Tuesday, January 09, 2007

St. Francis of Assisi (1182; - 1226)

Tomb of St Francis of Assisi, at the Basilica in Assisi

BERLINGHIERI, Bonaventura (active in mid-13th century)
St Francis 1235
Tempera on wood 160 x 123 cm
Church of San Francesco, Pescia
Earliest known image of St Francis

Entrance to birthplace of St Francis

Tunic of St Francis: kept at the Basilica in Assisi

Twelve sackclothed vagrants with no visible means of support gathered in A.D. 1210 in the little Italian hill town of Assisi. They started what Danish Roman Catholic Historian Johannes Jorgensen called "the most powerful attempt since Christ to make the world truly Christian."

Their leader was a gentle little man who began life as a young gallant with a yen for glory. Then in 1205, riding off to war at 22, he heard a voice ask, "Why do you desert the Lord?"

Not long after, Francis of Assisi (baptised Giovanni di Bernadone:born at Assisi, in 1181 or 1182; died there, 3 October, 1226) turned to prayer and fasting. Hauled into an episcopal court for selling some of his merchant father's best fabrics to help a poor priest, he stepped out of his fine clothes before the stunned bishop and handed them back to his father. Thenceforth he renounced the ways of the world.

In a few years Francis and his order of Frati Minori, or Little Brothers (they did not at first aspire to the priesthood), had become a mass movement dedicated to holy poverty. When Francis got around to writing down a formal rule for his order, he prescribed "vile vestments" and, in preaching, "brief discourses, because the Lord while on earth talked briefly."

There are few, if any, medieval lives more thoroughly documented.

He was active at the same time as St Dominic was. Indeed the two once met in Rome.

The burial place of St. Francis was found again in 1818. His remains had been hidden by brother Elia to prevent the spread of his relics in medieval Europe. By order of Pope Pius IX a crypt was built under the lower basilica. It was designed by Pasquale Belli with precious marble in neo-classical style. But it was redesigned in bare stone in neo-Romanesque style by Ugo Tarchi between 1925 and 1932.

The ancient stone coffin with iron ties is enshrined in an open space above the altar.

In 1934 his most faithful brothers were entombed in the corners of the wall around the altar: brother Rufino, brother Angelo, brother Masseo and brother Leone.

At the entrance of the crypt, an urn with the remains of Jacopa dei Settesoli was added to the crypt. This woman of Roman nobility was the most faithful friend and benefactress of St. Francis. She was at his side in the Porziuncola at the hour of his death.

In 1978, the remains of St. Francis were reburied after a special rite at the basilica in Assisi, Italy. When the remains were exhumed so the grave site could be repaired, Pope Paul VI asked scientists to study them. Their findings: the saint, who died in 1226, was short and frail and his bones "very porous, denoting a form of malnutrition."

Biographies of St Francis:

Catholic Encyclopedia

Sacred Convent of Assisi

Catholic Online


Franciscan Archive

Auspicato Concessum: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Francis of Assisi (17th September, 1882)

Rite Expiatis: Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on St Francis of Assisi (30th April 1926)