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Saint Francis of Assisi
Painting by Jusepe de Ribera
Born 1181/1182, Italy
Died October 4, 1226, Assisi, Italy
Venerated in Catholic Church, Anglican Church
Canonized July 16, 1228, Assisi by Pope Gregory IX
Major shrine Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi
Feast October 4
Attributes Cross, Dove, Pax et Bonum, Poor Franciscan habit, Stigmata
Patronage animals, Catholic Action, environment, merchants, Meycauayan, Italy, Brgy. San Francisco, San Pablo City, Philippines, stowaways[1]

Saint Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone; 1181/1182 – October 3, 1226)[2] was a Catholic deacon and the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans.

He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment and one of the two patrons of Italy (with Catherine of Siena), and it is customary for Catholic churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day of 4 October.[3]


Childhood and early adulthood

Francis was one of seven children born to Pietro di Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant, and his wife Pica, about whom little is known except that she was originally from France[4]. Pietro was in France on business when Francis was born, and Pica had him baptised as Giovanni di Bernardone[3] in honor of Saint John the Baptist, in the hope he would grow to be a great religious leader. When his father returned to Assisi, he took to calling him Francesco, possibly in honor of his commercial success and enthusiasm for all things French.[5]

As a youth, Francesco—or Francis in English—became a devotee of troubadours and was fascinated with all things French.[2][5] Although many hagiographers remark about his bright clothing, rich friends, street brawls, and love of pleasure,[4] his displays of disillusionment toward the world that surrounded him came fairly early in his life, as is shown in the "story of the beggar." In this account, he was selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace on behalf of his father when a beggar came to him and asked for alms. At the conclusion of his business deal, Francis abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage.[6]

In 1201, he joined a military expedition against Perugia and was taken as a prisoner at Collestrada, spending a year as a captive.[7] It is possible that his spiritual conversion was a gradual process rooted in this experience. Upon his return to Assisi in 1203, Francis returned to his carefree life and in 1204, a serious illness led to a spiritual crisis. In 1205 Francis left for Puglia to enlist in the army of the Count of Brienne. A strange vision made him return to Assisi, deepening his ecclesiastical awakening [2].

Francis of Assisi by Francisco de Zurbarán

According to the hagiographic legend, thereafter he began to avoid the sports and the feasts of his former companions; in response, they asked him laughingly whether he was thinking of marrying, to which he answered "yes, a fairer bride than any of you have ever seen", meaning his "lady poverty". He spent much time in lonely places, asking God for enlightenment. By degrees he took to nursing lepers, the most repulsive victims in the lazar houses near Assisi. After a pilgrimage to Rome, where he begged at the church doors for the poor, he said he had had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ in the Church of San Damiano just outside of Assisi, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified said to him, "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins". He thought this to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying, and so sold some cloth from his father's store to assist the priest there for this purpose.[2][8]

His father Pietro, highly indignant, attempted to change his mind, first with threats and then with beatings. After legal proceedings before the bishop, Francis renounced his father and his patrimony, laying aside even the garments he had received from him. For the next couple of months he lived as a beggar in the region of Assisi. Returning to the countryside around the town for two years this time, he restored several ruined churches, among them the Porziuncola--little chapel of St Mary of the Angels--just outside the town, which later became his favorite abode.[8]

Founding of the Order of Friars Minor

At the end of this period (on February 24, 1209, according to Jordan of Giano), Francis heard a sermon that changed his life. The sermon was about Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road.[2] Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty.[2]

Clad in a rough garment, barefoot, and, after the Evangelical precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance.[2] He was soon joined by his first follower, a prominent fellow townsman, the jurist Bernardo di Quintavalle, who contributed all that he had to the work. Within a year Francis had eleven followers. Francis chose never to be ordained a priest and the community lived as "lesser brothers," fratres minores in Latin.[2]

The brothers lived a simple life in the deserted lazar house of Rivo Torto near Assisi; but they spent much of their time wandering through the mountainous districts of Umbria, always cheerful and full of songs, yet making a deep impression upon their hearers by their earnest exhortations.[2]

In 1209, Francis led his first eleven followers to Rome to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious order.[9] Upon entry to Rome, the brothers encountered Bishop Guido of Assisi, who had in his company Giovanni di San Paolo, the Cardinal Bishop of Sabina. The Cardinal, who was the confessor of Pope Innocent III, was immediately sympathetic to Francis and agreed to represent Francis to the pope. Reluctantly, Pope Innocent agreed to meet with Francis and the brothers the next day. After several days, the pope agreed to admit the group informally, adding that when God increased the group in grace and number, they could return for an official admittance. The group was tonsured.[10]

Later life

Pope Innocent III has a dream of St. Francis of Assisi supporting the tilting church (attributed to Giotto)

From then on, his new order grew quickly with new vocations.[11] When hearing Francis preaching in the church of San Rufino in Assisi in 1209, Clare of Assisi became deeply touched by his message and she realized her calling.[11] Her brother Rufino also joined the new order.

