Fra Dolcino (c. 1250 – 1307) was an Italian preacher burnt at the stake in 1307, and often described as being a heretic inspired by the Franciscan theories.

Real name

The origins of Fra Dolcino and his real name are a subject of constant debate among historians. One view is that he belonged to the wealthy Tornielli family of Novara, while another view is that he was the illegitimate son of a priest fled from Vercelli to escape punishment for some small burglaries.

Recent researches of Orioli[1] presents a plausible theory on the argument: the paper of the Anonymous Synchronous[2] written shortly after the facts, identifies him as nomine Dulcinus, filius presbyteri Iulii de Tarecontano Vallis Ossole diocesis Novariensis (name Dulcinus, son of presbyter Jules from Tarecontano of the Ossola Valley in the diocese of Novara); a few years later the inquisitor Bernardo Gui[3] in his work reports the same information changing the word presbyteri in sacerdos (priest) thus concluding that he was the illegitimate son of a priest. The research of Orioli shows that De Julio Presbitero was the name of a wealthy family of Vercelli belonging to the Ghibellines often married with members of the Tornielli family of the nearby Novara (Romagnano Sesia), also Ghibellines, so he proposes that Dolcino could be the son of a couple of members of both families.


Benvenuto da Imola[4] in his commentaries written less than a century after the facts tells us that Dolcino was born in Romagnano Sesia, went in his childhood to Vercelli and there lived in the church of St. Agnes where he studied grammar. He was very intelligent and proficient in the studies, of short stature, always smiling and of gentle temperament. One day a priest lamented that some money had been stolen and accused one of his familiars, Patras, of the theft; he in turn accused Dolcino and wanted him tortured to make him confess. The priests refused and did not accuse him of anything but Dolcino was terrorized and fled far away to the city of Trento where he met and joined the sect of the Apostolics. Dolcino left Vercelli between 1280 and 1290 and the researches of Orioli show that in the same period the fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines caused many victims on both sides in the city; the fear of being involved in these fights could better explain his decision to leave and join the initially pacifist movement of Segarelli. The inquisitor Bernardo Gui cites the same episode, concluding that he fled to Trento to escape the just punishment for his burglaries.

Fra Dolcino, a former member, became in 1300 the leader of the movement of Apostolics, and influenced by the millenarist theories of Gioacchino da Fiore gave birth to the Dulcinian movement, which existed between the years 1300 – 1307. It tragically ended in the mountains in Sesia Valley and in the Biella area, in Piemonte, Italy on the 23 March 1307 when many crusaders (multi crucesignati) finally conquered the fortification built on the mount Rubello by the Dulcinians.

According to The Church and most historians of the period he and his followers, in reaction to attacks by Catholic troops, became criminals (today they would be probably called guerrilla fighters), who would not hesitate, for their own survival, to plunder and devastate villages, killing any who opposed them, and burning their houses. He justified every evil action committed by his followers in this period citing Saint Paul (Epistle to Titus 1:15): To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure; their very minds and consciences are corrupted.[5], as reported by the Anonymous Synchronous[6] Dolcino maintained: "[...] that it was legitimate for him and his followers to hang, behead, [...] people who obey to the Roman church and burn down, destroy, [...] because they were acting to redeem them and thus without sin".

Despite this, he was considered by some to be one of the reformers of the Church and one of the founders of the ideals of the French revolution and socialism [7]. In particular he was positively reevaluated toward the end of the 19th century and was dubbed the Apostle of the Socialist Jesus[8] and thus in 1907 left wing workers of Biella and the Sesia Valley erected a monument on the place of its last resistance. The monument was later (1927) symbolically gunned down by the Fascists.


Fra Dolcino and Margaret were never tried by the Church. According to Manly Hall[9], Dolcino and his wife were pursued and captured by the Inquisition, then castrated and torn to pieces, limb by limb, the pieces afterward burned by the public executioner. Fifteen years later (in 1322), approximately thirty of Dolcino's disciples were burned alive in the marketplace at Padua. After his capture the Bishop of Vercelli consulted with the Inquisition and other eminent people to decide an immediate execution (in fact the acts of the trial were never found, despite some suggestions that they could be hidden somewhere in the secret archives of the Vatican) so the paper of the Anonymous Synchronous, probably written by a follower or a local symphatizer of the Dulcinian, the one of Bernardo Gui and another anonymous paper[10](probably also written by Bernardo Gui) are the only documents we have that were written in the same period the facts took place.


He was considered to be an intelligent, erudite and charismatic speaker. He expressed his ideas in a series of letters he wrote to the Apostolics on 1300-1307; his letters were found by the Inquisition and are deeply analyzed (and confuted) in the paper "Additamentum ad Historiam fratris Dulcini, haeretici", written by an Inquisitor. However, we no longer have the originals.

Dolcino wrote his letters in a cultured Latin and showed a profound knowledge of religious matters, and this seems to confirm that he began ecclesiatic studies at a young age, certainly an impossible thing for the illegitimate son of a priest.

His main ideas were the following :

  1. Opposition to the ecclesiastical hierarchy and return of the Church to its original ideals of humility and poverty.
  2. Opposition to the feudal system.
  3. Human liberation from any restraint and from entrenched power.
  4. Organization of one equal society, of mutual aid and respect, holding property in common.

In Dante's, Divine Comedy, actually written after Fra Dolcino's death but as if it were before it, Mohammed talks about Dolcino (Inferno XXVIII):

Then you, who will perhaps soon see the sun,

tell Fra Dolcino to provide himself
with food, if he has no desire to join me
here quickly, lest when the snow besieges him,
it brings the Novarese the victory
that otherwise they would not find too easy

Fra Dolcino and his former followers are mentioned often in Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose. The dialogue between the narrator Adso and the old priest Ubertino, tell us the story of Fra Dolcino, leaving much to the imagination of the reader. Bernardo Gui also figures in the novel, as do Dolcino's papers.[11]


  1. Orioli Raniero, "Venit perfidus heresiarca. Il movimento apostolico-dolciniano dal 1260 al 1307", Roma 1988.
  2. [1] Anonymous Synchronous, "Historia Fratris Dulcini Heresiarche Novariensis ab A.C. 1304 usque ad A. 1307"
  3. Bernardo Gui, "De secta illorum qui se dicunt esse de ordine apostolorum"
  4. Benvenuto da Imola, Comentum super Dantis Aldigherij comoediam, Inferno 28,55-60, 3. Edition (1375)
  5. [2] Fra Dolcino entry in an Italian website dedicated to heresy
  6. [3] Anonymous Synchronous, "Historia Fratris Dulcini Heresiarche Novariensis ab A.C. 1304 usque ad A. 1307" Ch. 7
  7. [4] Antonio Labriola, "Socialism and Philosophy" (HTML at, Chapter IX, 1897
  8. [5] Gustavo Buratti, "La riforma popolare: l'anticlericalismo nel movimento operaio biellese (1880-1920)" (in Italian)
  9. Hall, Orders of the Quest: The Holy Grail, 1949, pg 17-18), who references C.W. Heckethorn, Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries, 1897)
  10. "Additamentum ad Historiam fratris Dulcini, haeretici" ab auctore coevo scriptum
  11. Third Day: After Compline - study guide for The Name of the Rose discussing Fra Dolcino.

External links


cs:Fra Dolcinono:Broder Dolcinopt:Frei Dolcino ru:Дольчино sk:Fra Dolcino fi:Fra Dolcino sv:Fra Dolcino

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