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San Francesco di Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi

written by Paolo Bonacorsi
English version by Elisa Fiolini

San Francesco di Assisi

Francis was born between December 1181 and September 1182 from Pietro di Bernardone of Moriconi, a rich cloth and spice merchant, and Lady Pica Bourlemont, a noble who called him Giovanni (John).

According to the legend, Giovanni (Francis) had been conceived while his middle-aged parents were on a journey to the Holy Land.

When Francis born his father was in France for business so, when he came back, he changed his son's name to Francesco (Francis), the name with which he has been, and is, generally and commonly known.

The young Francis studied Latin and vernacular, music and poetry.

His father taught him French and Provenšal.

Of course, Pietro Bernardone wanted to start his son off on a merchant's career, so Francis found himself adolescent working in his father's shop.

The first act of charity

It is said that one day Francis was working in his father's shop when a beggar appeared at the door.

At first Francis chased him away but then, having repented, he followed the beggar to apologize and to offer him big alms.

It was November 1202.

Francis was 20 and the chivalric spirit led him to take part in the war between Assisi and Perugia.

The two armies clashed halfway, near what today is the town of Collestrada.

Perugia (at that time called Peroscia) defeated Assisi and among those taken prisoners there was also Francis.

His captivity, more than one year long, was not mild.

Francis came home ill and only his mother's loving care and time helped him to get better.

Driven by his own chivalric spirit, Francis followed Gualtiero de Brienne in Southern Italy, but once arrived to Spoleto he had a vision of God who said him to come back.

In particular God asked him:

"Francis, who do you think it is better to follow? The Master or the servant?" And Francis answered:

"It is the Master"

"Why then," continued God "do you worry to look for the servant instead of the Master?"

"What is it your pleasure I should do, my Lord?"

"Return to Assisi, This is not your life"

From "Vita di San Francesco d'Assisi - Lo Sposo di Madonna Povertà" pag. 17.

His friends were stunned: Francis came back to Assisi and gave up forever with the military career

The conversion to Madonna Poverty

It was Summer 1205.

Francis' conversion was taking shape.

We only know some events of this year...

For istance, we know that Francis went to Rome in1206.

Here, maybe because he was unknown in this city, he threw all his money in the alms box, exchanged his clothes for those of a beggar and started to beg in front of San Pietro's.

Another event we know is when Francis was in the plains near Assisi, where he met a leper.

Francis was able to overcome his revulsion and his instinct of self-preservation which would have made him run away, so he came up to the leper and kissed him with love, then he continued on his way.

Not long afterwards, he turned back and realized that the leper was disappeared.

That leper was Jesus Christ, Who had come on the Earth to receive a kiss from His servant.

In his will, Saint Francis talked a lot about this event:

"See in what manner God gave it to me, to me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penitence; when I lived in sin, it was very painful to me to see lepers, but God himself led me into their midst, and I remained there a little while.

When I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy"

From "Vita di San Francesco - Lo Sposo di Madonna Povertà" pag 22

La conversione

His friends gradually shut Francis out since they couldn't understand what was happening to him.

His father was distraught because he had his expectations for his eldest son failed.

Another who didn't understand what was happening to Francis was his mother, Lady Pica, but she went on reassuring him.

So Francis chose the silence and withdrew to meditate in the countries of Assisi, perhaps exactly in those caves and narrow gorges which are under the Colle dell'Inferno [which in English means "Hill of the Hell"].

He rather liked also to stop off in the little church of San Damiano, which is only 2 kilometres far from Assisi.

Here, in a day like any other betwenn 1206 and 1207, the crucifix of this little chapel started talking to him saying three times:

"Francis, go and repair My house, which you see is falling down"

Francis come back to his father's shop, laded a horse with cloth and went to Foligno to sell it. But since he thought he had made too little on that sale, he sold also his horse!

Then he went to the priest of San Damiano's church and took him the money he had earned.

Let's imagine the scene:

Francis wanted to give the priest that money but the priest didn't want it since he knew who Francis was, or better, he knew who Francis' father was.

