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Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi

Born: c. 1182
Assisi, Umbria, Italy
Died: October 1226
Assisi, Umbria, Italy

Italian religious leader

The Italian religious leader St. Francis of Assisi founded the religious order known as the Franciscans. He became renowned for his love, simplicity, and practice of poverty.

Early years

Francis was born Giovanni di Bernardore, but because his father called him Francis, so did everyone else. He was baptized shortly after his birth in the town of Assisi in central Italy in 1182. His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a successful cloth merchant, and Francis grew up with a love of fine clothes and good times. He led the other young men of the town in enjoying good food and drink, singing, and dancing. He was educated in math, poetry, and music and learned to read and write while attending a school that was part of the Church of Saint Giorgio of Assisi. Francis was expected to become a cloth merchant like his father and did not plan to attend college.

Francis joined the forces from Assisi in their fight against Perugia, another town in Italy. When he was twenty, he was taken prisoner. A year later, sobered by jail and sickness, he underwent several religious experiences in quick succession. In one of these, while he was praying in the run-down chapel of Saint Damiano outside Assisi, he heard a voice from the crucifix telling him, "Francis, go repair my house, which is falling in ruins." Francis went quickly back to the city, sold his horse and some cloth from his father's shop, and came back to give the money to the priest at Saint Damiano.

Francis's father, furious that his son wasted his money on churches and beggars, took him before the bishop to bring him to his senses. When the hearing began, Francis calmly took off all of his clothes, gave them to his father (the astonished bishop quickly covered Francis with a cloak), and said that he was now recognizing only his Father in heaven, not his father on earth. He lived his life from this time on without money and without family ties.

His spirit

The thirteenth century was a time of troubadours, or poet-musicians, and Francis had the best of their characteristics. He was happy, he sang, he loved nature; he spoke to the birds and the animals as though they were his friends. In his "Canticle of Creatures," also called "Canticle of the Sun" (a canticle is a religious song), he wrote about Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Once he was heard to beg pardon of his own body for its sins. Francis referred to his way of life as his marriage to Lady Poverty.

The thirteenth century was also a time when the Christian religion was taken very much for granted, and Francis felt the need to return to the original spirit of Christ. This meant living without materialistic attachments, and it also meant loving other people. A number of the young men of Assisi, attracted by Francis's example, joined him in his new way of life. In 1209 Francis and his companions went to Rome, Italy, where they presented their ideas to Pope Innocent III (c. 1160c. 1216; the pope is the head of the Catholic Church) and received his approval. They found themselves influencing more and more people, including a lady named Clare, whom Francis helped to enter a monastery of nuns and who later began the "second order" of Franciscans, the order for women.

In 1212 Francis left for the Holy Land, or Palestine (the land in the Middle East where Christ had lived). His ship ran into bad weather, and he had to return to Italy. Two years later his adventurous spirit and missionary zeal drove him to seek the Moors, who were Muslim, in Spain, but sickness prevented him from completing the trip. He tried once more, in 1219, going to Egypt with the Crusaders (religious warriors who attempted to take control of the Holy Land). At the siege of the city of Damietta in Egypt, Francis boldly walked through the battle lines into the enemy camp and met the king of Egypt, who, apparently impressed with Francis's ideas about brotherly love, gave him permission to continue on to the Holy Land.

Franciscan order

When Francis heard that trouble had started in Italy among some of his followers, now numbering in the thousands, he returned home. The force of his own personality had held the group together, but now Francis saw the need for a more practical guide to his kind of Christian life. He insisted that the new rule stress the poverty he felt was so important: the order could not possess money; all its houses must be simply furnished; and each Franciscan could have only a tunic and cord (Francis himself wore an old sack tied at the waist), a pair of pants, and, if really necessary, a pair of shoes. Francis went to Rome in 1223 to present the new rule to Pope Honorius III, who approved it wholeheartedly. It was during this visit that, according to tradition, Francis met Dominic, who had founded his own religious order. The Franciscan and Dominican religious orders have always felt a close relationship that dates back to the friendship between their founders.

