History of the Order of the Holy Cross

The Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross was founded in Portugal in the year 1131 by Dom Tello and St. Theotonius. St. Theotonius, the first prior in the Order, is celebrated in the liturgy as the reformer of religious life in Portugal. Eventually all canons regular in Portugal came to be united in the Order of the Holy Cross, which for centuries was a major center for liturgy, theology and the intellectual life in Portugal. It was due to the Marian spirituality of the Order that Portugal was the first nation to be consecrated to the Immaculate Conception. The Order sent missionaries to India, Africa and Latin America.

Historical Dates in the Order of the Holy Cross

June 28th 1131 the Vigil of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul the Bishop of Coimbra laid the cornerstone of the Mother House consecrated to the Holy Cross and the Immaculate Conception. On this same day the first twelve members began the common life and prepared themselves for religious profession.

February 24th 1132 the Feast of St. Matthias and in that year Ash Wednesday, the original twelve, together with sixty others who joined them during the intervening eight months, made their profession of vows and received the habit. That same day St. Theotonius was unanimously elected Superior by the entire community of seventy-two.

During the period following the establishment of the first monastery, the first king of Portugal Dom Alfonso Henriques was at this same time militarily reclaiming the territory of Portugal from the Moors. The members of the Order of the Holy Cross were entrusted with the mission of the re-evangilization of the territories. In some parts the evangilization was entirely new because certain areas had been so long cut off from Christianity. To accomplish this task the Monastery of the Holy Cross was given Churches and properties to establish monasteries. St. Theotonius sent a groups of Canons to preach and instruct the people.

1136 St. Theotonius sent a group of the Canons to the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows to the area of Leiria, Portugal to evangelize. (This area is presently the diocese in which is the town of Fatima.)

1140 The Moors besieged and attacked the Castle of Leiria. The Canons who were there to evangelize were captured and martyred for their faith. During this same year St. Theotonius is said to have consecrated the entire country of Portugal to the holy Archangel Michael.

January 8th 1152 Dom Joao, a Canon of the Holy Cross who had been evangelizing the Christian population in the country side around Coimbra was killed by the Moors.

August 15th 1154 Dom Pedro and Dom Alfonso together with their companions were martyred for the faith in Morocco.

February 17th 1158 The Monastery of the Holy Martyr Romanus was set on fire by the Moors, such that all the members of the community, namely 8 Canons of the Holy Cross with their Prior Dom Payo Godinho, died in the flames.

February 18th 1162 St. Theotonius died in the odor of sanctity. Dom Joao Theotonio, the nephew of St. Theotonius was elected unanimously prior of the community in Coimbra.

May of 1211 St. Anthony of Lisbon (his baptismal name was Fernando Martins) entered the school of Monastery of the Holy Cross in Coimbra. He finished his studies and was probably ordained in 1219. In February of the following year he entered the Franciscan Order. He died on the 13th of July 1231 near Padua and was canonized on the 30th of May 1232 and proclaimed doctor of the Church.

March 1, 1290 King Dinis founded the University of Portugal in Lisbon. Pope Nicholas IV officially approved this University in August of the same year. During the following century this University was transferred to Coimbra (1308), and then back to Lisbon (1338), and then to Coimbra again (1354), and then once more to Lisbon (1377). It remained in Lisbon until it was finally transferred definitively back to Coimbra in 1537.

This definitive transferal to Coimbra was on account of a renovation in the theological studies which took place at that time. The theological renovation was realized by means of the introduction of the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas in the program of studies by two illustrious sons of St. Dominic: Friar Bernard of the Cross, OP and Friar Martin do Ledesma, OP. Friar Bernard was appointed rector in 1541 and immediately nominated new professors and he changed the method of teaching theology, introducing the Thomistic method. This reform also greatly influenced the doctrinal profundity of the school of the Holy Cross in Coimbra.

Following its foundation the Order experienced periods of great flourishing, but also periods of interior decay.

1527 The greatest decline in the history of the Order lead to King Dom Joao III calling for a profound reform of the Order of the Holy Cross. Members of other Orders were called upon and commissioned by the Holy Father to reform the Order.