Francis insisted and ended up by throwing that money inside the church...suddenly his father arrived, he was furious and probably he had been informed about what was happening at San Damiano.

This time Francis didn't dare to face up to his father and preferred to hide himself for more than a month.

Instead, the one who faced up to Pietro Bernardone was the priest...who decided to give the money back.

Francis desired to break off with this world and to lead a life full of esctasy and spirituality.

More and more frequently these words echoed in his mind:

"Who loves his father and his mother more than me, is not worthy of me"

From "Vita di San Francesco d'Assisi - Lo sposo di Madonna Povertà" pag. 26

Francis went on behaving more and more strangely, up to when he start walking around Assisi dressed in rags and very dirty.

Poor Pietro Bernardone found, or better, picked up him in that condition.

Convinced that his son was mad, he took Francis home and locked him up in a room which today is called "St. Francis' cell".

As he used, Pietro Bernardone left again to trade so he entrusted Francis to his mother's care...who freed him!

Only the History tells us the conclusion: Pietro Bernardone came back from his travels, discovered that Francis was free, started to look for him and decided to disinherit him.

Since Pietro was a laic and thought as a laic, he turned to the Consuls of Assisi, but Francis - who this time didn't feared to face up to his father - turned to the Bishop of Assisi Guido II and renounced publicly this father's wealth.

12th April 1207: in the square of Assisi

One opposite to the other there are Pietro Bernardone ...

... and between them there is Bishop Guido II.

Bishop Guido II

"Messer Pietro, you can't prevent your son from following the path which God gave him .....

Saint Francis

"Listen you all.

Hitherto I have called Pietro Bernadone father, but from today I do want to serve only God, so I renounce everything I could inherit from him and I give him back the clothes I wear.

From now on I say only, 'Our Father, who art in Heaven'"

St. Francis started to serve God in that day of 1207, even if he had been ordained neither priest nor friar yet!

Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis preferred to leave Assisi for some time. He went upriver along the Chiascio and set out for the benedictine monastery of Saint Verecondo, at Vallingegno, then he went to Gubbio.

At the time Gubbio was tormented by a fierce wolf that stroke terror and often killed the Eugubini (the inhabitants of Gubbio).

St. Francis met the wolf just outside the walls of Gubbio, near the Church of Vittorina.

St. Francis tamed the wolf and made it docile and domestic.

This is considered St. Francis' first miracle.

During 1207 - once he had returned at Assisi at the end of the previous year - St. Francis devoted himself to repair San Damiano's, San Pietro alla Spina's and the Porziuncola of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

This is also the period in which Saint Francis outlined the first characteristics of the Franciscan Rule, taking inspiration from the "Missal" and the "Gospel".

In that period Saint Francis lived in the little Porziuncola chapel, where sometimes a benedictine monk of the Abbey of Mount Subasio said Mass.

It was February 24th, 1209.

While the benedictine monk was reading aloud the X chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, St. Francis suddenly understood what he had to do and a new world opened to him:

"Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts;

10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff"

(Matthew 10:10)

Da Vita di San Francesco di Assisi - Lo Sposo di Madonna Povertà pag.44.

This was what the Gospel said and Francis took it literally

The deeds of St. Francis - also as a poet - didn't go unnoticed and the people of Assisi started to change their minds about such an odd boy.

So, some time later, the first disciples started to join him.

We don't know the name of the first disciple nor his death, but the History points to Bernardo da Quintavalle (a jurist), followed by Pietro Cattani - a canonist at San Nicol˛'s and a law graduate - who died on March 10th, 1221

Saint Francis had some disciples, but he had no idea of what he had to do.

So, placing his trust in God, he consulted the Missal three times and had the following answers:

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

(Matthew's Gospel 19:21)

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

(Matthew's Gospel 16:24)

"Do not take anything through the way"

These are the guidelines that those who want to follow him must accept.

A short time later others disciples joined up with them: Egidio (a farmer), Sabatino, Morico, Philip, Longo and Priest Silvestro.

Then Giovanni della Cappella, Barbaro and Bernardo Vigilante followed and at last Angelo Tancredi.

