SERVITES, or "SERVANTS OF MARY," an order under the Rule of St Augustine, founded in 1233. In this year seven merchants of Florence, recently canonized as " the seven holy Founders," gave up their wealth and position, and with the bishop's sanction established themselves as a religious community on Monte Senario near Florence. They lived an austere life of penance and prayer, and being joined by others, they were in 1 240 formed into an order following the Augustinian rule supplemented by constitutions borrowed from the Dominicans. Soon they were able to establish houses in various parts of Italy, where within twenty-five years four provinces were formed; they also at an early date founded many houses in France, Germany and Spain, but they never came to England before the Reformation. The most illustrious member of the order and its chief propagator and organizer was St Filippo Benizi, the fifth general, who died in 1285. The order received papal approbation in 1255; in 1424 it was recognized as a Mendicant order, and in 1567 it was ranked with the four great orders of Mendicant friars. The Servites undertook missions in Tartary, India and Japan. As in the other orders there were various mitigations and relaxations of the rule, producing a variety of reforms, the chief being that of the eremitical Servites. There are at the present day 64 Servites houses, mostly in Italy; there are two or three in England and in America.
There are Servile nuns and also tertiaries, founded by St Juliana Falconieri, 1305, who are widespread and devote themselves chiefly to primary education. They have several convents in England. The habit of the Servites is black.
The chief work on the Servites is the Monumenta by Morini and Spulier, 1897, etc. See Hclyot, Histoire des ordres religieux (1715). iii. cc. 39-41 ; Max Heimbucher Orden u. Kongregationen (1907), ii. 73; Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchenlexicon (2nd ed.)j Herzog-Hauck Realencyklopadie (3rd ed.). The most interesting part of Servile history is told by P. Soulier, Vie de S. Philippe Benizt(iS86). (E. C. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)