1539, by determination of the King the office of Chancellor of the University was given to the Prior General of the Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross in Coimbra. From that time until Order’s extinction in 1834, the Prior of the Holy Cross remained the Chancellor of the University. In this office as highest authority within the University the Prior conferred the academic degrees: in medicine and civil law by authority of the king; and in canon law and theology by authority from the Holy Father.

Within the subsequent centuries, five of the Rectors of the University of Coimbra were from the Order of the Holy Cross. The members of the Order of the Holy Cross did not attend the University since they had within their monastery a sufficient library and Masters competent to give lessons. They also began their own Print-shop to publish their books. Thus, the Holy Cross maintained within its walls a noteworthy school which contributed much to the cultural elevation of the country and for the spread of knowledge of Theology, of Sacred Scripture, Church History, of Music and other sciences.

1593, the auxiliary Bishop of Coimbra blessed the cornerstone of a University College founded by the Prior General of the Holy Cross, D. Acursio de Santo Augustino. This great New College, better known as the College of Wisdom (Collegio da Sapiencia) began operating in 1604. It was governed by a Rector elected by the General Chapter of the Order of the Holy Cross.

January 17th 1646 King Joao IV ordered the University to make an oath to "teach and defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary." This continued in effect until the definition of the Dogma in 1854.

1747 the Order collaborated in the work realized by the Liturgical Academy in the Monastery of the Holy Cross. This Pontifical Liturgical Academy was founded to propogate and facilitate the teaching of the Sacred Rites and of Eccesiastic History. This Academy continued until it was extinguished by the Marquis of Pombal in 1767.

1834 Civil extinction of the Order of the Holy Cross Members of the Order of the Holy Cross are expulsed from their monasteries by the civil government of Portugal. By Decree of July 31, 1833 there was instituted a "Commission of General Ecclesiatical Reform." Under the auspices of this commission, there were published, on the 5th of August, four decrees which fixed prior resolutions. One of them prohibited the admissions to sacred Orders and to monastic novitiates. The decree of the 30th of May 1834 for the Minister of Justice Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar, crowned this work with the extinction of "all the convents, monasteries, colleges, hospicies, and whatever other house of religious of the Orders of Regulars." With the decree of the Governor of the 5th of December 1836 the functions of the Chancellor were handed over to the Rector of the University. But still after the civil extinction of the Order of the Holy Cross, the Cruzio D. Victorino da Conceicao Teixeira Neves Rebelo continued to teach in the Faculty of Theology, exercising various functions in the same Faculty.

1977 Restoration of the Order of the Holy Cross

The restoration of the Order was undertaken in 1977 by members of the spiritual movement called the Work of the Holy Angels (Opus Sanctorum Angelorum). In 1979 the Congregation for Religious and Pope John Paul II formalized the restoration by Decree. Due to the remarkable correspondence between the legacy of the old Order and the spirituality of the Opus Sanctorum Angelorum, the Church granted the privilege to introduce into the Order a "special devotion to the holy angels according to the proven tradition of the Church."

The merciful and wise providence of God linked the restoration of the Order to the beginnings and to other holy models. A marian bishop, D. Joao Pereira Venancio, retired bishop of Leiria asked for permission to enter the Order newly restored which was soon to be restored. On April 12th 1979 D. Joao received permission from the Holy Father on Holy Thursday Evening to make his solemn vows on May 22nd 1979 in the restored Order of the Holy Cross. On October 10, 1980 D. Joao Venancio was appointed the first ordinary superior General of the restored Order for office term of three years. He held this office until the first voting General Chapter from July 1984. He passed away the following year on August 2, 1985.

Mission of the Order of the Holy Cross

From the time of its foundation in 1131, the Holy Cross in Coimbra had as its finality the renewal of canonical life in the greatest possible fidelity to the model of the Apostles and to the entire apostolic Church in Jerusalem, in which the faithful were of one heart and one soul.

Presently the Order of the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross sees its origin in the teaching and the life of the Divine Master. Its members want to love, reverence and serve God according to the example of the holy angels and the Apostles. They cultivate the solemn liturgy, the veneration of the Holy Cross, the adoration of God in union with the angels and saints. They lead a community life in poverty, chastity obedience and silence according to the Constitutions. Their specific apostolate is in the service of the salvation of souls, especially priests, in the administration of the Sacraments and the proclamation of the Word.

