Any of four species of tropical monkeys (genus Cebus) found from Nicaragua to Paraguay. Considered among the most intelligent New World monkeys, capuchins are named for their cap of crown hair, which resembles the cowl of Capuchin monks. These stocky, round-headed monkeys are 12–22 in. (30–55 cm) long, with a hairy, prehensile tail of about the same length, and are brown or black, sometimes with white markings. Capuchins live in troops, often in the treetops. They eat fruit and small animals and sometimes raid plantations for oranges and other food. Easily trained, they are valued as gentle pets.
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Member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, an autonomous branch of the Franciscans. It began in 1525 as a reform movement led by Matteo da Bascio (circa 1495–1552), who wanted the Franciscans to return to strict observance of the Rule of St. Francis. He and his followers wore robes with pointed hoods (Italian, cappuccino), went barefoot, and lived in extreme poverty. Other Franciscans harassed them, and the pope forbade them to extend their membership outside Italy. The new order was nearly ruined by the defection of their vicar-general, Bernardino Ochino, to Protestantism in 1542, but it later grew quickly, reaching a membership of 17,000 by 1571. It was active in the Counter-Reformation in keeping the common people loyal to Catholicism. An independent order since 1619, they are known for their missionary and social work.
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