A religious vision

Francis returned to Assisi and began to spend more and more time alone in prayer, leaving the decisions about his organization to others. While he was praying on Mt. Alvernia in 1224, he had a vision of a figure that looked like an angel, and when the vision disappeared Francis felt the wounds of the crucified Christ in his hands, side, and feet. He was careful not to show them, but several close friends reported after his death that Francis had suffered in his body as Christ had suffered on the cross. His last two years were lived in almost constant pain and near-blindness. He died in 1226. Two years later he was made a saint.

For More Information

Homan, Helen. Francis and Clare, Saints of Assisi. New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1956.

House, Adrian. Francis of Assisi. New York: HiddenSpring, 2001.

Martin, Valerie. Salvation: Scenes From the Life of Saint Francis. New York: Knopf, 2001.

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St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

The Italian mystic St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) founded the religious order known as the Franciscans. He became renowned for his love, simplicity, and practice of poverty.

Because his father called him Francis, so did everyone else, although he was given the name Giovanni when he was baptized shortly after his birth in the town of Assisi in central Italy in 1182. His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a successful cloth merchant, and Francis grew up with a love of fine clothes and good times. He led the other young men of the town in enjoying good food and drink, singing, and dancing.

When Francis was 20, he was taken prisoner in a war between Assisi and Perugia. A year later, sobered by jail and sickness, he underwent several religious experiences in quick succession. In one of these, while he was praying in the decrepit chapel of S. Damiano outside Assisi, he heard a voice from the crucifix telling him, "Francis, go repair my house, which is falling in ruins." Taking the words literally, Francis went quickly back to the city, sold his horse and some cloth from his father's shop, and came back to give the money to the priest at S. Damiano.

His father, furious at Francis' squandering money on churches and beggars, hauled him before the bishop to bring him to his senses. When the hearing began, Francis calmly took off all his clothes, gave them to his father (the astonished bishop quickly covered Francis with a cloak), and said that he was now recognizing only his Father in heaven, not his father on earth. His life from this time on was lived without money and family ties.

His Spirit

The 13th century was a time of troubadours, and Francis had their best characteristics. He was happy, he sang, he loved nature; he spoke to the birds and the animals as though they were his friends. In his "Canticle of Creatures" (also called "Canticle of the Sun") he wrote about Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Once he was heard to beg pardon of his own body, which he called Brother Ass, for having weighed it down with penances. Francis referred to his way of life as his marriage to Lady Poverty.

The 13th century was also a time when the Christian religion was taken very much for granted, and Francis felt the need to return to the original spirit of Christ. This meant living in poverty, and it also meant loving other people. A number of the young men of Assisi, attracted by Francis' example, joined him in his new way of life. In 1209 Francis and his companions went to Rome, where they presented their ideas to Pope Innocent III and received his approval. They found themselves influencing more and more people, including a lady named Clare, whom Francis helped to enter a monastery of nuns and who later began the "second order" of Franciscans, the order for women.

In 1212 Francis left for the Holy Land. His ship ran into bad weather, and he had to return to Italy. Two years later his adventurous spirit and missionary zeal drove him to seek the Moors in Spain, but sickness prevented him from completing the trip. He tried once more, in 1219, going to Egypt with the Crusaders. At the siege of Damietta, Francis boldly walked through the battle lines into the camp of the Saracens and met the sultan of Egypt, who, apparently impressed with Francis' ideas about brotherly love, gave him permission to continue on to the Holy Land.