On Palm Sunday, March 28, 1211 Francis received Clare at the Porziuncola and hereby established the Order of Poor Ladies, later called Poor Clares.[11] In the same year, Francis left for Jerusalem, but he was shipwrecked by a storm on the Dalmatian coast, forcing him to return to Italy.

On May 8, 1213 he was given the use of the mountain of La Verna (Alverna) as a gift from the count Orlando di Chiusi who described it as “eminently suitable for whoever wishes to do penance in a place remote from mankind.”[12][13] The mountain would become one of his favorite retreats for prayer.[13] In the same year, Francis sailed for Morocco, but this time an illness forced him to break off his journey in Spain. Back in Assisi, several noblemen (among them Tommaso da Celano, who would later write the biography of St. Francis) and some well-educated men joined his order.

In 1215 Francis went again to Rome for the Fourth Lateran Council. During this time, he probably met Dominic de Guzman[1] (later to be Saint Dominic, the founder of the Friars Preachers, another Catholic religious order).

In 1217 the growing congregation of friars was divided into provinces and groups were sent to France, Germany, Hungary, Spain and to the East.

St. Francis before the Sultan — the trial by fire (fresco attributed to Giotto)

In 1219 Francis left, together with a few companions, on a pilgrimage to Egypt. Crossing the lines between the sultan and the Crusaders in Damietta, he was received by the sultan Melek-el-Kamel.[1][14] Francis challenged the Muslim scholars to a test of true religion by fire; but they retreated.[1] When Francis proposed to enter the fire first, under the condition that if he left the fire unharmed, the sultan would have to recognize Christ as the true God, the sultan was so impressed that he allowed Francis to preach to his subjects.[1][15] Though Francis did not succeed in converting the sultan, the last words of the sultan to Francis of Assisi were, according to Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre, in his book "Historia occidentalis, De Ordine et praedicatione Fratrum Minorum (1221)" : “Pray for me that God may deign to reveal to me that law and faith which is most pleasing to him.”.[16]

Francis's visit to Egypt and attempted rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognised as "Custodians of the Holy Land" on behalf of Christianity.

Saint Francis of Assisi with the Sultan al-Kamil (15th century)

At Acre, the capital of what remained of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Francis rejoined the Order's brothers Elia and Pietro Cattini, and then most probably visited the holy places in Palestine in 1220.

Although nativity drawings and paintings existed earlier, St Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas by setting up the first known three-dimensional presepio or crèche (Nativity scene) in the town of Greccio near Assisi, around 1220.[17] He used real animals to create a living scene so that the worshipers could contemplate the birth of the child Jesus in a direct way, making use of the senses, especially sight.[17] Thomas of Celano, a biographer of Francis and Saint Bonaventure both, tell how he only used a straw-filled manger (feeding trough) set between a real ox and donkey.[17] According to Thomas, it was beautiful in its simplicity with the manger acting as the altar for the Christmas Mass.

When receiving a report of the martyrdom of five brothers in Morocco, Francis returned to Italy via Venice.[18] Cardinal Ugolino di Conti was then nominated by the Pope as the protector of the Order. On September 29, 1220, Francis handed over the governance of the Order to brother Pietro Catani at the Porziuncola. However, Brother Pietro died only five months later, on March 10, 1221, and was buried in the Porziuncola. When numerous miracles were attributed to the late Pietro Catani, people started to flock to the Porziuncola, disturbing the daily life of the Franciscans. Francis then prayed, asking Pietro to stop the miracles and obey in death as he had obeyed during his life. The report of miracles ceased. Brother Pietro was succeeded by Brother Elias as Vicar of Francis.

During 1221 and 1222 Francis crossed Italy, first as far south as Catania in Sicily and afterwards as far north as Bologna.

On November 29, 1223 the final Rule of the Order (in twelve chapters) was approved by Pope Honorius III.

St. Francis receives the Stigmata (fresco attributed to Giotto)

While he was praying on the mountain of Verna, during a forty-day fast in preparation for Michaelmas (September 29), Francis is said to have had a vision on or about September 14, 1224, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, as a result of which he received the stigmata.[19] Brother Leo, who had been with Francis at the time, left a clear and simple account of the event, the first definite account of the phenomenon of stigmata.[2][19] "Suddenly he saw a vision of a seraph, a six-winged angel on a cross. This angel gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ."[19]

Suffering from these stigmata and from an eye disease, Francis received care in several cities (Siena, Cortona, Nocera) to no avail. In the end, he was brought back to a hut next to the Porziuncola. Here, in the place where it all began, feeling the end approaching, he spent the last days of his life dictating his spiritual testament. He died on the evening of October 3, 1226, singing Psalm 141.

