the point that the political employment of monks was far more than just a minor aspect of the urban engagement of the Italian Cistercians. It was useful for creating particular links with the various regimes, with the aim of garnering privileges and legal protection, but was also a rapid, and quite natural, result of the prestige which the order enjoyed, and the trust placed in the white monks by the urban populace. As Grado Merlo has observed, ‘the men of the cities and – we can add – of smaller towns’ were not ‘unconscious of the attractions of Cistercian monasticism’, which represented a model of life and perfection that held considerable fascination even to those within the city walls. These ‘holy entrepreneurs’, who combined personal prestige with recognised management ability, represented an important resource available to the communal authorities. This was particularly the case, as will be shown below, during the turbulent periods of civil conflict within the cities. In these dramatic circumstances, it seemed obvious to delegate certain important civic duties to these same figures, to whom many townsmen, and sometimes the urban communities as a whole, entrusted their relationship with God and the spiritual realm.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChurchmen and Urban Government in Late Medieval Italy, c.1200-c.1450
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9781107360082, 9781107044265
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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