Liturgy of the Order of the Holy Cross

In the Most Blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church. Thus, the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the daily Conventual Mass, is the source, the center and the summit of every day in the life of the Canons of the Holy Cross. As a community, the members of the Order are dedicated to the solemn celebration of the sacred liturgy. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is prepared with special care and celebrated according to the mind of the Church with reverence and dignity. In the liturgy all that is human is directed to and subordinated to the Divine, "the visible to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, the object of our quest." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 2)

In addition to the liturgy of the Eucharist, the Canons have a special responsibility to join the saints and the angels in heaven through the communal chanting of the Liturgy of the Hours. "With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until he our life will appear and we too will appear with him in glory." (SC 8)

Houses of the Order of the Holy Cross

Currently the Order of the Holy Cross is established throughout the world. Our principle houses are in Austria, Rome, Brazil, India, Germany and Portugal. There are smaller stations in Mexico, the United States, Holland, the Philippines.

Restoration of the Institutum Sapientiae in Anapolis, Brazil

Educational concerns of the ORC. Among the first twelve members in the foundation of the Order in the twelfth century there were members of outstanding erudition who established a high academic level for the Order from the very start. St. Theotonius himself had the care of the formation that took place in the Cathedral School prior to his entrance into the Order of the Holy Cross. The successors of St. Theotonius also dedicated themselves to the promotion of studies in theology, Sacred Scripture, the liturgy, professional formation, literature, the sciences and music. From the 12th century the Monastery of the Holy Cross had many copiests involved in the production of manuscripts to enrich the library of the monastery. "We have various indications of the first manuscripts which, in Coimbra, formed the foundation over which was organized the library… beyond the treatises on rhetoric, there were also scientific works of physics, astronomy, medicine, calculation, and cosmography — proper to the quamdrivium which ought, therefore, to be of value in the cloister school of the Cruzios. Predominant were Christian and Jewish writtings … the most ancient and of Patristics; the more recent works were from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Fulbert of Chartes, Hugo and Ricard of St. Victor, Peter Comestor, Innocent III and the "modern masters of France."

The Convent of the Holy Cross was a radiant center of superior culture. Students came from all parts seeking to be taught under the direction of the Masters recognized in all of Europe and the representatives of the most solid, vast and clear science.

In the 19th Century the University of Coimbra as a "Portuguese fortress" was inspiring the foundation of Universities also in Brazil. This "land of the Holy Cross" offered, a few years after the restoration of the Order of the Holy Cross of Coimbra, the possibility to continue with a condition of the old Cloister School and the Collegium Sapientiae.

With the decree Perantiquus Ordo of 29th of May 1979 the Congregation for Religious definitively restored the Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross. Already the first project of the new Constitutions expressed the intention to revive the ancient institutions of study in the Holy Cross of Coimbra (Collegium Sapientiae).

A few years after the restoration of the Order, there arrived a letter from the Bishop of Anapolis asking help for the major seminary of his diocese. The superiors of the Order already had sought a place and building for the formation of its own candidates to the priesthood. In those circumstances arose Dom Manoel, to speak with the Holy Father John Paul II. The Pope, on the day of the 4th o f July, granted to the Bishop of Anapolis a private audience. This date is remembered in the Preface of the Statutes of the Institutum Sapientiae: "The day 4th of July 1983 His Holiness John Paul II in audience with His Excellency the Bishop of Anapolis entrusted to the priests of the Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross responsibility in offering assistance in teaching the priestly candidates of this same his Excellency the Bishop."

The philosphical and theological studies for the priesthood, offered by the Order through the centuries in its Pontifical Institum Sapientiae, was transferred to Anapolis, Brazil in 1984. In the pontifical visitation of seminaries in Brazil held in 1988, the Monastery of the Holy Cross together with the Insitutum Sapientiae were given the very highest rating. The Order’s seminary provides formation for diocesian priests in Brazil as well as members of other various religious communities who serve the Church in Brazil.