The mendicant orders are religious orders which depend directly on the charity of the people for their livelihood. In principle they do not own property, either individually or collectively, and have taken a vow of poverty, in order that all their time and energy could be expended on religious work.
Both of the two main new orders founded by Saint Dominic and Saint Francis were prompted by a concern to combat the Cathar heresy (in southern France and in northern Italy respectively) by offering a model of God being active within the community. They attracted a significant level of patronage, as much from townsfolk as aristocrats. Their focus of operation rapidly centered on towns where population growth historically outstripped the provision of parishes. Most medieval towns in Western Europe of any size came to possess houses of one or more of the major orders of friars. Some of their churches came to be built on grand scale with large spaces devoted to preaching, something of a specialty among the mendicant orders.
Saint Anthony and Saint Francis were notable inspirations to the formation of Christian mendicant traditions.
The Second Council of Lyons (1274) recognized these as the four "great" mendicant orders, and suppressed certain others. The Council of Trent loosened their property restrictions. Afterwards, except for the Franciscans and their offshoot the Capuchins, members of the orders were permitted to own property collectively as do monks.
Among other orders are the
The term "mendicant" may also be used to refer to other non-Catholic and non-Christian ascetics, such as Buddhist monks and Hindu holy men. The Theravada Buddhist Pali scriptures use the term bhikkhu for mendicant, and in Mahayana scriptures, the equivalent sanskrit term bikshu is used. In Sufism, Dervishes.