Image: the birthplace of Francis in Assisi, Italy
Life of St Fancis
St Francis of Assisi was born as John Francis Bernardone in Assisi on 26th September 1182 and died on 3rd October 1226.
He was the son of Peter, a wealthy cloth merchant and of Madonna Pica, from one of the richest families in the city. This environment allowed Francis to obtain a good education in Latin and Franco-Provençal, studying literature and music. Not by chance he composed appreciated poems for the various feasts. He entered a company of young wealthy who dedicated themselves to parties, banquets, to social life and leisure.
He decided to combat for the militia of Assisi in the war against Perugia. Assisi was defeated at the battle of Collestrada. Francis was captured and held prisoner for a year in Perugia. The jail and the long illness made Francis suffer deeply.
Francis decided to make revenge and seek again the glory. Released in 1203, he became a follower of the noble knight Walter de Brienne during the conflict with the emperor, in the kingdom of Naples. But the venture failed. Near Spoleto, Francis had a new disease and afterwards the Lord appeared to him in a vision and ordered him to return to Assisi.
On coming back home, he avoided the previous gallant company, did many alms to the poor, sought the solitude and began to pray intensely. He made a pilgrimage to Rome travelling as a poor beggar. His conversion was complete when at the end of 1205, he was alone to pray in the old ruined church of St. Damiano. Francis saw the crucifix saying: "Go and repair my house which you see is falling into ruin." Francis understood at first that it was referred to the actual ruined building, but then realized that it was related to the Universal Christian Church. So he donated to the priest in S. Damiano the revenue from the sale of his father’s fabrics.
The new behaviour and such unwanted charity of Francis caused disputes with his father that lasted until the final break. Father disinherited him, but Francis, not touched, renounced to the inheritance in a dramatic gesture, made in front of the bishop of Assisi and the whole square. He put away all his clothing and stood naked to announce his choice to leave his past life and marry the Poverty. Francis devoted himself to charity among the lepers, helped poor people, living on alms and prayers in the woods of Mount Subasio. His devoted life attracted the first followers as Bernard of Quintavalle, Peter Cattani and Filippo Longo.
After three years, while Francis was at the Portiuncula, that humble and little church located now inside the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in Assisi, the Lord asked him to preach in the world. Francis organized this activity, he found twelve followers and decided to establish a new order. He was elected Superior and wrote the rule of the order, which he presented to Pope Innocent III in 1210 and obtained the approval for the new order of Minor Friars, known also as Franciscan Order.
On his return to Assisi, Francis settled down in a poor hut in Rivotorto (a frazione of Assisi), which later became incorporated in the local church, and later he moved to the Portiuncula. His fame spread extraordinarily attracting new followers, including in 1212 Clare of Assisi, a future Saint who would found afterwards a female Franciscan order with the name of Poor Clares.
The friars grew in number, and in May 1217 the first general chapter was held, at which the order was introduced in several provinces in Italy and Europe.
Francis tried to preach even to non-Christians: he made a first attempt in the Holy Land in 1212, but had to stop due to a shipwreck, and failed as well to reach Morocco in 1214, blocked by a disease in Spain. Finally, he reached Egypt in 1219, where he spoke to the sultan and gained the great respect among the Muslims.
Francis returned home to put an end to the disputes arose among his followers. He tried first to write a new rule, called the rule of 1221, but even involving Brother Elias in the task, he was disappointed to get absorbed in long questions on the future rule of order. He withdrew from the position of the Superior and devoted himself exclusively to prayer and meditation, living as a hermit.
In 1224 on Mount La Verna he received stigmata, the marks of the Passion of Jesus on his hands, feet and body, after 40 days of fasting and meditation.
Francis continued his hard life of penance, asceticism and mortification, until his body collapsed: after a progressive weakening and blindness he came to death at the Portiuncula in the evening of October 3, 1226.
Due to his enormous popularity, Francis was canonized on July 16, 1228, and in 1230 the construction of the Basilica of Assisi began.
Below the St Francis' altar, Eremo delle Carceri, Assisi, Italy (copyright Historia Vivens Web)