Celestines, a branch of the great Benedictine monastic order. At the foundation of the new rule, they were called Hermits of St Damiano, or Moronites (or Murronites), and did not assume the appellation of Celestines till after the election of their founder to the Papacy as Celestine V. The fame of the holy life and the austerities practised by that saintly hermit (as noticed above) in his solitude on the Mountain of Majella, near Sulmona, attracted many visitors, several of whom were moved to remain and share his mode of life. They built, therefore, a small convent on the spot inhabited by the holy hermit, which very shortly became too small for the accommodation of those who thronged thither to share their life of privations. Peter of Morone, their founder, therefore built a number of other small oratories in that neighbourhood.
This happened about the year 1254. A new religious community was thus formed, and Peter of Morone gave them a rule formulated in accordance with his own practices. In 1264 the new institution was approved by Urban IV. But the founder, having heard that it was probable that Pope Gregory X, then holding a council at Lyons, would suppress all such new orders as had been founded since the Lateran Council, having commanded that such institutions should not be further multiplied, betook himself to Lyons, and there succeeded in persuading Gregory to approve his new order, constituting it a branch of the Benedictines with a rule based on that of Saint Benedict, but adding to it many additional severities and privations. Gregory further took it under the Papal protection, assured to it the possession of all property it might acquire, and endowed it with that great and constant, but most pernicious and fatal object of the ambition of all monastic orders, exemption from the authority of the ordinary. Nothing more was needed to ensure the rapid spread of the new association and Peter the hermit of Morone lived to see himself "Superior-General" to thirty-six monasteries and more than six hundred monks. Peter, however, cannot be accused of ambition or the lust of power when a monastic superior, any more than when he insisted on divesting himself of the Papacy, to which he was subsequently raised.
As soon as he had seen his new order thus consolidated he gave up the government of it to a certain Robert, and retired once again to a still more remote solitude to give himself up more entirely to solitary penance and prayer. Shortly afterwards, in a chapter of the order held in 1293, the original monastery of Majella being judged to be too desolate and exposed to too rigorous a climate, it was decided that the monastery which had been founded in Sulmtona should be the headquarters of the order and the residence of the General-Superior, as it has continued to be to the present day. The next year Peter the hermit of Morone, having been, despite his reluctance, elected Pope by the name of Celestine V., the order he had founded took the name of Celestines. The hermit Pope found time in the few short months of his Papacy to confirm the rule of the order, which be had himself composed, and to confer on the society a variety of special graces and privileges. In the only creation of cardinals promoted by him, among the twelve raised to the purple, there were two monks of his order. He found time also to visit personally the great Benedictine monastery on Monte Cassino, where he succeeded in persuading the monks to accept his more rigorous rule. He sent fifty monks of his order to introduce it, who remained, however, for only a few months.
After the death of the founder the order was favoured and privileged by Italy, Germany, Flanders, and France, where they were received by Philip the Fair in 1300. Subsequently the French Celestines, with the consent of the Italian superiors of the order, and of Pope Martin V in 1427, obtained the privilege of making new constitutions for themselves, which they did in the 17th century in a series of regulations accepted by the provincial chapter in 1667. At that time the French congregation of the order was composed of twenty-one monasteries, the head of which was that of Paris, and was governed by a Provincial with the authority of General. Paul V was a notable benefactor of the order. But in consequence of later political changes and events the order has been dissolved.
According to their special constitutions the Celestines were bound to say matins in the choir at two o'clock in the morning, and always to abstain from eating meat, save in illness. The specialities of their rule with regard to fasting would be long and tedious to recount. It cannot be said that they are more severe than those of sundry other congregations, though much more so than is required by the old Benedictine rule. But in reading their minute directions for divers degrees of abstinence on various days, it is impossible to avoid being struck by the conviction that the great object of the framers of these rules, beyond the general purpose of ensuring an ascetic mode of life, was to create a speciality, to make a distinguishing difference between what "Our" order does and what others do.
The Celestines wore a white woollen cassock bound with a linen band, and a leathern girdle of the same colour, with a scapulary unattached to the body of the dress, and a black hood. It was not permitted to them to wear any shirt save of serge. Their dress in short was very like that of the Cistercians. But it is a tradition in the order that in the time of the founder they wore a coarse brown cloth. The church and monastery of St Pietro in Montorio originally belonged to the Celestines in Rome; but they were turned out of it by Sixtus IV to make way for Franciscans, receiving from the Pope in exchange the Church of St Eusebius with the adjacent mansion for a monastery.
The order of Celestines has had its special historians, as Becquet, author of a history of the Celestines of France (Paris, 1719), and in the great collection of the Bollandists, vol. iii., tinder the month of May. But the order does not seem to have been fruitful of men of much mark; nor list it ever attained in the annals of Europe, or even of the church, a position of such importance as most of its rival societies have reached.
from the 9th edition (1876) of an unnamed encyclopedia