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The architecture of the mendicant orders in the Middle Ages: an overview of recent literature

L’architecture des ordres mendiants au Moyen Âge : panorama des études récentes
Die Architektur der Bettelorden im Mittelalter : Panorama der aktuellen Forschung
L’architettura degli ordini mendicanti nel Medioevo : panorama degli studi recenti
La arquitectura de las órdenes mendicantes en la Edad Media : panorama de los estudios recientes
Caroline Bruzelius
p. 365-386


L’étude de l’architecture mendiante représente une nouvelle approche de l’espace sacré, espace qui fut intimement lié à une structure économique fondée sur la participation de donateurs. De nombreux­ travaux récents consacrés à des sites ou à des aires géographiques précis ont révélé à quel point les pratiques de construction des ordres mendiants ont transformé les lieux de rencontre entre clergé et laïcs. Comme l’ont fait remarquer leurs détracteurs, les frères ont également mené une politique offensive de travail de proximité, y compris par la prédication en plein air et par des visites chez les fidèles. L’examen des publications récentes suggère que l’analyse de l’architecture mendiante pourrait bénéficier d’une plus grande considération du rôle des frères dans les espaces publics urbains comme dans le cadre domestique du foyer.

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  • 1  This article does not include articles and books on Assisi because the literature is so extensive (...)

1This essay is an overview of the main themes in recent literature on mendicant buildings in the Middle Ages1. A number of books on the architecture of the friars have appeared in the past twenty years. These are dominated by three broad types of analysis. The first focuses on an individual site, either a church alone or a convent as a whole (a few examples are Gai, 1994; Barclay Lloyd, 2004; Cervini, De Marchi, 2010; De Marchi, Piraz, 2011). The second category consists of the survey that covers a region and/or an extended chronological period (Dellwing, 1970, 1990; Schenkluhn, 2000, 2003; Coomans, 2001; Volti, 2003; Todenhöfer, 2010). A third type of study was introduced in 1946 by Giles Meersseman with a ground-breaking article on the legislation and architectural practice of the Friars Preacher (Meersseman 1946), an approach that has since been applied to specific orders, to a particular building (such as the Jacobin convent in Toulouse: Sundt, 1987), or to the entire phenomenon of mendicant building practice (Volti, 2004). An additional and deeply interesting current of research concerns the administration and labor force of mendicant building sites and their decoration (Volti, 2003, p. 57-67, 2004, p. 61-63; Cannon, 2004).

2Legislation on architecture was generated by the need to reflect the concept of poverty in the architectural structures of the new orders. Expanding buildings became increasingly necessary because of the rapid growth of the religious communities and their lay followers, a process that regulations were only intermittently able to control; the lavish decorations on the interiors were often the result of pressures from local confraternities, guilds, and private patrons. In addition, hostility from the secular clergy meant that preaching in parish churches or public spaces became increasingly difficult. Panayota Volti’s wide-ranging article of 2004 provides a subtle contextualization and expansion of the theme of buildings and legislation, utilizing new types of evidence such as Bernard Guy’s De fundatione et prioribus conventuum provinciarum Tolosanae et Provinciae ordinis Praedicatorium, Bonaventure’s encyclical letters and his Determinationes questionum, and visual imagery (including Giotto di Bondone’s Apparition at Arles from the upper church at the basilica of San Francesco in Assisi) to examine how regulations played out in practice (Volti, 2004, p. 57-59).

3Whereas the study of an individual site is often the result of archaeological excavation or (less frequently) a multi-disciplinary analysis of structures as well as furnishings (including tombs and paintings), the broad overview continues the tradition of long-established models for the analysis of monastic architecture, especially that of the Cistercian order. This type of study emerged around the middle of the twentieth century and concentrated on the identification of systematic approaches to architectural planning and design, especially typo­logies of building. The broad overview often includes full pages of church plans arranged by type, which is of course useful for understanding the diffusion and meaning of certain architectural concepts and their possible symbolic associations (Schenkluhn, 1985, 2000; Coomans, 2001), as well as the evolution of distinct local architectural variants (Dellwing, 1970, 1990). But how often and in what way were the concepts embedded in a ground plan comprehensible to the contemporary user of the space in the Middle Ages? Surely plans were developed in relation to the effective functioning of a building rather than its symbolism, especially in a world in which the two-dimensional representation of architectural space, the drawing or plan, seems to have been exceedingly rare. The tendency to create taxonomies of medieval architecture can distort the central point of architectural space, which is that it must be useful as well as (if possible) an effective statement of ideals or meaning.

4Overviews often depend upon the work of local scholars and archaeologists (sometimes the authors of the surveys themselves) who, through deep acquaintance with a region and its history, can elucidate the histories of individual sites. In taking on the synthetic approach, these authors have been able to engage with the international character of the mendicant orders while at the same time identifying strong local characteristics (regional social and economic factors, materials, feudal or communal systems), which they can then set within the international context. Yet one of the difficulties with the synthetic study is that the granularity of the ongoing process of construction at any one site (see more on this below) tends to be absent – even when this process over time is the key to understanding what we see now. Achim Todenhöfer’s excellent recent book on the mendicant churches of Saxony, however, is a superb blending of both approaches: he provides detailed analyses of individual sites as well as a broad, synthetic overview (Todenhöfer, 2010).

5Panayota Volti’s stimulating and thorough study of mendicant architecture in northern France and Flanders also reflects this type of expanded approach, especially important because the author focuses on entire convents (not only churches) within their urban setting. Her interests range from the liturgical and decorative disposition of the monk’s choir to the locations of the laundry and the chicken coops (Volti, 2003, p. 105). Among the great merits of Volti’s work is her concern with the social and urban role of the friars and their active reconfiguration of the civic environment in its multiple social, political, economic, and topographical senses (macrotopographie). Unlike most other studies, she also includes the architecture of the Augustinian and Celestinian orders, an important addition because all mendicant institutions were in competition with each other for space, patrons, and funding; they therefore shared a common approach to building. Volti’s chronological frame extends from the thirteenth century through the early modern period, with a special focus on well-established convents. The melancholy irony of this book is that almost none of the buildings discussed have survived intact even within her wide geographical range. The author’s research is therefore primarily based on archival sources and pre-­Revolutionary images. Although the use of materials (stone, bricks, wood, pavement, glass, and paint) forms an important part of her overall analysis, the actual materiality of any specific site is inevitably lacking; in the absence of extant buildings, there can be no analysis of the structures themselves, nor of construction strategies and process. On the other hand, one of the many great strengths of Volti’s book is her interest in the convent as a whole and its place within the social and topographical realities of a city.

6Thomas Coomans and Wolfgang Schenkluhn focus more strictly on the architecture of extant churches and their chronological and stylistic relationships over a long time span and in relation to regional preferences (Schenkluhn, 2000; Coomans, 2001). This is also true of the recent volume by Todenhöfer, in which he also does much to reconstruct the patrimony of buildings that have been destroyed, including those damaged or lost in the Second World War (Todenhöfer, 2010).