On July 16, 1228, he was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX (the former cardinal Ugolino di Conti, friend of St Francis and Cardinal Protector of the Order). The next day, the Pope laid the foundation stone for the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.

He was buried on May 25, 1230, under the Lower Basilica. His burial place remained inaccessible until it was reopened in 1818. Pasquale Belli then constructed for his remains a crypt in neo-classical style in the Lower Basilica. It was refashioned between 1927 and 1930 into its present form by Ugo Tarchi, stripping the wall of its marble decorations. In 1978 the remains of St. Francis were identified by a commission of scholars appointed by Pope Paul VI, and put in a glass urn in the ancient stone tomb.

Saint Francis is considered the first Italian poet by literary critics. He believed commoners should be able to pray to God in their own language, and he wrote often in the dialect of Umbria instead of Latin. His writings are considered to have great literary value, as well as religious.[20]

Feast day

Saint Francis's feast day is observed on October 4. In addition to this feast, a secondary feast is still observed amongst Traditional Roman Catholics and Franciscans worldwide in honor of the stigmata received by St Francis celebrated on September 17 called "The Impression of the Stigmata of St Francis, Confessor" (see the General Roman Calendar as in 1954, the General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII, and the General Roman Calendar of 1962). On June 18, 1939, Pope Pius XII named him a joint Patron Saint of Italy along with Saint Catherine of Siena with the apostolic letter "Licet Commissa", AAS XXXI (1939), 256-257. Pius XII also remembered the two saints in the laudative discourse he pronounced on May 5, 1949 in the Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church.

Nature and the environment

A garden statue of Francis of Assisi with birds

Many of the stories that surround the life of St. Francis deal with his love for animals.[21] Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint's humility towards nature is recounted in the "Fioretti" ("Little Flowers"), a collection of legends and folklore that sprang up after the Saint's death. It is said that, one day, while Francis was traveling with some companions, they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to "wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds".[21] The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you... you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore... always seek to praise God.

Another legend from the Fioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf "terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals". Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. "Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil...", said Francis. "All these people accuse you and curse you... But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people". Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger”, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. In this manner Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again. It is also said that Francis, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, blessed the wolf.

These legends exemplify the Franciscan mode of charity and poverty as well as the saint's love of the natural world.[22] Part of his appreciation of the environment is expressed in his Canticle of the Sun, a poem written in Umbrian Italian in perhaps 1224 which expresses a love and appreciation of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Brother Fire, etc. and all of God's creations personified in their fundamental forms. In "Canticle of the Creatures," he wrote: "All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures."[3]

Francis's attitude towards the natural world, while poetically expressed, was conventionally Christian.[4] He believed that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the primordial sin of man. He preached to man and beast the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God (a common theme in the Psalms) and the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God's creation and as creatures ourselves.[21]

Legend has it that St. Francis on his deathbed thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept.


St. Francis by Johann Baptist Moroder-Lusenberg


Classical music

  • Franz Liszt:
    • Cantico del sol di Francesco d'Assisi, S.4 (sacred choral work, 1862, 1880–81; versions of the Prelude for piano, S. 498c, 499, 499a; version of the Prelude for organ, S. 665, 760; version of the Hosannah for organ and bass trombone, S.677)
    • St. François d'Assise: La Prédication aux oiseaux, No. 1 of Deux Légendes, S.175 (piano, 1862–63)
  • Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco:
    • Fioretti (voice and orchestra, 1920)
  • Gian Francesco Malipiero:
    • San Francesco d'Assisi (soloists, chorus and orchestra, 1920–1921)
  • Amy Beach:
    • Canticle of the Sun (soloists, chorus and orchestra, 1928)
  • Leo Sowerby:
    • Canticle of the Sun (cantata for mixed voices with accompaniment for piano or orchestra, 1944)
  • Seth Bingham
    • The Canticle of the Sun (cantata for chorus of mixed voices with soli ad lib. and accompaniment for organ or orchestra, 1949)
  • Olivier Messiaen:
  • William Walton:
    • Cantico del sol (chorus, 1973–74)


