Crutched Friars

The Crutched Friars or Crossed Friars were a Roman Catholic religious order of Augustinian canons who went to England in the 13th century from Italy, where they existed for some time, and where they were called Fratres Cruciferi.[1]



Their first appearance in England was at a synod of the Diocese of Rochester in 1244, when they presented documents from the pope and asked to be allowed to settle in the country. Each friar carried in his hand a wooden staff surmounted by a cross and also had a cross of red cloth upon his habit, from which circumstances originated the name by which they became commonly known.

They observed the Rule of St. Augustine and their habit was originally brown or black, but later on changed to blue by Pope Pius II. They established eight or nine houses in England, the first being at either Colchester (according to Dugdale), or at Reigate (according to Reyner), founded in 1245. They settled in London in 1249, where they gave their name to the locality, near Tower Hill, still called Crutched Friars. Other houses were at Oxford (1348), York, Great Welnetham (Suffolk), Barham (a cell to Gt. Weltham), Wotten-under-Edge (Gloucestershire), Brackley (Northants) and Kildale (Yorkshire).

Fratres Cruciferi

The origin of these friars is somewhat uncertain. They claimed to have been founded in the East, in the 1st century, by St. Cletus, and to have been reconstituted by St. Cyriacus, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in the fourth. It is not known when they came to Italy, but they were certainly there in the 12th century, for in 1169 Pope Alexander III gave them constitutions and a rule of life similar to that of the Augustinians. Pope Pius II prescribed for them a blue habit and substituted a small silver cross for the larger wooden one they had hitherto been accustomed to carry in their hands. It was from this custom that they obtained their name.

Their monasteries were at one time numerous in Italy, numbering two hundred and eight, divided into five ecclesiastical provinces: Bologna, Venice, Rome, Milan and Naples. The priory of S. Maria di Morella at Bologna was made chief house of the order by Pope Clement IV, and it was from there that the English Crutched Friars came.

In later times corruptions were allowed to creep in, and from that and other causes their numbers dwindled down to no more than fifty houses in 1656, when the order was suppressed by Pope Alexander VII.

Counterparts in other countries

A still-existing order of fratres cruciferi, which literally means "cross wearers", had its mother house outside of the city of Huy in Belgium. Founded in the early 13th century, it spread into France, Germany, the Netherlands, and England during the next two centuries. Its founders are identified as five men who accompanied the prince-bishop of Liege, Rudolf von Zahringen, in 1189-1191 as part of the Third Crusade. Upon their return, the five sought a new way of life and were appointed canons of the cathedral by their bishop shortly before his death. In the years which followed they several times sought to reform and renew the life of the cathedral canons. Later they retired upriver to the city of Huy and to a place on a hillside outside the town known as Clairlieu. There they five formed a community and sought a more intense spiritual life. In either 1208 or 1210 Pope Innocent III approved their manner of life, directing them to live according to the Rule of St Augustine. Although they referred to themselves as the Brethren of Holy Cross, and their foundation was contemporary with the groups of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, they were not friars. They were, and remain, a community of canons regular. As such, their members are for the most part priests, who live a common life, engage in the traditional daily round of liturgical prayer, and devote themselves to some form of active ministry. They also wear a religious habit which reflects their canonical origins, namely, a white soutane or tunic, a black pendant sash, a scapular with a red-and-white Maltese cross over the heart, and a black mozetta or elbow-length cape, which remains unbuttoned and open to reveal the cross. Modern descendants of these Brethren are known as Kruisheren, Kreuzherren, Croisiers, and Crosiers.

Like other religious orders, the Crosiers have known periods of growth and vitality and periods of decline in their eight-hundred-year history, and will point to the 15th century and 17th century as their times of greatest energy and growth. Their most difficult years came in the wake of the French Revolution and Napoleonic era, however, when nearly all their monasteries were closed and their members banished from them. They did not, however, become extinct, as some sources claim. In 1840, there remained only four elderly members, living in the monasteries at Uden and near Cuijk, both in the Netherlands. In that year, the Dutch king, Willem II, repealed his father's law forbidding religious orders in his kingdom to receive novices. The Order slowly recovered over the next decades and, in the early 20th century, began to spread outward from its small European base in the Netherlands and Belgium to the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Congo. Crosiers still live and work in all these places and today number about five hundred members.

Other Fratres Cruciferi were also to be found in Bohemia in the 13th century and some said to have existed in Ireland, but there is practically no reliable information to be obtained about them.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 


  1. ^ Gwynn, Aubrey; R. N. Hadcock (1970). Medieval Religious Houses Ireland. London: Longman. p. 208. ISBN 0-582-11229-X. 

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