7The focused study of one individual site has been essential for understanding mendicant building practice, as the first structures were almost always rebuilt or enlarged as communities expanded. Archaeology is therefore a fundamental tool, especially for the first generation. But it is often a difficult enterprise precisely because the sites are in cities (Lambrick, Woods, 1976, 1985). In this sense, Coomans’ and Todenhöfer’s recent studies combine the best of both worlds: they are syntheses that are also based on the author’s own first-hand archaeological or detailed architectural analysis work (Coomans, 2001; Todenhöfer, 2010).

8The archaeologically-oriented, in-depth study that engages with archival sources is thus vital for understanding mendicant architecture, especially for the decades from approximately 1220 to 1270, a period during which the small early buildings were consistently replaced by larger structures. At the Franciscan Church of Santa Croce in Florence, for example, publication of the post-flood excavations revealed the relationship between the small church of the mid-thirteenth century and the vast edifice that we see today, begun in 1294 (Rocchi, 2004). The protracted construction of the new church has been illuminated by new research on the fragments of the painted cycle, and a reconstruction of the location and decoration of the choir screen (De Marchi, Piraz, 2011). Research on the Franciscan church of San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples has demonstrated how, starting probably in the 1250s or 1260s, an Early Christian basilica underwent a series of episodic additions that resulted in the architectural volumes that we see today; the original sixth-century church was expanded and transformed many times over a roughly eighty-year period prior to the demolition of the original Early Christian nave in the 1320s (Bruzelius, 2004).

9In the past two decades, there has been a growing interest in the architecture of women’s communities. An important point of departure was the 1957 dissertation at Columbia University by Sister Mary Angelina Filipiak (Filipiak, 1957). In 1991, I explored some of the implications of clausura for the design or reconfiguration of church space for strictly enclosed communities of women, especially in relation to nuns’ experience of the liturgy at the high altar (Bruzelius, 1992, 1995). Brigitte Kurmann-Schwarz has provided important studies on the convent of Königsfelden (Kurmann-Schwarz, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2004), and, more recently, Carola Jäggi produced a broad survey on women’s convents (Jäggi, 2006). There are long chapters on female communities in Schenkluhn’s book from 2000 and Volti’s volume from 2003 (Schenkluhn, 2000, 2003; Volti, 2003). There are also numerous studies on individual convents that further enrich this area of investigation. One example is the multi-authored volume on San Sebastiano at Alatri, an ancient site converted in the thirteenth century for the use of the Poor Clares (Fentress et al., 2005). The enclosure of women stimulated particularly interesting approaches to the internal decoration of the nuns’ choirs, where images became a substitute for direct vision of the Mass at the high altar (Bruzelius, 1992, 1996). Serena Romano contributed an important essay on the frescoes at San Pietro in Vineis at Anagni, a study accompanied by excellent photographs, particularly important because the site is normally not accessible to the public (Romano, 1997). In this area as well, however, the destruction of many convents (and their decoration), particularly in France, renders the topic largely inaccessible, especially in relation to the architectural application of the divergent rules regarding enclosure for the Poor Clares (the so-called “Damianite” versus the “Isabellan” rules). The rare convent still in operation is usually rendered inaccessible by the rules of enclosure (for example, Santa Chiara in Assisi). One important exhibition at the Ruhr Museum in Essen in 2005, Krone und Schleier: Kunst aus mittelalterlichen Frauenklostern, did much to fill some of the lacunae around the topic of images and spirituality in women’s communities in the context of enclosure (Krone und Schleier, 2005; Hamburger, Martin, 2008).

Liturgical Divisions and Construction Process

10Synthetic studies are important. But because of the rapid evolution and institutionalization of the new orders in the first half of the thirteenth century, the broad survey often makes abstraction of mendicant building practice, which requires a focus on the structural details that reveal chronology and process at individual sites. Because of their insertion into tightly-packed urban settings and because the dedication to poverty eliminated (at least in the first decades) a stable income from tithes, rents, and agriculture, friars needed to be innovative and adaptive when acquiring sites and erecting buildings. Their approach tended to be fundamentally different from that of the Cistercians, for example, who often set out a new convent in open terrain where a coherent architectural concept representing the institutional persona could be accommodated. Building within cities as mendicants did, however, required the painstaking and sometimes controversial acquisition of houses and properties, often one by one. As a result, the friars’ buildings had to be calibrated to what properties might become available in the future. As we shall see, relations with neighbors and the instrument of the will for the transfer of property were vital tools for the construction of mendicant convents in cities.

11Initially friars used “found” or donated buildings: hospitals, homes, halls, abandoned churches. As the orders expanded, however, the situation changed rapidly: there was a need for space adequate enough to accommodate larger communities while at the same time reflecting the ideals of apostolic poverty (Todenhöfer, 2007; Bruzelius, forthcoming). Construction of churches and convents was usually episodic; this was largely the result of financial exigency, as communities grew more rapidly than the financial resources to support the construction of buildings. By the mid-thirteenth century, debt, often caused by construction, was an endemic problem in the orders.

12Giles Meersseman observed long ago that the construction of mendicant convents was very much a matter of intermittent, long-term process; many convents were continuously building throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Meersseman, 1946, p. 136). Indeed, regulations on architecture and design were being negotiated within each order as construction advanced; there would therefore have been a complex and disjunctive relationship between ongoing projects (often underway for decades) and the evolving regulations. We can think of mendicant architecture, like cities, as in a constant state of “becoming.”

  • 2  For a paradigmatic article on process and change in architectural practice, see Howard Burns on Mi (...)

13For example, the choir of a mendicant church was often erected along with the essential residential and functional structures (east arm) of the adjacent convent (at San Francesco in Pistoia, for example: Gai, 1994). The liturgical choir up to the jubé was conceptually connected to the eastern cloister wing; both were usually in use for the resident community of friars long before work on the nave was initiated (see more on this below). Changes in plan and conception could be introduced between construction of the choir and the later completion of the nave: San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples as it exists today represents the last phase of such a process. It was understood from the outset that buildings would be erected as a series of aggregated parts2 rather than as an expeditiously accomplished project. Recent studies by Achim Todenhöfer are among the few to engage with this concept of process (Todenhöfer, 2007, 2010; see also Bruzelius, forthcoming).

Decorative Programs and Architectural Space

14As I have proposed elsewhere, programmed, or even what we might call “systematic,” incompletion would therefore often have characterized mendicant building practice in the first century of its existence (Bruzelius, 2007 and forthcoming). Furthermore, new research is increasingly demonstrating that choir screens, almost all of which were removed starting in the sixteenth century (a rare Italian example survives in the Dominican church of Bolzano: Franco, 2003), were intrinsic to the planning and construction of mendicant churches and their decoration (Cooper, 2001; Bruzelius, forthcoming). The screen was literally the hinge between the interior church of the friars (the choir) and the external church open to the lay public. The altars, paintings, inscriptions and other paraphernalia eventually clustered around, above, and upon these choir screens were once a central identifying component of the interiors of mendicant churches. These interventions bound the lay public with the religious community in a mutually beneficial exchange, for example intercessory prayers in return for donations or for burial in the habit of the order (Bacci, 2000, 2003; Cannon, 2004).