Franciscan Order

When Francis heard that trouble had started in Italy among some of his followers, now numbered in the thousands, he returned home. The group had been held together by the force of his own personality, but now Francis saw the need for a more practical guide to his kind of Christian life. He insisted that the new rule stress the poverty he felt was so important: the order could not possess money; all its houses must be simply furnished; and each friar could have only a tunic and cord (Francis himself wore an old sack tied at the waist), a pair of breeches, and, if really necessary, a pair of shoes. Francis went to Rome in 1223 to present the new rule to Pope Honorius III, who approved it wholeheartedly. It was during this visit that, according to tradition, Francis met Dominic. The Franciscan and Dominican religious orders have always felt a close relationship that dates back to the friendship between their founders.

The Stigmata

Francis returned to Assisi and began to spend more and more time alone, in prayer, leaving the decisions about his organization to others. While he was praying on Mt. Alvernia in 1224, he had a vision of an angelic figure, and when the vision disappeared Francis felt the wounds of Christ's stigmata in his hands, side, and feet. He was careful not to show them, but several close friends reported after his death that Francis had suffered in his body as Christ had suffered on the cross. His last 2 years were lived in almost constant pain and near-blindness. He died in 1226, and 2 years later he was canonized a saint.

Further Reading

Among the many biographies of St. Francis, Paul Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi (1894), remains a classic. G. K. Chesterton's excellent St. Francis of Assisi (1923) captures the spirit and style of the saint. The Little Flowers of Saint Francis (trans. 1887; new ed. 1958) is a collection of refreshing legends and stories about St. Francis written shortly after his death. □

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Francis, Saint

Saint Francis, or Saint Francis of Assisi (əsē´zē), 1182?–1226, founder of the Franciscans, one of the greatest Christian saints, b. Assisi, Umbria, Italy.

Early Life

His baptismal name was Giovanni (John), his father's name was Pietro de Bernardone; from his birth Giovanni di Bernardone was called Francesco (Francis) [Ital., =Frenchman], because his father, a successful cloth merchant, was a frequent traveler in France and admired much that he saw there. The name Francis (and its equivalents in other languages) owes its great popularity to St. Francis, for before him it was a name rarely given. Pietro de Bernardone was a wealthy merchant, and his son's early life was ordinary. At the age of 20, however, Francis was taken prisoner in a battle between Assisi and Perugia and spent a year in prison in Perugia.

Conversion

Two years after his return from Perugia, Francis set out for the wars in Apulia, but illness forced him home again. He then underwent a conversion that turned him from the worldly life he had been leading. He became markedly devout and ascetic, began dressing in rags, and went on a pilgrimage to Rome (1206). A series of events at that time revealed strikingly the characteristics that Francis was always to exemplify: humility, love of absolute poverty, singular devotion to others and to the Roman Church, and joyous religious fervor.

Founding of the Franciscan Order

In 1209, as he was hearing Mass, the words of Jesus in the Gospel (Mat. 10.7–10) bidding his apostles to go forth on their mission struck Francis as a call. So he set out, still a layman, to preach; when a small group had gathered about him, they went to Rome to see Pope Innocent III, who gave them oral permission to live in the manner Francis had chosen. Thus began the Franciscan order of friars, an entirely new type of order in the church. They wandered about Umbria and through Italy preaching the Gospel, working to pay for their very simple needs. The expansion of the friars was very rapid. In 1212 St. Clare began to follow St. Francis, and the Poor Clares (Second Order of St. Francis), a cloistered, contempletive order was established. Francis not only sent the brothers abroad but went himself—to Dalmatia, to France, to Spain, and in 1219–20 to the Holy Land. On his way to Palestine he stopped at Damietta and preached to the sultan.

A growing dissension in his order recalled him from Palestine, and after his return (1221) a great assembly was held at the small chapel of the Porziuncola near Assisi, with which Francis's career was closely identified. There the saint gave up active leadership of the order, for he felt it had become too unwieldy to command. He continued his preaching and the composition of his rule and sponsored the Franciscan tertiaries (Third Order of St. Francis).

