The Servite Order was founded in Florence in 1233 by cloth merchants in Florence.
The seven men, known as the Seven Holy Founders, had met at a religious congregation, and chose to leave their families and professions to live outside the city.
Among them were Amadeus of the Amidei, a prominent Florentine family, who with the approval of the bishop withdrew from the world and went to the order’s religious house, La Carmarzia, outside the gates of the city.
However, as with the very first monks (including Anthony the Great in the 3rd century), they were disturbed by the constant flow of visitors from the city. Eventually they settled on the mountain of Monte Senario, 10 miles outside Florence.
The other six – Bonfilius Bonajuncta, Hugh, Manettus, Sostene and Alexius – were also from Patrician families in what was then the most advanced city in Europe, and on the cusp of the cultural breakthrough that was the Renaissance. Alexis was the son of Bernard Falconieri, one of the major members of the Guelph party (they supported the Pope against the Emperor).
The men originally met as a pious fraternity devoted to Mary, Mother of Sorrows, and they would adopt hospitality and compassion, the Virgin’s characteristics, as the order’s.
The Friar Servants of Mary were originally approved as a religious Order by the bishop of Florence some time in the 1240s, and they adopted the Rule of St Augustine. By the end of the decade there were a number of Servants ordained, so that the order included both monks and priests.
Amadeus died in 1266, and at the moment of his passing the other father founders saw a flame going up into the sky, which reminded them of his love for God.
By this stage the Order of the Servites was a separate body within the Church, with the power to elect a general and with two provinces in Tuscany and Umbria, with Romagna and Lombardy added a few years later.
Alexis was the last of the original seven to die, in 1310, by which time he was over 100 years old, having spent many decades as a mendicant. He always refused, however, to be ordained, feeling himself unworthy of the honour.