15The topic of screens was introduced some decades ago in several important essays written by Marcia Hall (for example Hall, 1974a, 1974b, 1978), and these still remain a point of departure for this topic. In the past decade several important studies have focused on this particular element at specific sites, such as Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice (Merotto Ghedini, 2002; Valenzano, 2003). Reconstructions are extremely important in enabling the reader to understand not only the divisions of interior church spaces, but also the compositional and perspectival elements of the paintings that were once placed in this context (see in Merotto Ghedini, 2002). An excellent overview of the history of internal divisions and choir screens that includes an extended discussion of some mendicant examples can be found in a study by Giovanni Lorenzoni (Lorenzoni, 2000). It is important to affirm, however, that the screens were clearly “separators” and “dividers,” isolating the liturgical business of the religious community from the spaces reserved for public outreach to laymen in the nave. Screens later served to create social hierarchies and privileged areas for the chapels and tombs of distinguished patrons: royalty, nobles, and socially prominent families were often interred within the choir zone, closer to the prayers of the friars.

16Because of the rare survival of painted decoration, it is difficult to engage with this topic as part of the study of buildings and their significance. This author, however, is convinced that architectural space was not only created to serve the purpose of attending to the liturgy of both friars and laymen, but also intended as a vehicle for the more articulate and specific types of information conveyed through the panels and frescoes that usually filled the interiors of mendicant churches. In their various luminous studies of the decorative programs of Assisi and Padua, Chiara Frugoni and Serena Romano have established how deeply important fresco cycles and altarpieces were for the function and meaning of mendicant space (Frugoni, 1993, 2008; Romano, 1997, 2001, 2008).

17In the rare instances where frescoes survive, collaborative research focused on the extant paintings or altars of a single site can sometimes clarify issues of construction phases and dating (Cervini, De Marchi, 2010, passim). This approach demonstrates the extent to which decorative programs were intrinsic to mendicant religious space and their importance for reflecting lay patronage and promoting the ideologies of each order (Gai, 1993, 1994; Aceto, 2010). Indeed, where evidence of medieval decoration survives, collaboration between archaeologists, architectural historians, archivists, and art historians has played a vital role in interpreting the uniquely important place of the mendicants in developing visual imagery as propaganda, especially in the second half of the thirteenth and in the fourteenth centuries. Franciscans in particular focused on painting, while the Dominicans favored sculpture, particularly in the form of the monumental tombs for the order’s saints, Dominic and Peter Martyr. Although we know from archival sources that patrons left bequests in their wills for fresco cycles, tombs, and individual architectural elements such as portals, columns, roof beams, and other structural components, rarely do these objects survive, and more rarely still can a particular work of art be connected with a specific document or patron. In Naples, Bartolomeo di Capua (1248-1328) commissioned portals for the Dominican and Franciscan churches (Bruzelius, 2004); in Vicenza the dwarf Pietro da Marano funded the west portal of San Lorenzo and is depicted in the tympanum. Although most of the paraphernalia contributed by lay patrons has been lost or dispersed (much was expunged in restorations and now “floats” on the white walls of our museums), the decorative interventions and memorials of donors profoundly conditioned mendicant church space both inside and outside church and cloister, as well as funding the construction of convents more generally. Indeed, the character of mendicant architecture was in part determined by its need to function as a “hangar” for lay interventions.

18Examining painted cycles, altarpieces, and votive paintings is therefore fundamental to the study of architecture (Cooper, 2001; Romano, 2008; Bacci, 2000, 2003). They can sometimes document the stages of construction (completion of a church was often postponed for years, or even decades, after the friars’ liturgical choir was completed: Bruzelius, 2007). Inscriptions, as well as the texts of wills and testaments, can be useful in dating building phases, though friars often delayed construction of a section of a church or a chapel donated by a patron until enough legacies had been accumulated to support acquiring materials and assembling a labor force.

19At San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples, Francesco Aceto’s and Alessandra Rullo’s studies of tombs and altarpieces demonstrate how decorative programs promoted ideological themes and conditioned the significance of spatial zoning (Aceto, 2010; Rullo, 2012). Studies that concern themselves with the longue durée of a site, such as that of Donal Cooper and James Banker, are thus especially useful, as they provide an exceptional understanding of its evolution over time and the intimate relation of decoration and furnishings to liturgical space (Cooper, Banker, 2009).

Establishing Friaries in Cities

20The study of individual sites is important because new communities of friars inserted themselves into evolving urban settings. The reaction of each city and its clergy varied depending on local circumstances, and often an initial welcome soured as mendicants increasingly affirmed their presence in a town and became major forces in local “spiritual politics.” It is important to recognize that friars’ buildings and convents responded in various ways to changing external and internal circumstances (as noted by Jaton, 1990): because of their close connections to lay communities, friars were particularly responsive (and vulnerable) to social and economic change.

21In spite of the specifics of each location, however, there are common threads in mendicants’ approaches to new settlements, their acquisition of terrain (or existing buildings), and their building practice. The foundation of a new convent required a nascent community’s flexibility and ingenuity in relation to prevailing social, religious, and above all topographical circumstances. A friary needed to express a visible and identifiable architectural and institutional persona; this issue of a mendicant identity became especially acute towards the middle of the thirteenth century, when friars were increasingly under threat of extinction from their critics in the secular clergy. Humbert of Romans, Minister General of the Dominican Order (1254-1263), observed that “orders [… should] show uniformity not only in their observances, but also in their habits and in their buildings […]. It makes me groan to think how far from achieving this we are […] while our churches and buildings are of all types and arrangements” (Humbert of Romans, [1888-1889] 1956, p. 5).

22The earliest surviving Franciscan regulations in architecture, however, are late in date (1260) and were formulated under Bonaventure. Both ministers general were concerned to control excess, minimize variation, and affirm institutional identity through the orders’ most visible elements, their buildings. No matter how abundant the patronage (and therefore no matter how strong the pressures exerted by lay donors upon a religious community), friaries needed to represent some visible adherence to the vow of apostolic poverty. The papacy’s affirmation of the new orders after the mid-thirteenth century also seems to have prompted a new attitude towards architectural and institutional self-­identification (Bruzelius, forthcoming). This was played out in visible ways, among them in the choices of materials and an emphasis on spatial verticality. In Eastern Europe, for example, the systematic adoption of ashlar masonry was an important architectural signifier that associated mendicant buildings with the permanent structures of a city, such as town walls, city halls, and other elite forms of building (Hindin, 2008). To some extent, uniformity of building practice was also maintained by the use of internal expertise: friars knowledgeable in the various building trades (construction, mosaics, painting, or glassmaking, for example) moved from site to site (Volti, 2004, p. 61-62; Cannon, 2004).

23On the other hand, as Piron demonstrated for the convent of Santa Croce in Florence (Piron, 2009), the increasing tendency towards the end of the thirteenth century of mendicant communities to consist of men and women from local families meant that convents were increasingly enmeshed in local politics and rivalries, which were often in conflict with the principle of apostolic poverty. As at Santa Croce, one possible response was the construction of simple buildings at great scale. We know from Dominic’s own example that there was often a divergence within communities on the degree of rigorous austerity in buildings: when Dominic returned to the convent at Bologna, he was dismayed to see that there was excessively large construction going on within his own community. Yet later on, as noted by Volti, around 1300, Duns Scotus defined grandeur, along with color and shape, as one of the main criteria for beauty (Volti, 2004, p. 71-72).