  • Sant Francesc (Saint Francis, 1895), a book of forty-three Saint Francis poems by Catalan poet-priest Jacint Verdaguer, three of which are included in English translation in Selected Poems of Jacint Verdaguer: A Bilingual Edition, edited and translated by Ronald Puppo, with an introduction by Ramon Pinyol i Torrents (University of Chicago, 2007). The three poems are "The Turtledoves", "Preaching to Birds" and "The Pilgrim".
  • Saint Francis of Assisi (1923), a book by G. K. Chesterton
  • "Blessed Are The Meek(1944 ). a book by [Zofia Kossak]
  • Saint Francis (1962), a book by Nikos Kazantzakis
  • Scripta Leonis, Rufini Et Angeli Sociorum S. Francisci: The Writings of Leo, Rufino and Angelo Companions of St. Francis (1970), edited by Rosalind B. Brooke, in Latin and English, containing testimony recorded by intimate, long-time companions of St. Francis
  • Saint Francis and His Four Ladies (1970), a book by Joan Mowat Erikson
  • The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi (1996), a book by Patricia Stewart
  • Reluctant Saint: The Life of Francis of Assisi (2002), a book by Donald Spoto
  • Flowers for St Francis (2005), a book by Raj Arumugam
  • Chasing Francis, 2006, a book by Ian Cron


  • In Rubén Darío's poetry "Los Motivos Del Lobo" (The Reasons Of The Wolf) St. Francis tames a terrible wolf only to discover that the human heart harbors darker desires than those of the beast.
  • In Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan Karamazov invokes the name of 'Pater Seraphicus,' an epithet applied to St. Francis, to describe Alyshosha's spiritual guide Zosima. The reference is also found in Goethe's "Faust," Part 2, Act 5, lines 11918–25.
  • Frank McCourt's autobiography Angela’s Ashes contains some references to St. Francis.
  • St. Francis preaches to the birds (2005), chamber concerto for violin by composer Lewis Nielson
  • Brother, Sister (2006), third full-length album by indie rock band MewithoutYou, featuring the song "The Sun and Moon"
  • The song "Fifty Gallon Drum" from the album Talkin Honky Blues by Buck 65 contains the lyric "I've got a Francis of Assisi keychain, and a wallet made of Corinthian leather."
  • St. Francis' Folly is a fictional building in both the original Tomb Raider video game, and the remake, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which somewhat resembles the Pantheon, Rome. Although St. Francis is an Italian saint, the fictional folly in the video game honors Greek gods, and consists of a mixture of ancient Greek and Roman architecture.
  • The song "Boy From the Country", album "Geronimo's Cadillac", artist Micheal Murphey.
  • Sarah Slean's 2002 album, Night Bugs, contains a song entitled St. Francis.
  • David Mazzucchelli's graphic novel "Asterios Polyp" makes several references to Francis of Assisi, including the ironic question "Would St. Francis swat a mosquito?"
  • In The Simpsons episode, Sweet and Sour Marge, He was referred to as "The World's Most Overrated Saint".

Main writings

  • Canticum Fratris Solis or Laudes Creaturarum, Canticle of the Sun.
  • Prayer before the Crucifix, 1205 (extant in the original Umbrian dialect as well as in a contemporary Latin translation).
  • Regula non bullata, the Earlier Rule, 1221.
  • Regula bullata, the Later Rule, 1223.
  • Testament, 1226.
  • Admonitions.

For a complete list, see [1].

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Chesterton(1924), p.126
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j  Paschal Robinson (1913). "St. Francis of Assisi". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  3. ^ a b c "Blessing All Creatures, Great and Small". Duke Magazine. 2006-11. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  4. ^ a b c Englebert, Omer (1951). The Lives of the Saints. New York: Barnes & Noble. pp. 529. ISBN 978-1566195164. 
  5. ^ a b Chesterton, Gilbert Keith (1924), St. Francis of Assisi (14 ed.), Garden City, New York: Image Books, pp. 158 
  6. ^ Chesterton (1924), pp. 40–41
  7. ^ Bonaventure; Cardinal Manning (1867), The Life of St. Francis of Assisi (from the Legenda Sancti Francisci) (1988 ed.), Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books & Publishers, pp. 190, ISBN 978-0895553430 
  8. ^ a b Chesterton(1924), pp. 54–56
  9. ^ Chesterton(1924), pp. 107–108
  10. ^ Galli(2002), pp. 74–80
  11. ^ a b c Chesterton(1924), pp. 110–111
  12. ^ Fioretti quoted in: St. Francis, The Little Flowers, Legends, and Lauds, trans. N. Wydenbruck, ed. Otto Karrer (London: Sheed and Ward, 1979) 244.
  13. ^ a b Chesterton(1924), p.130
  14. ^ "Francis of Assisi in the Holy land". 
  15. ^ "Life of St. Francis of Assisi by Paul Sabatier". 
  16. ^ "St. Francis lecture". 
  17. ^ a b c Bonaventure (1867), p. 178
  18. ^ Bonaventure (1867), p. 162
  19. ^ a b c Chesterton(1924), p.131
  20. ^ Chesterton, G.K. (1987). St. Francis. Image. pp. 160 p.. ISBN 0385029004. 
  21. ^ a b c Bonaventure (1867), pp. 78–85
  22. ^ Bonaventure (1867), pp. 67–68

