Who was Saint Frances of Assisi?
Saint Francis of Assisi was the Founder of the Franciscan Order
of Priests and Brothers. He is the Patron Saint of Animals and
many cities. His writings are greatly know throughout the world
and accepted by all Christian faiths. He is known as the 'brother
of peace' and a 'confessor of souls'.
Saint Francis, the son of a wealthy Assisian (Italy) cloth merchant
is believed to have been born in 1181 or 1182. His exact birthdate
is unknown but he died in Assisi on October 3, 1226. Saint Francis
of Assisi Feast Day is October 4 when many commerated his memory,
his teaching and writings and his life with special festivals
where pets (animals and birds) are blessed.
Born to a large family, Saint Frances was named Giovanni at his
baptism but his father later changed his name to Francesco out
It is said he was not very studious and his literary education
was incomplete. He showed little interest in his father's trade
career even though it appears his parents indulged him with everything
he wanted. Saint Frances is said to have been very wild in his
youth and a lavish spender of his father's money.
St Francis was about twenty years old when he joined townsmen
of Assisi in fighting the Perugians. He was taken prisoner and
held captive in a cave for more than a year in Perugia. It is
said he suffered a fever and during this illness began to think
of eternity. But as his health returned he sought a military career
and was to join Count Walter of Brienne at war. The night before
he was to leave he dreamed of a vast ball of armor marked with
the Cross and a voice telling him, "These are for you and
your soldiers." Frances eagerly traveled into battle but
became ill again and experienced another dream where the same
voice bade him to return to Assisi. The year was 1205 and Frances
immediately returned to the town of his birth.
From this day Saint Francis gave up his wasteful ways and began
to give up his colorful life. One day, while riding across the
Umbrian plane on horseback St. Francis encountered a leper and
gave that poor man all the money he carried. Soon after he made
a pilgrimage to Rome and gave more money to the poor who gathered
at the tomb of St. Peter and fasted among the hordes of beggars
Shortly after his return to Assisi Francis was praying before
the ancient crucifix in the forsaken chapel of San Damiano
when he heard a voice saying, "Go, Francis, and repair my
house, which as you see is falling into ruin."
Taking these words to heart as instruction to rebuild the chapel
he bundled drapery from his father's house and sold his horse
to procure enough money to rebuild that church. The friar of the
church did not believe his intend was genuine and threw the money
back in St. Francis' face. Francis' father was so incensed by
his actions, Francis hid from him in a cave for a month. When
Francis returned to Assisi, emaciated with hunger and filthy,
the people of the town mocked him and called him a madman. His
father finally dragged him home, beat him and locked him in a
St. Francis mother freed him. He returned to San Damiano and this
time the priest provided him shelter but he was soon cited before
the city consul by his father. Francis' father sought to relieve
St. Francis of his inheritance. However, having entered the service
of God, Saint Francis was no longer under his father's jurisdiction.
He stripped himself of his clothes and all his worldly goods and
handing them to his father declared his desire to serve "only
Our Father in Heaven".
Francis wandered into the woods where he was attacked by robbers
who took all he had and threw him in a snow drift. Naked and half
frozen Francis managed to seek shelter at a neighboring monastery
where he worked as a scullion for a time.
In the town of Gubbio he was given clothes and the staff of a
pilgrim from a friend. He returned to San Damiano yet again and
this time gathered stones, begging them if he must, and rebuilt
that small church by his own hand. He also rebuilt the deserted
chapels of St. Peter's, some distance from Assisi and St. Mary
of the Angels in a place called the Portiuncula.
One day after mass at St. Mary of the Angels where the Gospel
spoke of throwing away all of one's worldly goods, Frances took
those words to heart and literally threw away all of his possessions.
He obtained a woolen tunic the 'color of the beast', worn by the
poorest Umbrian peasants and tied the waist with a knotted rope.
He began to travel the countryside imploring people to do penance
and to practice brotherly love and peace. The Assisians who had
once scorned him now began to join his cause. His followers built
themselves small huts near the Porziuncola and began to dress
as St. Francis. They embraced poverty and soon became known as
"the penitents of poverty."