24Although it is hard to define, the debate over apostolic poverty is fundamentally important for mendicant architecture. As noted, Bonaventure provided justifications for the increasingly large and visible architectural complexes of the Franciscans in place by the mid-thirteenth century. Yet tension remained and, as David Burr’s recent books on Peter John Olivi and the Spirituals and Vilpi Mäkinen’s study of poverty within the Franciscan order remind us, was exacerbated over time (Burr, 1989, 2001; Mäkinen, 2001). Mäkinen observes that Bonaventure framed discussions of property in relation to Roman legal prece­dent on dominion and ownership. Burr’s recent and important studies on the Spirituals, as well as his introduction to the recently co-edited translation into English of Angelo Clareno’s Chronicle or History of the Seven Tribulations of the Order of the Brothers Minor, greatly enhance our understanding of the extent to which conflicts over property and buildings remained constant, divisive, and often agonizing issues for Franciscan communities (Burr, 1989, 2001; Burr, Daniel, 2005).

25The challenges of finding adequate space for growing convents, and the difficulties in achieving consensus in matters of property and buildings, grew exponentially as the new orders increasingly became conventualized, adopting the architectural structures of the monastery: cloisters, refectories, and dormitories (Bruzelius, forthcoming). This also pertained to a certain consistency in shaping buildings to be recognizable as “reform” or “mendicant” structures. For Eastern Europe, S. Adam Hindin has noted that, when the Dominicans acquired an older church for their community in Prague in 1226-1227, they ­demolished the older polygonal choir and reconstructed it as a flat-ended rectangular structure in keeping with that of San Domenico in Bologna (Hindin, 2008, p. 381). Starting with the Cistercians in the early twelfth century, flat-ended chevets were associated with monastic reform; the feature seems to have been adopted by the Dominicans, beginning probably at San Domenico in Bologna, as a deliberate association with this older reforming order. Hindin’s evidence suggests that, in spite of Humbert of Roman’s mid-century laments about the lack of uniformity, such consistency was an important concern in some places as early as the 1220s. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Friars Preacher never, ­to my knowledge, utilized ground plans that had ambulatories with radiating chapels.

26The conventualization (that is to say, the adoption of the norms of monastic planning) of mendicant space occurred first and early in the Dominican order and was a feature of the restructuring of the Dominican community in Bologna in the 1220s (Bruzelius, forthcoming). This order was always more systematic and deliberate in the planning and execution of buildings for its communities; the contrast with the Franciscans would have been especially striking in the early decades of the orders. San Domenico in Bologna seems to have been the point of departure for this process; this site has been ably and intelligently studied in numerous important publications (Alce, 1972a, 1972b; Archeologia medievale…, 1987; Schenkluhn, 1985; Gelichi, Merlo, 1987a-b). As we shall note below, the adoption of the monastic model for mendicant houses was useful because the arrangement of buildings around cloisters permitted expansion for teaching spaces and, in some convents after circa 1248, for the offices and archives of the Inquisition.

27The Friars Minor were less systematic and more conflicted about developing administrative and institutional structures, not to mention a systematic approach to the planning and construction of churches and convents. Nonetheless, the earliest evidence for their adoption of the monastic model for their buildings is early in date and can be seen at the excavated church at Santa Croce in Florence, from roughly 1250. It presented a flat-ended “Cistercian-type” church with a cloister, mimicking the solution that had become fairly standard in the architecture of the Friars Preacher. Most Franciscan churches were rectangular boxes (like San Francesco in Cortona), but at Santa Croce this formula was expanded with a transept and lateral chapels. Cortona and Santa Croce in Florence also demonstrate that Franciscans were building in stone and brick (and decorating with fresco painting) well before Bonaventure’s argument in favor of permanent, fireproof buildings (see especially Giorgi, Matracchi, 2011, p. 17). The Franciscan order therefore also experienced a rapid transition from the mud and wattle huts discovered at the Porziuncola to brick and ashlar masonry buildings. But if we are to believe Angelo Clareno, this was a process fraught with tension (even anguish) from the earliest years of the order (Burr, Daniel, 2005, p. 50-51).

28Conventualization was thus an arduous process not only conceptually but also practically. It implicitly reflected the transformation of the orders away from strict adherence to the original precepts of apostolic poverty and towards large-scale multi-purpose architectural complexes. It involved the acquisition of property adjacent to the original nucleus of buildings or the transfer of a community to an entirely new and larger site, both complex and expensive enterprises in densely-inhabited urban environments. In Piacenza, the transfer of the Franciscan community to the city center meant the demolition of several blocks of buildings and years of intense and sometimes violent conflict with the local clergy. Alternatively, the rapidly growing mendicant communities at Oxford abandoned constricted sites in the center of town for more open terrain in the suburbs. Elsewhere, as in Paris, friaries were established on plots of land adjacent to the city walls. Convents were often positioned in less congested areas near the town gates where travelers and merchants passed by, as with the Franciscans at Bologna. Within a city there was often litigation over space and property rights with neighbors, shopkeepers, parish and episcopal clergy, and civic governments, not to mention the other religious orders, including of course the other communities of mendicants. Indeed, friaries were frequently in intense competition with each other for space, resources and donors, especially to support construction, and many were often seriously in debt, often as a result of the expenses construction incurred. Moreover, the need for space was not limited to convent buildings; in Italy, at least, friars also required outdoor spaces for preaching and for lay burials within or adjacent to the convent. Sometimes a commune allocated appropriate preaching spaces outside a convent, as in the two piazzas successively allocated for Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

29Whether by purchase or allocation, the aggregated spatial needs of mendicant convents in cities imposed the arduous and expensive enterprise of land acquisition upon communities, with implications that ultimately and profoundly compromised the principles of the founders. The broad impact (and stress) of the creation of friaries on neighborhoods and cities is a topic that calls for far more work.

Socio-Economic Aspects of the Mendicant Movement

30Two recent and important collections of essays on the economy of the mendicant orders underline how little we know of their financial organization in the first centuries. The most recent of these volumes, edited by Nicole Bériou and Jacques Chiffoleau and with an excellent introduction and conclusion by the editors (Bériou, Chiffoleau, 2009), enriches and expands upon the economic studies introduced during the 2004 meeting of the Società internazionale di studi francescani in Spoleto (Società, 1995). Although both volumes emphasize the paucity of evidence for the thirteenth-century, they are nonetheless rich with observations that enhance our understanding of how friars obtained funding for churches and convents, especially as these became larger in scale and exponentially more expensive. In the 2004 volume, Joanna Cannon writes specifically about how friars funded and administered their building projects (Cannon, 2004). As noted previously, Piron’s article on the relationship between the community of friars at Santa Croce in Florence (increasingly local) and the urban power structures of the city is particularly revealing (Piron, 2009). Other volumes published by the Società internazionale di studi francescani, such as that on preaching (Società, 1995), penitence and confession (Società, 1996), and mendicant economy (Società…, 2004) now form a fundamental point of departure for any significant engagement with the new orders.