Further reading

Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi
  • Friar Elias, Epistola Encyclica de Transitu Sancti Francisci, 1226.
  • Pope Gregory IX, Bulla "Mira circa nos" for the canonization of St. Francis, 19 July 1228.
  • Friar Tommaso da Celano: Vita Prima Sancti Francisci, 1228; Vita Secunda Sancti Francisci, 1246–1247; Tractatus de Miraculis Sancti Francisci, 1252–1253.
  • Friar Julian of Speyer, Vita Sancti Francisci, 1232–1239.
  • St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, Legenda Maior Sancti Francisci, 1260–1263.
  • Ugolino da Montegiorgio, Actus Beati Francisci et sociorum eius, 1327–1342.
  • Fioretti di San Francesco, the "Little Flowers of St. Francis", end of the 14th century: an anonymous Italian version of the Actus; the most popular of the sources, but very late and therefore not the best authority by any means.
  • The Little Flowers of Saint Francis (Translated by Raphael Brown), Doubleday, 1998. ISBN 978-0-385-07544-2

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From Wikiquote

Francis of Assisi by José de Ribera

Saint Francis of Assisi (c. 11821226-10-03) was an Italian religious leader who founded the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. He is known as the patron saint of animals, birds, and the environment. Though baptized as Giovanni Bernardone he was commonly known as Francesco.



A garden statue of Francis of Assisi with birds
St. Francis before the Sultan - the trial by fire (fresco attributed to Giotto)
  • Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.
    • The Counsels of the Holy Father St. Francis, Admonition 27

Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility. Amen.


  • He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.
  • Lord, grant me the strength to change the things I can;
    the serenity to deal with the things I cannot change;
    and the wisdom to know the difference.
    • Widely known as The Serenity Prayer this has often been attributed to St. Francis, but earliest known forms of it appeared in the early 20th century, and it is generally credited to Reinhold Niebuhr.

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

St. Francis of Assisi
by Mandell Creighton in the year 1892
The second of a course of lectures given in St. Paul's Cathedral in November, 1892.

[ 98 ] In my last lecture I pointed out to you that the work which Dominic achieved and the Order which he founded was a work of organisation, and that it owed much of its pre-eminence to the fact that it was inspired by the spirit not of Dominic, but of Francis. The two Orders springing up at the same time reacted upon one another, so much so indeed that it may be said that the Franciscan movement, if it had been left to itself, would probably have disappeared altogether before it had finished its work, while the Dominican if left to itself, could never have moved men as it did.

Francis, or as his real name was, Giovanni, was the son of Pietro Bemardini, a merchant of Assisi, and was born in 1181. His mother, Madonna Pica, came apparently from the south of France, and perhaps the name of "Francis" was substituted for that of "Giovanni" because her son was at one time known as "the Frenchman". We certainly know that in his youth it was his custom to sing Provençal songs to his companions, and there was much of the light-heartedness and geniality of the men of Southern France in his character. He was first brought up with the usual [ 99 ] education of a boy in his days till he was old enough to enter his father's business. He was a mischievous boy, very prodigal of his money, and given to peccadillos, on one occasion robbing his father's till that he might have money for his pleasures. He had a serious illness when a young man which sobered and changed him a great deal; but his mind was filled with the desire for adventure, and in 1202, taking advantage of a war against Perugia, he became a soldier. He was made prisoner and kept in confinement for a year, and even then it was noticed that he was always patient and cheerful under his privations. On his release he returned to Assisi, and the outward marks of a change in his character were then apparent. One day a poor soldier begged of him by the wayside, and Francis having nothing else to give, took off his own fine clothes and put them on the beggar's back. In 1204 he went on another warlike expedition, and at its close on his return home he was entertained by his friends and companions at a supper. It was noticed that Francis was vacant and abstracted, and did not seem very happy. One of his friends said banteringly to him, "I know what has happened to you, you are in love". "Yes, yes," Francis made reply, "I am in love. I see it now; but I am in love with a fairer maid than ever your eyes rested upon." His friends laughed and did not catch his meaning. This is the first indication we have that Francis was growing enamoured of poverty, whom henceforth he was to regard as his heart's love.

