The Trinitarians were founded by St. John de Matha and St. Felix of Valois at the end of the 12th century. From the outset, a special dedication to the mystery of the Holy Trinity has been a constitutive element of their life, the beginnings of which are deeply rooted in the Crusades. The founding intention of John was the ransom of Christians held captive by nonbelievers, a consequence of crusading and pirating along the Mediterranean coast of Europe.
The Order and the Rule of St. John de Matha were approved by Pope Innocent III on December 17, 1198. The Order’s distinctive cross of red and blue can be traced to its beginnings.
Along with the Order’s mission of ransoming Christian captives, each Trinitarian Community served the people of its area by performing works of mercy. Thus redemption and mercy are at the very center of the Trinitarian charism.
First generation Trinitarians could count some 50 foundations throughout France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Scotland, England and Ireland. Ransoming captives required economic resources and the Trinitarians set aside 1/3 of all income for this purpose.
The Order continued to grow. By the end of the middle ages there were twelve provinces of Trinitarians with approximately 150 houses in Europe. The late 16th century was a time of reform in the Church and in the Order. St. John Baptist of the Conception received papal approval in 1599 for the Spanish Discalced branch of the Order. Today’s Trinitarians are the direct descendants of this reform movement.