The History of the Third Order

cannaraHow did the Third Order start? It actually goes right back to the time when Francis visited Cannara, a small village not far from Assisi, and preached in the piazza  there. It was an inhospitable place, bleak and cold in winter, and constantly troubled by wolves; the inhabitants were said to be ‘sullen, dour and troublesome’. Nevertheless, Francis’ words seemed to charm them all, and their response gave even more impetus to his declarations about the love of God. But croaking swallows flying above him broke Francis’ train of thought, so he stopped in the middle of his talk and said to them: My sisters, it is my turn to speak now. You have said enough already. Listen to God’s word, and be quiet until the sermon is over. The swallows stopped flying, and lined up along the housetops, cornices, ledges and every other spot available to listen attentively. This ‘miracle’ prompted a second one.

fwbirdsTo Francis’ astonishment, all the townspeople, men and women, declared that they wanted to join him and his community. Telling them that he would make suitable arrangements, he eventually created the Third Order after he had met a merchant Lucchesio and his wife Buonadonna in Poggibonsi (between Siena and Florence) in 1221; they begged him to receive them as disciples of poverty, but without forcing them to join separate Orders. The Third Order was thus ‘officially’ born and Francis wrote a rule for its members, which had great influence on the life of the period. This Order aims to demonstrate that the gospel life can successfully be lived in any condition or time of life – it is a call heard by men and women, married and celibate, ordained and lay, to return to the apostolic age of the Church in their own life and setting. Its objective is to penetrate all of society in ways, and in numbers, that the other two Orders are unable to do.

The Third Order in the Anglican Communion

It was formed in the Anglican Communion around 1936 at a time when Brother Douglas was operating from a farmhouse in Dorset, now called Hilfield Friary, and Father Algy had the vision of establishing three orders, as in the medieval church. The Third Order in Europe celebrated its Diamond Jubilee at Salisbury Cathedral on Saturday, 20th July 1996, led by its Minister Provincial, Very Revd Stephen Platten, Dean of Norwich;   In addition to Europe there are four other provinces in which the Third Order operates: The Americas, Africa, Asia-Pacific (Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand), The Pacific (Aotearoa – New Zealand, Solomon Islands), whilst a number of tertiaries work in isolated areas under the care of the Minister General.

You can read more about the early days of the Third Order in the UK in this transcript of a talk given by Hugh Beach “History of the Third Order, some snapshots”, 30th September 2000: History of the Third Order, Winchester (.pdf)

A recent publication (July 2014) by TSSF is “Martha”, a life of Dorothy Swayne, lay founder of TSSF by Denise Mumford.

There is also a collection of early documents, “Walking in the Footsteps of Christ”.