The Stigmata and His Death

Two years before his death (1224) the most famous event of his life occurred. He received the stigmata; as he prayed on the Monte della Verna, he had a vision and was afflicted with the wounds of the Crucifixion, from which he suffered for the rest of his life. It is the first known appearance of the stigmata, one of the best attested, and the only one that is celebrated liturgically (on Sept. 17) in the Roman Catholic Church. Francis died Oct. 3, 1226. Two years later Pope Gregory IX, who had been his patron and friend, canonized him; his feast is Oct. 4.

Bibliography

The sources for the life of St. Francis are two lives by Thomas of Celano and the biography by St. Bonaventure. Later medieval works are the Legenda trium sociorum, the Sacrum commercium, and the Speculum perfectionis. The Italian Fioretti di San Francesco [little flowers of St. Francis], a series of short anecdotes, has always been popular for its picture of St. Francis and his companions. It exemplifies in simplest form his love of nature and of humanity, a love so great that he preached one time to the sparrows at Alviano (he is often depicted in art preaching to the birds). His spirit also breathes in the Cantico del sole [hymn of the sun], which he may have written, and in the rules for his orders. Artistic and literary representations of St. Francis are innumerable; see L. Cunningham, comp., Brother Francis (1972); biographies by G. K. Chesterton (1924), J. H. Smith (1972), A. House (2001), V. Martin (2001), A. Vauchez (2009, tr. 2012), and A. Thompson (2012); study by E. A. Armstrong (1973).

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Francis, St, of Assisi

Francis, St, of Assisi (1181/2–1226). Christian ascetic and founder of the Franciscan order. Son of a wealthy textile merchant, Francesco Bernardone had dreams of chivalric heroism and a bent toward frivolity until, in his early twenties, he underwent a conversion. He began to devote himself to care of lepers, whom he had formerly found repellent, and soon renounced his patrimony in the public square, returning even his clothes to his father. Embracing poverty, which he spoke of as his bride, he acquired his food by begging, and applied himself to repairing ruined churches. In 1208 or 1209, after hearing at mass Jesus' commission to the disciples (Matthew 10. 7–19), he set out to preach. Companions soon followed, forming with him a band that became the Franciscan Order. He drew up a simple Rule based on Gospel commands and sayings (the Regula Primitiva). In 1212, Clare followed him in establishing a group of women, the Second Order of St Francis, commonly known as Poor Clares. In 1217, provinces were established, and in 1219 he went to Egypt, at the time of a crusade, appearing before the Sultan to argue the case for Christ. In 1221, he established ‘a third order’, i.e. Tertiaries, for those living in the world, but aspiring to his ideals. He reasserted his ideals in his Rule of 1221 (Regula Prima), but was obliged to compromise in the definitive Rule (Regula Bullata) of 1223. Thereafter, increasingly ill, he withdrew somewhat from the affairs of the Order and spent periods in contemplative solitude, receiving the stigmata in 1224. He dictated his Testament shortly before he died. He was canonized in 1228.

The appeal of Francis remains vast, sustained by a large body of hagiographical works, among which the Italian Little Flowers of St Francis (c.1375), a partial translation of a Latin work of c.1325 by Ugolino of Monte Giorgio, is especially popular, although unreliable for historical detail.

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Francis of Assisi, Saint

Francis of Assisi, Saint (1182–1226) Italian founder of the Franciscans, b. Giovanni di Bernardone. The son of a wealthy merchant in Assisi, Francis renounced his worldly life for one of poverty and prayer in 1205. In 1209, he received permission from Pope Innocent III to begin a monastic order. The Franciscans were vowed to humility, poverty and devotion to the task of helping people. In 1212, with St Clare, he established an order for women, popularly called the Poor Clares. In 1224, while Francis prayed on Monte della Verna, near Florence, the stigmata wounds of the Crucifixion appeared on his body. He was canonized in 1228. His feast day is October 4.

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Francis of Assisi, Saint

Saint Francis of Assisi: see Francis, Saint.

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