31Panayota Volti’s book is exceptional in its focus on the social impact of mendicant practice in northern France and Flanders (Volti, 2003). She is among the first architectural historians to highlight the importance of public preaching and friars’ roles in supporting merchants and municipal governments (Volti, 2003, p. 225-226). She also notes the emerging importance of burials and wills for mendicant buildings. Among other observations, she remarks upon the mendicant innovation of crypts exclusively for the purpose of the burial of lay patrons (Volti, 2003, p. 108-109 and 231-232). This phenomenon appeared perhaps for the first time in the monumental crypt of Santa Croce in Florence built around 1294 (Bruzelius, forthcoming), although an early example may have existed at the formerly Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Verona. The burial crypt at Santa Croce may have influenced the canons of nearby Santo Stefano in Prato, where this element was introduced during the reconstruction the east end of the church in 1309. If so, this may be an important example of the influence of mendicant architecture on that of the secular clergy (Bruzelius, forthcoming).

32Most patrons seem to have wanted their tombs in more visible locations, however, where it could become a locus for ostentation and family devotion and could be visually associated with altars or prestigious elements of decoration. The social and economic consequences of burial are the focus of Frithjof Schwartz’s new study of the cemetery at Santa Maria Novella in Florence (Schwartz, 2009). His ground-breaking analysis of the social fabric that supported this particularly important Dominican house demonstrates that the construction of the nave, initiated in 1279-1280, was supported by funding associated with burials. Here burial practice, and particularly the avelli (niche tombs) on the exterior walls, provide a case-study on how family sepulchers tied patrons to mendicant convents via long-term, “umbilical,” relationships. The tombs embedded in the east and south (façade) walls of the church thereby generated funding for the new building project, and the cemetery as a whole provided a vehicle for locking into place multi-generational commitments from patrons and donors. By the last quarter of the thirteenth century, therefore, tomb construction in the form of avelli, and, later, floor slabs in the interior, were integral to the planning and execution of architectural space. Often the timing of construction was contingent on an adequate number of such burials and/or associated legacies in order to support the work.

33In 2002, Christian Freigang and Julian Gardner published two important articles on lateral chapels, a phenomenon pioneered by friars in order to provide space for the secondary altars required for daily private masses (both in Bock et al., 2002). To these important contributions one might add the following points: as the friars often acquired older churches of fairly modest dimensions, the need to “tack on” chapels was particularly acute. The Early Christian basilicas of Sant’Eustorgio and San Francesco in Milan are both good examples of this practice, as is San Lorenzo Maggiore in Naples. By the middle of the thirteenth century lateral chapels had been co-opted for the additional function of family burials by patrons and donors, although the rights to the patronage of specific chapels (ius patronatus) often changed over time as families died out. We can imagine that tombs and chapels would come and go; the Black Death, in this sense, would have provided a great opportunity for “recycling” burial spaces and reinvigorating patronage (Bruzelius, forthcoming).

34Mendicant social practice integrally related to preaching and pulpits. Outdoor preaching was of course nothing new, but with the friars it became ubiquitous and, at least in Italy, it resulted in the creation of new urban “preaching piazzas.” They were instrumental in making popular the portable wooden pulpits that are illustrated in many Quattrocento images of friars preaching, as studied by Roberto Rusconi (Rusconi, 1995). The popularity of mendicant preaching and widespread use of the portable outdoor pulpit in turn may have stimulated the increasing importance of monumental historiated pulpits executed in noble materials such as marble for the secular clergy, who felt themselves to be in competition with the friars (Bruzelius, 2011). These became an increasingly important feature of church furnishing in Italy after roughly 1260 (Bruzelius, forthcoming). As their missions moved more towards interior preaching, mendicant houses also began to construct more monumental pulpits inside their churches, one of the earliest surviving examples being that of the lower church at Assisi (Hueck, 1984). The portable pulpit, however, could be rolled inside or out, depending on the weather and the occasion. When outside, the portable pulpit was often placed near the rows of tombs or avelli on the façades or flanks of mendicant churches: tombs were a reminder of the need for penitence before death, an effective scenography for outdoor preaching (Schwartz, 2009; Bruzelius, forthcoming). For example, at San Domenico in Bologna, the exterior pulpit on the façade (no longer extant) was situated above rows of tombs in front of and beside the church (Breveglieri, 1995).

35Giles Meersseman made the important observation that only after around 1240 did the Dominicans systematically accommodate laymen within their own churches (churches ad capiendos homines in praedicationibus) rather than preaching in parishes and outdoors (Meersseman, 1946, p. 159-173). Accommodating the public in turn generated greater expense and the need for choir screens, imposed on all Dominican houses by the General Chapter of 1249 (though many were already present). Friars thus presented a revolution in the ways in which the clergy engaged with the lay public. As I argue in my forthcoming publication, they represented an activated “externalization” of religious life, engaging in a “capillary action” within cities by visiting the homes of parishioners, a practice deplored by William of Saint-Amour (Bruzelius, forthcoming). But visiting homes, especially those of the ill and dying, was a highly effective strategy: it brought mendicants into intimate contact with the concerns of laymen in their daily lives, and especially women, who often became passionate supporters of the friars. It probably diffused the practice of making wills (Bériou, Chiffoleau, 2009), which often became a form of “guarantee” for donations to convents. On the other hand, the roles of the mendicants as the administrators of the Inquisition starting in mid-thirteenth century introduced dramatic changes in their relations with the lay public and generated profound hostility in certain cities (the Sienese Franciscans were for a time instructed not to leave their convent).

36By the 1230s, the success of the mendicant movement was widely apparent to the secular clergy and their response often shifted towards hostility and competition. As treatises and literary and legal sources attest, parish and cathedral clergy increasingly found themselves in conflict with the friars over the rights to the sacraments and the attachment of the faithful. William of Saint-Amour’s De periculis novissimorum temporum described the many ways in which mendicants destabilized, challenged, and usurped the traditional role of the secular clergy. Saint-Amour was particularly venomous on the issue of friars visiting laymen in homes, which he described as penetrans domus. This type of activity, confirmed in the (often scabrous) narratives of Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio, must have been a central feature of both the success and (as the literary sources suggest) abuses of mendicant activities within the domestic spaces of cities. Medieval poems, such as Piers the Plowman’s Crede, attest to the lavish interior decoration of mendicant churches far better than the now-empty shells of most extant buildings (Bruzelius, forthcoming).

37Another important aspect of mendicant involvement in urban life emerges from the recent publication of early-fourteenth-century legal proceedings against the Inquisition in Padua and Florence. These astonishing collections of documents underline how deeply some friars were engaged in dubious financial undertakings (Biscaro, 1921, 1933; and more recently: Paolini, 1998, 2003; Bonato, 2002; Rigon, 2004). Some Inquisitors abused their power to such an extent that papal inquiries were put in place to record abuses, which is how we know about the practices at Santa Croce in Florence and Sant’Antonio in Padua. At Santa Croce there were thirty rooms plus a subterranean prison (which filled with water when the Arno flooded) for the office and administration of the Inquisition. By 1300, the presence of courtrooms, offices, archives, and prisons created a growing need to sustain administrative structures even after heretics had been largely exterminated; this meant that some mendicant houses had become large administrative centers (Bruzelius, forthcoming). One can only wonder if, in a house like Santa Croce where Peter John Olivi was residing in the late 1280s, the presence of the “machinery” of the Inquisition gave special urgency to his thinking on poverty and property (Burr, 1989, 2001). At houses that served as seats of the Inquisition, the need for designated spaces stimulated the construction of new buildings (and prisons). Although precise data on the financial benefits of the Inquisition are probably impossible to measure, it cannot be a coincidence that some of the largest churches of the orders (Sant’Antonio in Padua, Santa Croce in Florence, again) were built at the convents that were the regional headquarters of the Inquisition (see Bruzelius, forthcoming). It was not difficult for funds or properties expropriated from those accused of heresy to benefit the institutions involved (or sometimes, as in Florence, their families. At San Domenico in Naples, for example, income from the Inquisition was designated by Robert of Anjou for completion of the church in 1325.

