TRINITARIANS, a religious order founded in 1198 by St John of Matha and St Felix of Valois, for the liberation of Christian prisoners and slaves from captivity under the Moors and Saracens. The two founders went to Rome and there obtained the approbation of Innocent III., 1198. The rule was the Augustinian, supplemented by regulations of an austere character. The habit was white, with a red and blue cross on the breast. The Trinitarians are canons regular, but in England they were often spoken of as friars. The first monastery and head house of the order was at Cerfroy near Soissons. Among the earliest recruits were some Englishmen, and the first to go on the special mission of the order were two Englishmen, who in 1200 went to Morocco and returned thence to France with 186 liberated Christian captives. This success excited great enthusiasm and led to the diffusion of the order all over Western Christendom. At the beginning of the 18th century there were still 250 houses, and it is stated that there had been Boo; this, however, includes 43 in England, where Dugdale says he could find traces only of a dozen: so that the high figures are probably apocryphal. The first house in England was at Mottenden, in Kent, founded in 1224. The ordinary method of freeing captives was by paying their ransom and for this purpose vast sums of money were collected by the Trinitarians; but they were called upon, if other means failed, to offer themselves in exchange for Christian captives. Many thousands were liberated by their efforts. In the 17th century a reform called the Barefooted Trinitarians was initiated, which became a distinct order and is the only one that survives. There are now less than Soo members. Their headquarters are at San Crisogono in Rome: They devote themselves to the ransoming of negro slaves, especially children, and a great district in Somaliland has been since 1904 entrusted to them as a field for missionary work. There were Trinitarian nuns and a Third Order.
The chief modern book on the Trinitarians is Deslandres, L'Ordre francais des Trinitaires (2 vols. 1903). Sufficient information will be found in Helyot, Histoire des ordres religieux (1714), vol. ii. chs. 45-50; and in Max Heimbucher, Orden u. Kongregationen (1907), ii. §57(E. C. B.)
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