John of Capistrano


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Franciscan preacher. Born at Capistrano in the Abruzzi, he studied law at Perugia with conspicuous success, married, and became governor of Perugia in 1412. He was separated from his wife, presumably by mutual consent, and became a Franciscan at the age of thirty. He was ordained priest in 1420 and combined extreme austerity of life with unremitting effort in studying theology under Bernardino of Siena. He then became a successful preacher in Italy, attracting huge crowds and using the same techniques as Bernardino. He also worked hard at the reform and reorganization of the Franciscan Observant friars and of the nuns who were inspired by Colette.

Papal confidence in him was shown by his appointment as inquisitor-general to Vienna in 1451. Here his presence was greeted with immense enthusiasm, but his zeal against the Hussites was criticized by later historians. Contemporaries, however, claimed that he worked frequent miracles and described him as a small man, withered and emaciated, who was cheerful, strong, and strenuous.

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 led to his being called on by Pius II to preach a new crusade against the Turks. This met with little support from Bavaria and Austria, but Hungary, faced by a direct threat of a Turkish army to Belgrade, responded generously. The exhortations of John and the military skill of the Hungarian general, Hunyady, resulted in a complete victory for their army at Belgrade. But the neglect of unburied corpses around the city caused the deaths of both through disease in the same year. He was canonized in 1724. Feast: 23 October.

AA.SS. Oct. X (1861), 269–552, 915–16; J. Hofer, St John Capistran, Reformer (1943); S. Andric, The Miracles of St John Capistran (Budapest and New York, 2000); B.L.S., x. 155–6; Bibl. SS., vi. 646–54.

Subjects: Christianity — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).

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