38The significant implication of the mendicant orders in urban life and their impact upon the social and architectural setting beg the question: how did “being on the offensive” affect mendicant attitudes towards their own buildings and spaces? Did it inhibit, or delay, or transform mendicant building projects? Did an atmosphere of conflict inflect the character of structures in outward and (at least to medieval viewers) visible ways? Did it help to create a “mendicant aesthetic,” which, though difficult to define, is nonetheless palpable in the friars’ buildings especially after c. 1250? In my forthcoming book I propose that the conflict of the mid-thirteenth century had deep consequences for mendicant building and was expressed in the need for a permanent and monumental institutional presence.

Suggestions for Further Study

39The literature on mendicant architecture has benefitted from a number of recent studies. But with the exception of the recent work of Volti, Schwartz and Todenhöfer, there has been little direct concern with issues of social practice and economy. This is in keeping with tendencies in the discipline of architectural history, which in spite of its concern with materiality, often seems to “float” buildings in a state of abstraction independent from social, economic, and political realities – even though architecture must naturally and intimately be a product of all three. Admittedly, this situation is often the result of the paucity of documents. But in addition, certain scholarly traditions – the focus on the church as an isolated element instead of on the conventual complex as a whole, a concentration on typologies and the symbolic meaning of plans, and the study of individual sites instead of clusters of convents of the same period in the same city or region – have inhibited deep thinking about the ways in which friars occupied material, social, and “psychological” space in the medieval city. As noted above, a consideration of the evolving institutionalization of the orders over the course of the thirteenth century is critical for understanding the design and construction process of their buildings. Cloisters (sometimes multiple), refectories, and increasingly large churches put pressure on surrounding urban space: shops, homes, and streets were often displaced to make room for communities of mendicants (Stanford, 2005; Smith, 2010). As stated, in Italy, in particular, the spaces “carved out” of a city or its suburbs for friars were not only for convent structures but also for piazzas or urban squares designated for outdoor preaching and cemeteries. In the early years, outdoor preaching and burying were both more important in the connections to the lay public than was the church (Meersseman, 1946, p. 140; Bruzelius, forthcoming), all the more so because, especially in their first decades, friars focused on the conversion of heretics (obviously outside the church, not within). Outreach to local communities was also facilitated by preaching in existing parish churches in the first years. For example, as noted above, Lucia Gai’s study of San Francesco in Pistoia demonstrates how construction was focused on the liturgical choir and adjacent conventual structures long before completion of the nave many decades later (Gai, 1994; more generally Jaton, 1990, p. 165).

40The impact of friars on medieval cities was thus not only in the creation of large complexes of buildings, but also in opening up spaces outside their precinct, making urban “voids” for preaching and burials. As demonstrated at San Domenico in Bologna, these were the same or contiguous. Although the urban impact of this process has not received much detailed consideration in the literature, aerial views of almost any Italian convent reveal the importance of outdoor spaces in the overall presence of the friars on cities. Although the piazzas sometimes survive, the cemeteries were usually suppressed after Napoleon’s Civil Code of 1804, and the terrain has often been built over. The important work of Bruno Breveglieri in Bologna, however, provides excellent evidence of the extent and scale of mendicant cemeteries, which created a sort of “halo” on the north, east, and west sides of a convent (Breveglieri, 1993a, 1993b, 1995). As noted, burial was a fundamental part of the mendicant “contract” with lay supporters and augmented the need for terrain as much as it inflected the process in shaping space both indoors and out (Schwartz, 2009; Bruzelius, 2007; see also Volti, 2003, p. 108-109 and 231-232 on cemeteries and burials).

41Burying and outdoor preaching bring up several fundamental features of the friars’ urban and architectural interventions that have been largely absent from existing histories of their buildings. Unlike other regular orders (Benedictines, Cistercians), and the secular clergy, mendicants (at least in the first decades) renounced tithes and the income from (and onerous management of) agrarian property. Although most religious establishments naturally depended upon the generosity of lay patrons and confraternities, these sources of income were particularly important for friars, essential for their daily existence. Food, clothing, and shelter were predicated on these offerings. After approximately 1250, patrons were increasingly noble or royal, a phenomenon noteworthy in the cities in which the court resided (Paris, London, Naples, Barcelona).

42As shown above, the umbilical relationship between friary and patron had numerous direct consequences on mendicant building practices, the most significant of which can be summed up as follows:

43In a system that depended upon an exchange of services (intercessory prayer in return for donations), friars were particularly susceptible to requests from laymen for burial and family memorials within their convents, a phenomenon that was already underway in the 1220s at San Domenico in Bologna. By mid-century, chapels were systematically added to the flanks of churches, and these in turn were often replaced within a few generations, sometimes with the addition of an access corridor to a new range of additional chapels flanking the restricted areas of the liturgical choir see also a student-produced animation at​27215360). The chapels, clustered in and around churches like barnacles on a pier, were for the most part removed in nineteenth-century restorations.

44In addition to accommodating memorial structures, because of the importance of lay donations within the mendicant economy and the increasingly close family, social, and political ties between convents and local communities, churches were planned and built as “hangars” for the interventions of lay donors and pious confraternities. Some remains of these lay interventions can still be seen in the eighteenth-century plan of San Francesco in Bologna. The scale of mendicant churches was therefore not (only) for indoor preaching, as has traditionally been asserted, but also to épater the competition – the other orders – and provide space for multiple altars, magnificent tombs, and painted decoration.

45Given these functions, mendicant building practice should be examined as part of a fabric of dynamic relationships within each city (Badstübner, 1981). Increasingly towards the end of the thirteenth century, mendicant friars and the secular clergy built with a sharp eye out to competing institutions, as any visitor to Venice can observe by comparing Santa Maria Gloriosa de’ Frari with the Dominican church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo). This theme is evoked in a recent essay by Coomans, and it is a distinguishing feature of Todenhöfer’s recent book (Coomans, 2011; Todenhöfer, 2007). Attempts at legislating the excessive intrusions of laymen’s interventions into sacred space or the size and complexity of buildings generally foundered in the face of the irresistible persuasion of donations pro anima. At the same time, the friar’s efforts to provide adequate space meant that they were often deeply in debt, a situation that in turn made them still more susceptible to offers of financial support, in spite of the strings attached.

New Territories and New Technologies

46Mendicant architecture thus needs to be understood as a unified whole that considers the church in relation to the entire complex, the adjacent areas for preaching and burial, and the urban frame. In these matters, Volti’s study of 2003 offers many stimulating insights (Volti, 2003). Charlotte Stanford has also illustrated how extremely complex (or combative) urban relations could be, as in the case of Strasburg, where female devotées of the Preachers attacked city marshals with clogs and rolling pins (Stanford, 2005). Mendicants thus sometimes inspired conflict within different factions of the public, sometimes even between their male and female supporters. Studying mendicant buildings in relation to the friars’ relations with laymen, as well as to what we can know of the social, political and economic context for each foundation, can therefore be revealing. Indeed, recent research is changing the way in which we can do architectural history, with the traditional focus on the church giving way to more concern with the convent as part of an evolving setting both within and outside the community. In addition, the construction of convents can and should be understood as part of a dialogue between institutions within a city, and building programs seen as enterprises that related the activities of the friars with other urban interventions (for example, Smith, 2010; Schwartz, 2009).

