The word “friar” is from fraire (from the Middle Ages — the fraire Provençal), which means “brother.” The word arose with the creation of the mendicant (traveling/preaching) orders in the late Middle Ages, most predominantly by Saint Francis (Franciscans) of Assisi and Saint Dominic (Order of Preachers, or “Dominicans”). These “new religious” were no longer tied to monasteries and convents but went out among the people, to preach and to pray, to educate and to serve the sick.We owe a lot to the mendicant orders. Sir Walter Scott explains:
I’ll give thee, good fellow, a twelvemonth or twain,
To search Europe through, from Byzantium to Spain;
But ne’er shall you find, should you search till you tire,
So happy a man as the Barefooted Friar.
Your knight for his lady pricks forth in career,
And is brought home at even-song prick’d through with a spear;
I confess him in haste—for his lady desires
No comfort on earth save the Barefooted Friar’s.
Your monarch?—Pshaw! many a prince has been known
To barter his robes for our cowl and our gown,
But which of us e’er felt the idle desire
To exchange for a crown the grey hood of a Friar!
The Friar has walk’d out, and where’er he has gone,
The land and its fatness is mark’d for his own;
He can roam where he lists, he can stop when he tires,
For every man’s house is the Barefooted Friar’s.
He’s expected at noon, and no wight till he comes
May profane the great chair, or the porridge of plums
For the best of the cheer, and the seat by the fire,
Is the undenied right of the Barefooted Friar.
He’s expected at night, and the pasty’s made hot,
They broach the brown ale, and they fill the black pot,
And the goodwife would wish the goodman in the mire,
Ere he lack’d a soft pillow, the Barefooted Friar.
Long flourish the sandal, the cord, and the cope,
The dread of the devil and trust of the Pope;
For to gather life’s roses, unscathed by the briar,
Is granted alone to the Barefooted Friar.