History of the Order of St. Paul the First Hermit
The Paulines can actually claim to be part of a rather exclusive club, since they are actually the youngest monastic Order. There are only about 40 religious orders for men, only 8 of which are monastic. Being the youngest, still makes us quite old, we have already passed 750 years.
We were founded in Hungry by Blessed Eusebius of Esztergom around 1250. He had had a vision in which he saw many little flames in the hills around Esztergom come together into one large fire. He took this vision to mean that he was called to gather all the hermits that lived in the hills together into one monastic community.
These monks soon were joined by another community that had formed under Bishop Bartholomew of Pécs, from whom we were to receive our first rule. It was the decision of this new community of hermits become monks to take as their patron saint, one that was very dear to them, St. Paul the First Hermit.
The next big moment in our Order was when in 1308 we received official approval from Rome and received a new religious rule, that of St. Augustine. This really started the golden age for our Order. We rapidly spread from Hungry, where we soon had over a hundred monasteries, to the surrounding countries such as Croatia, Germany, Poland and Sweden. In 1381 we received the relics of St. Paul at one of our Monasteries in Hungry. The next year, 1382, a monastery was founded on Jasna Góra in Częstochowa, Poland in which was placed the icon of the Black Madonna.
Though during this time we may have reached a peak of about 8000 monks, these good times were not to last for us. In the 18th century, by the order of the Austro-Hungarian emperor Charles, our Order, along with many others that were not involved in active work, were suppressed. This happened along with other political problems in Hungry and the attacks that were carried out by the Turks – who at one time hanged a number of our monks by their own belts. After that we changed to using cloth belts which can't be used for hanging people.
So by the turn of the 20th century we had only two houses left in Poland. One being the Monastery of Jasna Góra which I mentioned before. The other being another important shrine at Kraków dedicated to Saint Stanislaus who is patron saint of Poland and has a story that is similar to that of Thomas á Becket. It did not help much that one house was on the German side of Poland, and the other on the Russian side.
It is however since this time that we have managed to start to grow again. We now number around 500 monks, and have spread from Poland back to Hungry, Germany and Croatia and the other surrounding countries along with houses in America, South Africa, Australia, and even a mission in Cameroon in Africa.