47But how can the architectural historian demonstrate process and the dynamic relationships between buildings, or within an urban fabric? We need to recall, as I have demonstrated for San Lorenzo in Naples and Todenhöfer recently reminded us for the Franciscan church in Salzwedel, that Franciscan churches in particular often consisted of a series of final projects, or “completions” that were aggregated over time (Bruzelius, 2004; Todenhöfer, 2010). Architectural history has tended to be written as though the structures we perceive today are the result of a unique project rather than a series of successive, cumulative interventions that responded “organically” and opportunistically to changing needs or circumstances. The printed text (the article, the book), as well as the ground plan, section, elevation and photograph, are all representations that capture an isolated moment of production. Print is therefore not a medium conducive to representing the additive process of change over time, or the transformations visited on buildings as a result of the dynamic relationships within cities and/or between institutions. Indeed, the printed image that “freezes” the representation of a monument in a moment in time has conditioned the shape of architectural history and constricted our thinking about buildings.

48This is where the new possibilities of digital modeling are emerging as fundamental tools for rethinking the practice of architectural history. Animations and reconstructions can model change over time in urban space; they narrate a process as a flow of ongoing interventions, each of which corresponds to the exigencies of a historical moment. The difference between print and the animated reconstruction is something like the difference between a photograph and a movie: while the former provides an impression, the latter tells a story. One simple example of the potential of new media is a 2010 production by students at Duke University that can be viewed online (​26658584), and other, similar interventions will surely follow in the near future. Though digital tools are emerging as vital media for the study of architecture and cities, no architectural phenomenon that I can think can more benefit from it than that of the friars, which was almost by definition about change over time. Not only are animations an effective way to demonstrate progressive transformation as a function of time and space, but they provide a means to engage both with building as ongoing process and to model evolving and dynamic relationships between religious institutions. Digital representations can also be of fundamental importance for reconstructing the locations of altarpieces, screens, and tombs: Donal Cooper has been collaborating on a project in this direction, whose results can now be viewed on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum (

49With the opening of the Iron Curtain and of previously unreachable sites and archives, work on the friars in Eastern Europe is emerging as an important new field, although access to research in unfamiliar languages has been an obstacle. Donal Cooper ventured into this area in a recent essay, “Gothic Arts and the Friars in late Medieval Croatia 1213-1460”, and Seth Adam Hindin recently published on mendicant buildings in Bohemia and Moravia (Cooper, 2009; Hindin, 2008). It is greatly to be hoped that this topic will develop, and that we shall increasingly be able to absorb the literature on the monuments in Eastern Europe to broaden our understanding of the mendicant phenomenon. This is especially important because many convents in this area were founded as an integral part of planning new towns.

50The study of mendicant architecture is a vigorous and expanding field because friars were closely tied to the process of social, religious, and institutional change, topics interesting to us now. The notion of art as propaganda is central to these debates (Romano, 2001, 2008). Both macro- and micro-historical approaches studies offer new avenues towards a more international understanding of the shaping of sacred space both inside and outside mendicant convents in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Haut de page


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– Alce, 1972a: Venturino Alce, “Documenti sul convento di S. Domenico in Bologna dal 1221 al 1251,” in Archivum fratrum praedicatorum, 42, 1972, p. 5-45.

– Alce, 1972b: Venturino Alce, “Il convento di San Domenico in Bologna,” in Culta Bononiana, 4, 1982, p. 127-174.

– Archeologia medievale…, 1987: Archeologia medievale a Bologna: gli scavi nel Convento di San Domenico, Sauro Gelichi, Riccardo Merlo eds., (exh. cat., Bologna, Museo Civico Archeologico, 1987), Bologna, 1987.

– Aubert, 1947: Marcel Aubert, L’Architecture cistercienne en France, avec la collaboration de la Marquise de Maillé, Paris, 1947.


– Bacci, 2000: Michele Bacci, Pro remedio animae : immagini sacre e pratiche devozionali in Italia centrale (secoli xiii-xive), Pisa, 2000. 

– Bacci, 2003: Michele Bacci, Investimenti per l’aldilà, Bari, 2003.

– Badstübner, 1981: Ernst Badstübner, “Kirchen und Klöster der Bettelorden im sozialen und gestalterischen Gefüge der mittelalterliche Stadt,” in Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, 30, 1981, p. 323-335.

– Barclay Lloyd, 2004: Joan Barclay Lloyd, “Medieval Dominican Architecture at Santa Sabina in Rome, c.1219 - c.1320,” in Papers of the British School at Rome, 72, 2004, p. 231-92.

– Bériou, Chiffoleau, 2009: Nicole Bériou, Jacques Chiffoleau ed., Économie et religion : l’expérience des ordres mendiants (xiiie-xve siècle), Lyon, 2009.

– Biscaro, 1921: Gerolamo Biscaro, “Inquisitori ed eretici Lombardi (1292-1318),” in Miscellanea di Storia italianai, 18, 1921, p. 445-457.

– Biscaro, 1933: Gerolamo Biscaro, “Inquisitori ed eretici a Firenze (1319-1334),” in Studi Medievali, 6, 1933, p. 161-207.

– Bock et al., 2002: Nicolas Bock et al. ed., Art, cérémonial et liturgie au Moyen Âge, (conference, Lausanne/Fribourg, 2000), Rome, 2002.

– Bock, Romano, 2005: Nicolas Bock, Serena Romano, Le chiese di San Lorenzo e San Domenico: gli ordini mendicanti a Napoli, (conference, Lausanne, 2001), Naples, 2005.

– Bonato, 2002 : Elisabetta Bonato ed., Il “liber contractuum” dei frati minori di Padova e di Vicenza (1263-1302), Rome, 2002.

– Bräuer, Klinkenbert, Westerman, 2005: Uta Maria Bräuer, Emanuel S. Klinkenbert, Jeroen Westerman eds., Kunst und Religion: Architektur und Kunst im Mittelalter, Beiträge einer Forschungruppe, (Clavis kunsthistorische monografieën, 20), Utrecht, 2005.

– Breveglieri, 1993a: Bruno Breveglieri, Scrittura e immagine: le lastre terragne del Medioevo bolognese, Spoleto, 1993.

– Breveglieri, 1993b: Bruno Breveglieri, “Tentavito di ricostruzione topografica del cimitero di San Francesco in Bologna,” in Atti e memorie della deputazione di storia patria per le provincie di Romagna, 44, 1993, p. 179-223.

– Breveglieri, 1995: “Le aree cimiteriali di San Domenico a Bologna nel Medioevo (ricostruzioni topografiche),” in Atti e memo­rie della Deputazione di storia patria per le provincie di Romagna, 45, 1995, p. 165-234.