There were twelve of them and they all wore as Francis: a rough habit tied with a rope .

St. Francis got his first monastic experience in the Porziuncola and then in the Tugurio at Rivotorto, where he was with some of his companions and from where his merry party and he left to Rome during Summer 1210.

The Franciscan Order

The official date of the foundation of the Order of Minor Frairs is July 1210, when Francis and his companions were received by Pope Innocent III, who orally approved the Order.

Once again, history and legend meet.

At first, Innocent III confused St. Francis and his eleven companions with one of the several heretic companies of that time, so he sent them away.

But that night the Pope dreamed the Lateran Basilica in danger of collapsing and a man holding it up.

That man was Saint Francis.

Pope Innocent III didn't approve officially the Franciscan Rule (which we can say it was nothing but a pure summary of the Gospel): in fact, Innocent III decided to put it to the test.

But Innocent III did a very important thing: he appointed St. Francis and his companions cleric (afterwards, St. Francis will become a deacon).

The one who approved it was Pope Onorio III in his bull "Solet annuere", on November 29th, 1223.

Once come back to Assisi, Francis had to solve two earthly problems: the fact that the number of his disciples was increasing and the consequent necessity to leave the Tugurio of Rivotorto (this was really a vicious circle!)

In this period other friars joined him: Friar Masseo of Merignano, Friar Leo, Friar Elia Coppi, Friar Ginepro, Friar Tommaso of Celano (his first important biographer) and Friar Pacifico (Guglielmo Divini).

Note of the author:

Still today, in the cript of the Lower Basilica of Assisi, there are the tombs of St. Francis and the Blessed Friars:

Friar Angel (+1258)

Friar Leo (+1271) - who was St. Francis' confessor

Friar Masseo of Merignano (+1280)

Friar Rufino (+1249) -St. Agnes and St. Clare's cousin

Friar William of England

and, along the stair that from the Basilica leads to the crypt, there is also the body of another friar and of Blessed Jacopa dei Settesoli, a Roman noblewoman, wife of Graziano Frangipani.

On the contrary, the tomb of Friar Elia Coppi is in the church of Saint Francis in Cortona

In any case, even if the first of these problems made Francis happy, the second one caused him some troubles because he had to find a new "shelter" for his Brothers, but the Rule said the Frairs could possess nothing, so the "shelter" had to be given.

And so it was.

The Benedictine Monks of the Badia of Mount Subasio rented out the Porziuncola of the church of Santa Maria degli Angelito the Franciscan Friars for a small basket of fish a year.

The Order had a guide, a Rule and now also the first Mother House.

During the Spring of 1213 Francis receives Mount Verna from Count Orlando of Chiusi.

Soon St. Francis started feeling shackled in Italy, his chivalric spirit would led him in Palestine to take part in the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre and then in Morocco, but he manages to get only to the Sanctuary of St. James of Compostela where, for a disease, he was forced to face round.

Note of the author

Twice a year, during the Pentecost and in the day of St Michael Archangel, the Franciscan monks used to meet in the Porziuncola to talk about their Order. Such meetings were called "Chapters".

The Chapter of 1219 hosted St. Domenicus and that of 1221 hosted a young Spanish boy who will be later known as St. Anthony from Padua.

On August 2nd, 1216, St Francis got the Indulgence of the Porziuncola from Pope Onorio III: the so-called Forgiveness of Assisi. In this way Assisi become the most important holy city after that of the Holy Land.

In 1217 the Order tried to spread in the world:

- Friar Elia Coppi was sent to the Holy Land

- Friar Giovanni da Penne went to Germany

- Friar Pacifico went to France (in place of St. Francis)

Other friars went to Spain and Hungary.

Apart from the expedition to the Holy Land, the others were a failure: the friars were took for, and treated as, heretics. Fortunately nobody died.

Note of the author

Still today all the holy places of the Holy Land are managed by a Franciscan friar.

In 1217 St. Francis' life crossed that of Cardinal Ugolino, one of the counts of Segni and the future Pope Gregory IX.