All this was passing through his mind without his being conscious whither he was tending. But in 1205 [ 100 ] there happened the event known as his conversion, which occurred suddenly and in an almost grotesque manner. Francis was sent by his father to sell some cloth at the neighbouring town of Foligno. As he was returning from the fair with the money in his pocket, it suddenly struck him that this money was mere worthless dross. He turned his horse's head, returned to the town where he sold his father's horse, and took all the proceeds of the day's sale to the priest of a ruined church as an offering for the restoration of the building. The priest refused to take so large a sum, knowing that Francis could never have come by it in an ordinary way. Thereupon Francis in a passion flung it out of the window into the backyard, but asked that he might live with the priest. To this the priest consented, but meanwhile the father of Francis made a hue and cry in search of his son and his goods, and Francis had to lie concealed in a loft for a month, until at last, in answer to his prayers for guidance, he became conscious that it was wrong to hide. He accordingly went to his father, who at once gave him a sound beating and locked him up in his room, demanding his money. Francis answered that he had thrown it away. He was kept a prisoner till one day, in the absence of Pietro, his mother came and unlocked the door and let Francis out. On his return, Pietro was still more angry because he had seen his son wandering about the streets, laughed at and mocked at by everybody. He dragged Francis before the magistrates who, perplexed to know how to deal with such a case, remitted it to the Bishop. The Bishop ordered Francis to return the money. [ 101 ] Francis thereupon, in obedience to the Bishop, went to the place where he had flung the money away, found it and restored it to his father, with everything else he possessed, even the very clothes he was wearing, declaring, "Up to this time I called Pietro Bernardini my father, but now I am the servant of God". From that time forth Francis broke off all connexion with his family. There is no further mention made of either father or mother in his life. It would seem that by this strange proceeding, Francis felt that he had at last worked his way to freedom to follow his ideal; but he knew that freedom had to be paid for. If he desired to detach himself from the world and rise above it, he knew that he must demand nothing of the world. Poverty therefore was of the very essence of the position of Francis. It seemed impossible for him to express himself under the ordinary conditions of life; to obtain the power of self-expression he must free himself from those conditions, and he could not do that on his own terms. If he showed himself willing to give up father and mother and all family obligations, then he must be prepared also to give up everything else. Through all this Francis became conscious that he had purchased for himself spiritual freedom, that is to say, the liberty to live his own life according to the convictions of his inner soul, without interference from society or the world, even in their highest forms.

Having gone so far, Francis had to remake his life. How was he to use the freedom and detachment from the world which he had gained? He began with a series of wanderings which had not much aim in [ 102 ] them. Once he was met by a band of robbers, who asked him who he was. He replied that he was "the herald of a great King," but they stripped him, threw him into a ditch and left him lying in the snow. It is difficult to know what to make of Francis all this time. Indeed he did not know what to make of himself. He returned to Assisi, and set himself to the work of restoring churches. With his own hands he rebuilt three—St. Damiano, St. Peter and the Portiuncula. The traveller who gets out at the railway station of Assisi sees close by the magnificent Renaissance Church, which rises over the original building called the Portiuncula, at which Francis worked. The original little church itself is hardly bigger than a cottage room, but that was the church at which Francis laboured, in which he prayed, and which became the centre of his Order. It was while he was here, after he had been joined by a single companion, that he discovered what he had to do with his life. Hearing the Gospel read one day, the familiar words fell on his ears with a new meaning: "Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves. And as ye go preach, saying, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand'." "This is what I wish," he exclaimed. "This is what I am seeking for. This I desire to do with all the powers of my soul." Henceforth his object in life was to go forth as the first Apostles had done, carrying the same message, the message of repentance and of the peace of believing. Accordingly he started as a herald of peace and repentance. When he met any [ 103 ] man his greeting was, "God give you peace". If the man returned the greeting and showed a disposition to listen, Francis pressed upon him the need of repentance if that peace was to be his. So he wandered along the roads, first of all laughed and mocked at, and then gradually heeded and listened to, until at last it became clear that Francis was a power. Many men became ready to join him, and before the end of the year there were no fewer than eight who were anxious to lead the same sort of life as he was leading.

The question then arose, what were they to do? How was this life to be led? Francis was the exact opposite of Dominic who from the first had desired to found an Order, and to organise men for a particular purpose. Francis, on the other hand, was troubled when men gathered round him. He had no desire to organise a community, or to do anything whatever except live his own life in the way that he thought best. But when other men gathered round him, it was necessary that they should have some account to give of what they were doing. At first they were known as "the Brothers of Assisi". The Bishop objected to this, and then they called themselves "Men of Penitence". But they took no further steps towards organisation. The first regulations drawn up by Francis did not contemplate an Order at all. He simply settled what was to be the mode of life of the brethren, and that in the simplest form. The three principles upon which they lived were, that a man should give his goods to the poor, that he should live his life in imitation of the Apostles [ 104 ] of the Lord, and that he should live in poverty that so he might be free from society. The object was detachment from the world and entire dedication of the heart to God. So Francis and his brethren went forth as preachers, like many of the heretical teachers, but not at all on the same lines as any previous development of monasticism. As they wandered from place to place, they spoke simply their message of peace, and their sole call was a call to repentance.