– Bruzelius, 1992: Caroline Bruzelius, “Hearing is Believing: Clarissan Architecture 1212‑1340,” in Gesta, 31, 1992, p. 83‑92 (reprinted in Constance Berman ed., Medieval Religion: New Approaches, New York, 2005, p. 272-289).

– Bruzelius, 1995: Caroline Bruzelius, “Queen Sancia of Mallorca and the Church of Sta. Chiara in Naples,” in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 40, 1995, p. 41-72.

– Bruzelius, 1996: Caroline Bruzelius, “Nuns in Space: Strict Enclosure and the Architecture of the Clarisses in the Thirteenth Century,” in Ingrid Peterson, Clare of Assisi: A Medieval and Modern Womani, (Clarefest Selected Papers, 8), St. Bonaventure, 1996, p. 53-74.

– Bruzelius, 2004: Caroline Bruzelius, The Stones of Naples: Church Building in Angevin Italy 1266-1343, New Haven, 2004.

– Bruzelius, 2007: Caroline Bruzelius, “The Dead Come to Town. Preaching, Burying and Building in the Mendicant Orders,” in Alexandra Gajewski, Zoe Opacic ed., The Year 1300 and the Creation of a New European Architecture, Turnhout, 2007, p. 203-224.

– Bruzelius, 2011: Caroline Bruzelius, “From Empire to Commune to Kingdom: Notes on the Revival of Monumental Sculpture in Italy,” in Colum Hourihane ed., Gothic Art and Thought in the Later Medieval Period, Princeton, 2011, p. 134-155.

– Bruzelius, forthcoming: Caroline Bruzelius, Friars and the Medieval City: Preaching, Building and Burying, forthcoming.

– Burr, 1989: David Burr, Olivi and Franciscan Poverty: The Origins of the Usus Pauper Controvery, Philadelphia, 1989.

– Burr, 2001: David Burr, The Spiritual Franciscans: From Protest to Persecution in the Century after Saint Francis, University Park, 2001.

– Burr, 2009: David Burr, “History as Prophecy: Angelo Clareno’s Chronicle as a Spiritual Franciscan Apocalypse,” in John V. Fleming, Michael F. Cusato, Guy Geltner eds., Defenders and Critics of Franciscan Life: Essays in Honor of John V. Fleming, Boston, 2009.

– Burr, Daniel, 2005: David Burr, E. Randolph Daniel, Angelo Clareno: A Chronicle or History of the Seven Tribulations of the Order of Brothers Minor, St. Bonaventure, 2005.


– Cadei, 1980: Antonio Cadei, “Si può scrivere una sotria dell’architettura mendicante ? Appunti per l’area padano-veneta,” in Tomaso da Modena e il suo tempo, (conference, Treviso, 1979), Treviso, 1980, p. 337-362.

– Cadei, 1983: Antonio Cadei, “Architettura mendicante: il problema di una definizione tipologica,” in Storia della città, 8, 1983, p. 21-32.

– Cadei, 1992: Antonio Cadei, “Secundum loci conditionem et morem patriae,” in Saggi in onore di Renato Bonelli, Rome, 1992, p. 135-142.

– Cannon, 2004: Joanna Cannon, “Sources for the Study of the Role of Art and Architecture within the Economy of the Mendicant Convents of Central Italy: A Preliminary Survey,” in Società…, 2004, p. 217-262.

– Cervini, De Marchi, 2010: Fulvio Cervini, Andrea De Marchi, Santa Croce : origini. Firenze 1300, frammenti di un discorso sugli ornati e sugli spazi, (Ricerche di Storia dell’arte, 102), Rome, 2010.

– Chiffoleau, 1980: Jacques Chiffoleau, La Comptabilité de l’au-delà : les hommes, la mort et la religion dans la région d’Avignon à la fin du Moyen Âge (vers 1320-vers 1480), (Collection de l’École française de Rome, 47), Rome, 1980.

– Chiffoleau, 1982: Jacques Chiffoleau, “Perché cambia la morte nella regione di Avignone alla fine del Medioevo,” in Quaderni storici, 50, 1982, p. 449-465.

– Coomans, 2001: Thomas Coomans, “L’architecture médiévale des ordres mendiants (franciscains, dominicains, carmes et augustins) en Belgique et aux Pays-Bas,” dans Revue belge d’archéologie et d’histoire de l’art, 70, 2001, p. 3-111.

– Coomans, 2005: Thomas Coomans, “Assisi and Cologne on the Banks of the Meuse. The Two Medieval Franciscan Churches at Maastricht,” in Bräuer, Klinkenbert, Westerman, 2005, p. 96-116.

– Coomans, 2011: Thomas Coomans, “Architectural Competition in a University Town: The Mendicant Friaries in Late Medieval Louvain,” in Zoe Opacic, Achim Timmermann ed., Architecture, Liturgy and Identity: Liber Amicorum Paul Crossley, Turnhout, 2011, p. 207-220.

– Cooper, 2001: Donal Cooper, “Franciscan Choir Enclosures and the Function of Double-Sided Altarpieces in Pre-Tridentine Umbria,” in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 64, 2001, p. 1-54.

– Cooper, 2009: Donal Cooper, “Gothic Art and the Friars in late medieval Croatia, 1213-1460,” in John J. Norwich et al., Croatia: Aspects of Art, Architecture and Cultural Heritage, London, 2009, p. 76-97.

– Cooper, Banker, 2009: Donal Cooper, James Banker, “The Church of Borgo San Sepolcro in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance,” in Machtelt Israels ed., Sassetta: The Borgo San Sepolcro Altarpiece, Leiden/Florence, 2009, I, p. 53-105; II, p. 585-589.


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– Paolini, 1998: Lorenzo Paolini, “Papato, inquisizione, frati,” in Il papato duecentesco e gli ordini mendicanti, (conference, Assisi, 1998), Spoleto, 1998, p. 177-204.

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1  This article does not include articles and books on Assisi because the literature is so extensive that it would require a separate article. Also, I focus here on literature that concerns primarily the Franciscans and Dominicans; for the other mendicant orders, see Frances Andrews, The Other Friars: Carmelite, Augustinian, Sack and Pied Friars in the Middle Ages, Woodbridge, 2006, and Louise Bourdua, Anne Dunlop eds., Art and the Augustinian Order in Early Renaissance Italy, Aldershot, 2007. I apologize in advance to the authors of any recent studies I may have inadvertently overlooked, and request a pdf to the following email address:

2  For a paradigmatic article on process and change in architectural practice, see Howard Burns on Michelangelo at Saint Peter’s: “Building against Time: Renaissance Strategies to Secure Large Churches against Changes to their Design,” in L’Église dans l’architecture de la Renaissance, (colloquium, Tours, 1990), Paris, 1990, p. 107-131.

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Caroline Bruzelius, « The architecture of the mendicant orders in the Middle Ages: an overview of recent literature », Perspective [En ligne], 2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2014, consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL :

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Caroline Bruzelius

Professor of architectural and urban history at Duke University. From 1994 to 1998, she was Director of the American Academy in Rome. Her research focuses on medieval buildings in France and Italy; she is also engaged in how digital technologies for mapping and modeling can enlarge and enhance the study of medieval architecture and medieval cities. She is co-founder of two digital initiatives: Wired! ( and Visualizing Venice ( She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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