Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/605

This page needs to be proofread.


BETHLEHEMITES


535


BETHLEHEMITES


authorized them to open a house in a suburb of Cam- bridge (1257); but- he leaves us in complete ignorance as to their founaer, where they originated, and their history. We only know that their habit was similar to that of the Dominicans and that a red star, whose five rays emanated from an azure centre, decorated the breast of their cape. This was in commemoration of the star that appeared to the Magi and led them to Bethlehem. Nothing further is known of tliis military order. There was an order of knights whose members wore a red star on their costume and who might have been called Bethlehemites because of having a house in Bethlehem at the time of the Crusades; this was the Military Order of Crusaders of the Red Star {Ordo militarts crucigerorwn cum rubed stelM). They came from Palestine to Bohemia in 1217, and Blessed Agnes of Bohemia confided two hospitals to their charge. They have since remained in that country where they devote themselves to the care of the sick, to education, and to the various works of the ecclesi- astical ministry.

After the taking of Constantinople by the Turks (1453), Pius II founded under the patronage of Our Lady of Bethlehem an order of knights for the de- fence of the Island of Lemnos which Cardinal Louis, Patriarch of Aquileia, had recaptured from Moham- med II. The island was to be their headquarters whence they were to oppose the attacks of the Mos- lems by way of the ^ligean Sea and the Hellespont. The order was composed of brother-knights and priests governed by an elective grand-master. The white costume worn by the members was decorated with a red cross and the rule prescribed for them was very similar to that of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The pope installed this community 18 Januarj', 1459, and, that their needs might be supplied, turned over to them the propertj' and reve- nues of the orders of St. Lazarus, of Sainte-Marie du Chateau des Bretons, of Bologna, of the Holy Sepul- chre, of Santo Spirito in Sassia, of St. Mary of the Crossed Friars, and of St. James of Lucca, all of which were suppressed for this purpose. Pius II alluded in a Bull to this foundation and the bravery of its knights, but the second capture of Lemnos by the Turks rendered the institution useless. Thus the order of Our Lady of Bethlehem was suppressed almost as soon as founded and those orders whose goods the pope had transmitted to it were re-estab- lished.

II. The hospitaler Bethlehemites, or Belemites, were founded by the Ven. Pedro de Betancourt. A descendant of the celebrated Juan de Betancourt, who, early in the fifteenth century, achieved the conquest of the Canary Islands for Henry III of Spain, Pedro was born at Villaflora on the Island of Teneriffe in 1619. From childhood he led a pious, austere life and in 1650 left family and country, thus carrj'ing out his desire of going to the West Indies. During the following year he reached Guatemala, the capital of New Spain, where he intended to pre- pare for the priesthood that later he might go forth and evangelize Japan. However, three years of un- successful study at a Jesuit college led him to abandon this idea and, after holding the position of sacristan for a while in a church dedicated to the Bles.sed Virgin, he rented a house in a suburb of the city called Calvary, and there taught reading and cate- chism to poor children. But this charitable work did not furnish sufficient outlet for his zeal. The condition of the sick poor excited his compassion and he sheltered them in his home which he converted into a hospital. His zeal elicited benefactions from those around him and the bishop and governor sup- plied him with all the conveniences he required. Several individuals provided for the purchase of the houses surrounding the one he then occupied and on their site was erected a hospital in which this servant


of God could labour to better advantage. He himself worked with the masons. The hospital was thor- oughly equipped and stocked and even offered an opportunity for the religious installment of those who tended the sick. The institution was placed tmder the patronage of Our Lady of Bethlehem.

Helpers soon joined Pedro de Betancourt and at length was formed a congregation of brothers gener- ally known as Betlilehemites and so called on account of their house. But the care of the sick did not totally absorb their attention; they likewise lent their as- sistance in the two other hospitals of the city and Pedro continued to befriend poor children. The prisoners also excited liis compassion. Every Thurs- day he begged for them through the city and visited them in their cells. The neglected souls in purgatory were also the objects of his solicitude and at the principal gates of the city he founded two liermitages, or chapels, wherein religious of his community begged, so that masses might be celebrated for the souls of the deceased. He himself would travel the streets at night ringing a bell and recommending these souls to be prayed for. His devotion to the Blessed Virgin was inspiring and during a novena of preparation for the feast of the Purification his religious, with arms extended in the form of a cross, recited the rosary in their chapel at midnight in the midst of a great throng. In 1654 he made a vow to defend the Immac- ulate Conception even at the peril of his life. He died, exhausted by labour and penance, 25 April, 1667, at the age of forty-eight. His funeral was impressive and at the request of the Capucliin Fathers he was buried in their church where, for a long time, his remains were held in veneration.

Before establishing his Guatemala hospital Pedro de Betancom-t had become affiliated with the Third Order of St. Francis, adopting its religious garb which he still retained after founding his congrega- tion. He personally trained his first disciples and had no wish to organize a community, but simply to establish his hospital. He sent Brother Anthony of the Cross to Spain to solicit the king's approbation of the work. The favoiu' was granted, but Pedro died before the messenger's return. From that time the community prospered, beginning with the extension of the hospital and the erection of a beautiful church. Brother Anthony, who assumed the government, drew up constitutions wliich he submitted to the bishop of the diocese for approval and it was at this juncture that the Capuchins requested him to make some alterations in the habit worn by liis religious. A free school for poor cliildren was always connected with the Bethlehem hospital, a feature of all new foundations. One of these was soon undertaken by Brother .\nthony of the Cross who sent two of his community to Peru where they were very favourably received by the viceroy to whom he had recom- mended them. Doctor Antoine d'Avila gave them the Hospital of Notre Dame du Carmel which he was then establishing at Lima and afterwards solicited admission among them. In 1672 Brother Roderick of the Cross obtained the confirmation of this estab- lishment by the King of Spain and it was also through his efforts that Pope Clement X confirmed the con- gregation and its constitutions (1673). After his return to America this religious founded the Hospital of St. Francis Xavier in Mexico and those of Chacha- jMiya.s, Cajamarca, and Trujillo, gomg back to Spain ia 1681 to secure the confirmation of the.se new in- stitutions. The Council of the Indies assigned the hospital of Lima an income of 3,000 crowns. The Bethlehemites. because of making only simple vows, remained imder diocesan jurisdiction from which they wished, however, to be freea so that their congrega- tion might be converted into a regular religious order bound by solemn vows. The Spanish court die! not approve this plan and at first the Holy See was not