In medieval England, the largely illiterate
population usually distinguished the various orders of friars by the
colors or fabric of their mantles (cloaks). Thus, the Friars Preachers
(Dominicans) were the Black Friars. Dominican priests wear a white
habit girded by a belt, but their cloak was black. The Dominican Black
Friars arrived in London in 1221. Blackfriars Railway Station is on the
site of a Dominican church founded in 1276. The Dominican church was
suppressed and the friars expelled during the Reformation. The Austin,
Crutched, Grey, and White Friars met the same fate.
In 1224, two years before our Seraphic
Father’s death, the Franciscans reached London. In those days, the
Franciscan Friars wore grey habits girded with a knotted cord, and grey
mantles. The medieval English called them the Grey Friars. In colonial
Mexico and Texas, Franciscan Friars wore a dark blue habit. In Spanish
California, the friars wore grey habits. It wasn’t until 1897, at the
decree of Pope Leo XIII, that brown became the official color of all
O.F.M. friars’ habits. Even today, in the United States, the shade of
brown of the O.F.M. habit varies from province to province. The
Conventual Franciscans, who previously wore black habits, are returning
to the grey of medieval times.
The Carmelites reached London in 1241. The
Carmelites wear a brown habit girded with a belt. Their mantle is
white; hence, the appellation White Friars. On July 16th, 1251,
according to tradition, Our Lady appeared in England to St. Simon Stock,
the first Carmelite prior general, and gave him the brown scapular.
Many people today continue to wear the “Brown Scapular.” The Carmelite
Priory at Aylesford, Kent, was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1538. In
1949, the English Carmelites were able to buy back their motherhouse.
Aylesford is a flourishing pilgrimage destination. On July, 16th, 1951,
St. Simon Stock’s relics were returned to Aylesford. The Carmelite
seminary in Washington, D.C., is Whitefriars Hall.
In 1249, the Crutched Friars arrived in
London. The word ‘crutched” means crossed, or marked with a cross. The
friar carried a staff topped by a cross, and wore a red cross on his
habit. The order known as the Crutched Friars was suppressed in 1656.
An order of Canons Regular (not friars), the Crosier Fathers, still
exist. They are known as Fratres Cruciferi, but are not friars.
The Augustinian Friars trace themselves back
to St. Augustine’s Rule of c.400 A.D. The Augustinians, or Austin
Friars, arrived in London in 1253. The Augustinians are the only
medieval mendicant (begging) order known by the name of their founder.
In 1257 the Brothers of Penance of Jesus
Christ came to London. The English called them the Sack Friars, because
their habit was made of sackcloth. The Second Council of Lyon
suppressed them in 1274, but friars were allowed to continue in their
Order until death. The London friary disappeared between 1302 and 1305.
The Pied Friars (Friars of the Blessed Mary)
were in England before 1274. These friars wore a black habit with
white mantle, hence pied (black and white). Pope Gregory X suppressed
all mendicant orders but the Augustinians, Carmelites, Dominicans,
Franciscans, and Servites at the Second Council of Lyons in 1274.