It was a mere chance whether Francis would be called a heretic or not. The matter was decided by the fact that the moment he saw others gathering round him, he conceived it to be his duty to seek the opinion of the Pope; for in those days orthodoxy was mainly distinguished from heresy by its submission to authority. Accordingly in 1210, Francis and eleven companions went to Pope Innocent III. and asked for permission to preach. That permission was somewhat difficult to get, because these men were laymen, they had no claim to be educated people, there were no grounds whatever upon which they could press their request.

They had been commended by the Bishop of Assisi to a certain bishop in Rome, who first advised Francis to become a hermit. But Francis replied that to be a hermit would not fulfil his object. Accordingly he was at last taken to the Pope, and the Pope gave him a verbal permission to preach: "Go in God's name and preach repentance to all". There was no idea of founding an Order, but this step was important, because it was really the beginning from which the Order arose and spread. [ 105 ]

The important feature of the teaching of Francis was that he preached not the doctrine of Christ, but the Person of Christ. He held up before men righteousness, not as the secret of future happiness, but of present happiness, of peace beginning in this world, here and now. He preached not the law of God, but the love of Christ. He opposed nobody, he rebuked nobody, he was in no sense antagonistic to anything. He did not denounce sin, he spoke only of joy and righteousness. The teaching of Francis was in every way absolutely positive, the embodiment in his words and actions of the joy and peace of the believing soul that is at one with God. On that ground only did his appeal come home to the hearts of men. He soon kindled their imaginations. A man of the people, speaking their own tongue by the wayside and wherever he found them, he appealed to the popular fancy as a representation of the life of Christ. That is the secret of the myths and legends that have gathered round Francis.

Francis lived for a short time in a hut outside Assisi, but subsequently he withdrew to a cell which he had made for himself near the Church of the Portiuncula, and this henceforth was his home. Inside the modern church, the cell in which Francis died still remains, beside the little church which his own hands had built. Francis impressed upon the minds of his brethren that, having withdrawn themselves from the world and being poor, their first duty was to work. They were not yet an Order, still less had Francis any idea of founding a mendicant Order. He and his followers might beg sometimes, but it was only for [ 106 ] their own spiritual good; their object was to win souls by preaching, and the mode in which they were to do it was by imitating the Apostles. So it was that they took to themselves the names of Fratres Minores, because they were subject to all in loving service. The first friars did not live entirely in cities or in any fixed place; they were in constant movement, remaining only a short time in one place lest they should gain possessions. Their life varied between going forth at times to preach, and, at other times, living in retirement in cells and caves.

But as their numbers increased, it became impossible for them to remain unorganised. The growing numbers by degrees altered the nature of the community and widened its scope, and it became clear that some steps must be taken towards organisation. In 1212 Francis projected a mission to unbelievers, intending first to go to Morocco, but this was put off. In 1219, he planned a mission to all Italy, Spain, France and Hungary. In this way the body of brethren unconsciously became a body of mission preachers, and there came in consequence a greater need of recognition by the Pope. If they were to go forth and preach throughout Christendom, it was necessary that they should have some kind of introduction. Accordingly a bull was published in 1219 which commended them to all Christendom as "Catholic-minded and faithful men," and the Pope bade the French clergy receive them as good Catholics, who had laid aside the pleasures of the world to sow the Word of God.

Early in 1220 Francis had an opportunity of [ 107 ] realising his dream of going to the East. A crusade was setting out, and he went with it as far as Damietta, where he remained for the space of a year, but what he did there is not really known, though a number of legends are told about it. In his absence great disorders broke out amongst the body of the brethren, and various changes were made which were utterly contrary to his wishes, and threatened to merge his society in ordinary asceticism. It became clear that more organisation was needed, and for that purpose a definite body must be formed with a head and a declaration of its objects. The result was the founding of the first Rule. Francis did the best he could under the circumstances, but he viewed the step with regret, and withdrew more and more from the affairs of the society which no longer needed a man of simple, open mind at its head, but rather an organiser such as was found in Brother Elias. That the Order should be organised was inevitable, but none the less disastrous, and Francis recognised it as a disaster that an ideal conception should have to be expressed in a concrete form. Moreover, the Order must have some ostensible means of support, and when it was written down in black and white that it was to be maintained by the alms of the faithful, it was thereby converted into a mendicant Order. Originally simply an ideal of life, and then going on to find practical occupation in mission preaching, it now became a definite organisation on the basis of mendicity. In truth the necessity for this development had existed from the beginning. But Francis was inevitably disappointed. The ideal which he had followed seemed to be lost, [ 108 ] and with it his sense of freedom. He withdrew more and more from men, to seek God only. Hitherto he had divided his life between prayer and preaching, now he gave himself almost wholly to prayer. He was, of course, still influential in the Order, but he was no longer its mainspring.