Tho at first skeptical Pope Innocent III gave verbal sanction
to for this new order. Before leaving Rome, the new Franciscans
received the ecclesiastical tonsure. Francis was ordained deacon
After their return to Assisi, the Friars Minor, as Francis named
his brethren - either after the minores (or lower classes),or
as some believe, with reference to the Gospel (Matthew 25:40-45),
as a perpetual reminder of their humility - Around 1211 the friars,
through the generosity of the Benedictines of Monte Subasio, were
given the little chapel of St Mary of the Angels or the Portiuncula
which became the cradle of the Franciscan Order (Caput et
Mater Ordinis) and the central spot in the life of St Francis,
the Friars Minor. Yet the first fiars traveled, singing their
joy and calling themselves the Lord's minstrels, entertaining
people, imploring peace and sleeping in haylofts of grottos.
During Lent in 1212 the friars were joined by Clare, a young
heiress of Assisi. Just eighteen years old Clare secretly left
her father's house and with two companions went to the Porziuncola
where the friars met her in procession carrying torches. There,
Francis cut her hair, clothed her in the habit and received her
into a life of poverty, penance and seclusion. St. Clare and her
sister St. Agnes and other pious maidens who joined them were
the first in the Second Franciscan Order of Poor Ladies, today
know as the 'Poor Clares'.
About this time (1213) Francis received from Count Orlando of
Chiusi the mountain of La Verna, an isolated peak among the Tuscan
Apennines, rising some 4000 feet above the valley of the Casentino,
as a retreat.
In 1214 Francis of Assisi set out for Morocco, in another
attempt to reach the infidels and, if needs be, to shed his blood
for the Gospel, but while yet in Spain was overtaken by so severe
an illness that he was compelled to turn back to Italy once more.
Authentic details are unfortunately lacking of Francis's journey
to Spain eighteen months thereafter were the most obscure of the
Saint Francis was present at the death of Innocent II in Perugia
during July 1216. It is said while Francis prayed at the Portiuncula,
Christ appeared to him and offered him whatever favor he might
desire. Francis wished to make his beloved Portiuncula a sanctuary
where many might be saved. He begged a plenary Indulgence
for all who, having confessed their sins, should visit the little
chapel. Our Lord acceded to this request on condition that the
pope should ratify the Indulgence. Shortly afterwards, the pontificate
of Honorius III, placed the concession of the famous Portiuncula
St Francis of Assisi went to Rome and preached before the pope
and cardinals during 1217-18. It was during that time St. Francis
is said to have met with St Dominic who created the Holy Rosary.
The year 1218 Francis devoted to missionary tours in Italy preaching
out of doors, in the market-places, from church steps, from the
walls of castle court- yards. During this time St. Francis devised
his Third Order of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.
During Christmas time of 1223 St. Francis conceived the idea of
reproducing the scene of Christ's birth in Bethlehem inside a
church at Greccio; thus, Saint Frances created the first Nativity
Scene. Live animals were used in the scene and the hay from
the manger was kept. That hay was later fed to sick animals in
the area and those animals were made well.
The Stigmata of Saint Frances appeared in 1224 during the
time he and other brothers went to retreat at the mount of La
Verna keeping a forty day fast in preparation for Michaelmas (the
feast of Michael the Archangel). He was praying on the mountainside
when St. Francis in ecstasy beheld a vision of the 'seraph' or
the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified Christ.
Brother Leo, who was present, described Saint Francis' right side
as bearing on open wound
appearing as if struck by a lance. His hands and feet bore black
nails of flesh with the points bent backward.
Afterward during the final two years of his life, St. Francis'
strength gave way completely, and at times he was nearly blind.
During a last visit to St Clare at St. Damian's, the saint composed
that 'Canticle of the Sun'.
St Francis of Assisi death occurred on October 3, 1226 in Porziuncola.
St. Francis of Assisi tomb lies in the Basilica of Saint Francis
in Assisi, Italy. St. Frances of Assisi's relics were exhumed
in 1818. In 1939 Pope Pius XII declared Saint Frances of Assisi
Patron of Italy. St. Frances is also Patron Saint of Animals.
His most animal story would be St. Frances and the wolf where
he tamed a wolf to protect the town of Gubbio. There are many
St. Francis stories written in The Little Flowers of Saint Frances
by Brother Ugolino.
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