Cardinal Ugolino became the great protector of Saint Francis and the of whole Franciscan Order.

What is more, he was the one who - in the name of the Holy Church - will took possession of all the monasteries of the friars, on August 27th, 1218.

In July 1219, St. Francis finally managed to leave for the Holy Land.

He arrives at Acri and Damietta (or Damiata) following a crusade, then in Egipt, at the court of the sultan Melek el-Kamel, and at the end in Palestine.

In Morocco, on January 16th,1220, the order had its first five martyrs: Berardo, Peter, Accursio, Adiuto and Ottone.

During the first days of August 1220, St. Francis came back in Italy and landed in Venice toghether with the friars Elia, Pietro Cattani and Cesario da Spira.

At Assisi, things were going wrong. During St. Francis'absence, new problems and riots were raised: conflicts over the fast; political interferences in the organization of the Poor Clares; a "schism" in the Order (by Giovanni della Cappella, one of the first twelve disciples) and the sporadic desertion of the rule of absolute poverty. Such problems convinced Francis to rush back to his Brothers.

St. Francis coming back in Italy and the supervision of Cardinal Ugolino, put everything back in order...in the Order.

It's the Summer of 1223.

St. Francis, Friar Leone and Friar Bonizio da Bologna were in the remote hermitage of Fonte Colombo, near Rieti.

St. Francis was there to draw up a new Rule, or better to re-write the Rule that Innocent III had accepted but hadn't approved and to correct the Rule that had been approved in the Chapter of 1221 but had never been ratified by the Church of Rome.

The writing process took him all the Autumn; it is told that when the Rule was completed Friar Leone or Friar Bonizio lost it!

In a period where photocopies didn't exist, the only solution was to write it again - and it is told that Francis did write it without getting angry (he is a saint, after all!).

The new Rule was then approved in November 29th, 1223, by the Bull "Solet annuere" of Pope Onorio III and it became a Law for the Holy Church.

Coming back from Fonte Colombo, St. Francis stopped at Greccio.

Greccio is a hermitage between Rieti and Terni, given to the Franciscan by Count Giovanni Velita.

It wa December 10th, 1223, when St. Francis had the idea of representing the Nativity in a cave. In this way he realized the first crib of the history.

During the Summer of 1224, on Mount Verna, he worked the miracle of water from the rock.

During this last ascent of Mount Verna, he receives the stigmata, a miracle which had happened before to nobody but the Son of God.

When Saint Francis got tired and ill.

He was "stopped" by the General Vicar Friar Elia Coppi, helped by the Bishop of Assisi, Guido, and he was cured for some time in the Curia of Assisi and then in San Damiano's, where he was hosted by Clare and her Poor Clares.

In this period he wrote the Canticle of the Creatures, the most famous work of this saint.

The last two years were a real calvary: so many travels, fasts and his eye disease had undermined his body.

So St. Francis decided to come back to his Mother House...the small church of the Porziuncola in Santa Maria degli Angeli, where he died in the dusk of October 3rd, 1226.

Two years later, on July 16th, Pope Gregory IX declared him Saint.

Saint Francis at Chiusi della Verna

Saint Francis con Frair Leone

Saint Francis and Frair Wolf

Saint Francis in Egypt

Saint Francis speak to the birds

Photo made at
Chiusi della Verna

Saint Francis

Saint Francis go to Holy Land

Saint Francis received at Chiusi della Verna le Stimmate

Photo made at

Saint Francis

Saint Francis

Saint Francis and the wolf of Gubbio

Saint Francis

Saint Francis go to Holy Land

Saint Francis

Saint Francis

Photo made at

Cantico delle Creature

Saint Francis

Saint Francis

Photo made at
Assisi Santo Stefano

Also read the bibliography of Saint Clare and Saint Rufin

Life of Saint Clare of Assisi

Life of Saint Rufin of Assisi

A little and really cheap bibliography:

Anacleto Iacovelli
Vita di San Francesco di Assisi - Lo Sposo di Madonna Povertà

Samuele Duranti
Nacque al mondo un sole

Hermann Hesse
Francesco di Assisi

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