The next change that came over the Order was that, instead of consisting of wandering missions, it began to make settlements in cities. Originally, Francis had preached to his followers a life of activity and retirement combined, but those who loved activity tended to gravitate to the towns, and those who loved retirement to live the life of hermits. The consequence was a beginning of separation in the Order. The men of marked abilities went to the towns, while the men of no particular account lived in obscure comers in the country. The result was a decay of the first enthusiasm, and a greater conformity to the world.

All these things, it would seem, Francis was conscious of. He lived more and more in retirement, passing from place to place and being increasingly regarded as an object of reverence by all who saw him, suffering greatly in health, chiefly from an affection of the eyes. Never was there a man more absolutely simple, never was there a man who thought less of self, never was there a man who more carried the overwhelming power of love into everything which he did. Not only did he love all men whom he came across, but he loved all things. The conception of the love of animals was exceedingly remote from the temper of the Middle Ages. Animals were simply regarded as dependent on men, to be used for their [ 109 ] benefit. But Francis showed an exceptional love for all created things. The accounts of his life are full of stories of his relations with animals, some grotesque, some exceedingly pathetic and all within the bounds of possibility. The most incredible would probably seem the account of Francis's preaching to the birds. Once, when he was preaching in the open, a number of sparrows made so much noise with their twittering that he turned to them and said: "My brother sparrows and my sister sparrows, please be still for a while that I may preach the Word of God". No sooner had he spoken than the birds were silent; they sat upon the trees and held their peace till Francis had finished. He then turned to them and said: "Now brothers and sisters you may resume your song". Thereupon they began to sing. Again, one day in his wanderings, Francis saw a field entirely covered with birds. "It seems to me," he said, "that our brothers and sisters, the birds, want to listen to me;" and he accordingly went and stood in the midst of them and preached to them about God's care for them, and the sin of ingratitude. The story tells us that while Francis was speaking, the birds bowed their heads before him and were silent. Doubtless these stories are partly parables, but there is no doubt that Francis spoke the words, whatever may have been the behaviour of the birds. There are people who have a special attraction for birds, and Francis seems to have been one of these; and he had this special attraction not for birds only but for animals of all sorts. The stories of his love for animals are innumerable, and show the way in which he [ 110 ] sympathised with all things, and also show the power of parabolic teaching which that sympathy gave him. As he walked about and observed everything, he gathered materials for preaching sermons of infinite pathos, and in that way he carried his message home to men's hearts. He died, quite worn out, on 4th October, 1236, long before his time, and, as he died, he sang a song in which he again repeated his sympathy with all created things.

     Praised be the Lord by our brother Death of the body,
     Whom no living man can escape.
     Woe to them who die in mortal sin,
     Blessed are they whose wills are at one with Thine
     For the second death can work them no ill.

If we are to estimate Francis aright, we must think of him as a poet, whose life was his poem. He was a man full of sentiment and emotion, but his life was absolutely consistent. Full of deep poetic feeling, but never sinking below the ideal which he pursued, he saw Christ everywhere, in everything upon earth, in flower and in beast. His belief was to him absolute joy. He may have been exaggerated, but he was certainly sincere. His one idea was love, absorbing love. His morality was not according to rule and regulation. He sometimes caused dismay amongst his followers by his actions, as when, for instance, he gave a poor woman his book of hours, with the remark, "Greater is love even than prayer". He broke the fasts of the Church, and encouraged others to do likewise when he thought it was necessary. He was lively, humorous, enthusiastic in prayer, loving to pray most often in lonely churches or woods. It was said [ 111 ] that when he prayed, his whole self seemed to be an incarnate prayer. He was not as one absorbed in prayer, but his whole self was a prayer. Men thought that his prayers were specially heard, and from that belief they assigned to him many miracles. Yes, he was a worker of wonders, because he had the magic of the poet—of the poet who carries men outside and beyond themselves. Many men before Francis had boasted that they got outside the world by retiring from it; but Francis, in the world, but not of it, rose above self and the world alike. It was said of him, "He made of all things steps whereby he mounted to the throne of God". In the clash of material interests that he saw around him on every side, his pure spirit awoke the cry of an exalted and renovated humanity before which the weapons of war dropped.


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