Francis of Assisi

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Francis of Assisi

Saint original name Giovanni di Bernardone. ?1181--1226, Italian monk; founder of the Franciscan order of friars. He is remembered for his humility and love for all creation and was the first person to exhibit stigmata (1224). Feast day: Oct. 4
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Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order and patron saint of animals. Fortean Picture Library.

Francis of Assisi

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

It makes for a wonderful story. Young man returns home from the Crusades a changed man; becomes disillusioned with his father's materialism and exploitation of workers;

throws away his privilege and walks naked into God's countryside; draws followers to him by virtue of his freshness and innocence; communes with animals; and eventually, by virtue of his simplicity and honesty, persuades Pope Innocent III to let him begin a new holy order called the Franciscans.

So runs the plot line of the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the story of Saint Francis of Assisi. But like all things historical, the real story isn't quite that simply told.

The basic elements are true, however. Francis (c. 1181-1226) was the son of a wealthy textile merchant and probably did have a rather, at least for the time, carefree childhood. His name wasn't Francis, however. At his baptism he was christened Giovanni. His father, upon returning from a visit to France, gave him the nickname "Francesco"; had he not done so, the Franciscan Order might otherwise be called the "Giovannians."

Well educated, Francis enjoyed an uneventful upbringing until the day he participated, with youthful abandon, in a feud with the neighboring city of Perugia. As a result of his vociferous expression of childhood, an example of "our town against yours" chauvinism, he was arrested and spent the year 1205 in jail.

His downtime must have affected him. Upon his release he made a trip to Rome, after which he had a vision. He believed that God had told him to rebuild the church of Saint Damian, near Assisi. Selling his horse and some of his father's textiles, he gave the income to a priest to start a building fund. His father disowned him. Francis renounced worldly possessions and became a beggar, taking up collections to raise funds to rebuild more churches.

In 1209 Francis heard a sermon based on Matthew 10:7-10 that changed his life and set him on the course of immortality and sainthood. He felt a call to take up a life of apostolic poverty. He began preaching brotherly love, repentance, and spiritual innocence. The story is told that his followers found him alone and smiling one day, obviously very happy. They asked him what had happened to him. "I've married," he said. "To whom?" they rather anxiously inquired. "To Lady Poverty," was Francis's reply.

By 1212 his short rule of discipline had attracted enough followers for Innocent III to grant approval to the order that then called itself the Friars Minor. The Friars preached and cared for the sick, the elderly, and the poor. Also that year began a sister order for women, called the Poor Clares (named after Clare, their founder, who was an heiress and an early Francis disciple).

The new order grew quickly, perhaps too quickly. It soon became difficult to manage the Friars while staying true to the first, simple precepts. A new order, called Franciscans, was founded in 1223, but it had already begun to move away from Francis's original concepts of simplicity and a love of the whole of creation, a love that might be called naïve were it not such a profound expression of his vision.

Bowing in obedience to his successor, Francis abdicated leadership of the new order in 1223 and spent his remaining years in solitude and prayer. In his remaining years he composed Canticle to the Sun, Admonitions, and Testament. He is said to have received the sign of the stigmata before he died, and he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX only two years after his death.

His last words were reported to be, "I have done my duty. Now may Christ let you know yours. Welcome, sister death."

Saint Francis of Assisi has become a bridge between Catholics and Protestants. People of both traditions—indeed, even nonreligious people—seem equally to revere him. Statues of him are found in gardens and parks where people sit, feed small birds and animals, and feel at peace. And the famous "Prayer of Saint Francis," which may or may not have been written by him, is sung by church choirs everywhere:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, thy pardon, Lord. Where there is doubt, let there be faith.

Oh, Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let there be light, Where there is sadness, let there be joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much Seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand, To be loved as to love.

Oh, Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. For it is in giving that we receive, And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Francis of Assisi


(real name Giovanni Bernardone). Born 1181 (or 1882) in Assisi; died there Oct. 3 (or 4), 1226. Italian religious figure.

Francis was the son of a merchant. He renounced his wealth and devoted himself after 1206 to the preaching of evangelical poverty. Between 1207 and 1209 he founded the brotherhood of Friars Minor, which was reorganized into the monastic order of the Franciscans. The church made use of the preaching of Francis, who became very popular among the general public, for its own purposes. As a wandering preacher, Francis visited Spain, southern France, Egypt, and Palestine; under the influence of his teaching, congregations of his followers were organized in many countries. In 1220, upon returning from the East, where he had been trying to spread Christianity among the Muslims, he gave up the leadership of the Franciscans, opposing its reconstitution by the papacy into an ordinary monastic order. Francis was canonized in 1228. Stories and legends about him were collected in the anonymous The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi (Russian translation, 1913).

Francis was the author of works in Latin, for example, “Praise of Virtue” and “Praise of God,” and other works in Italian (more precisely, in the Umbrian dialect), such as the “Canticle of Brother Sun, or Praises of Creatures” (1224). This hymn, which glorifies god and his whole creation, is an entirely original work intended for a chorus. The harmonious vision of the universe and the mystical union with it as well as the joyful spiritualization of nature found in Francis’ writing brought new themes to religious poetry. As one of the earliest poetic compositions in a national language, the canticle, written in assonances, played an important role in the development not only of religious but also of secular Italian poetry.


Pimenova, E. K. Frantsisk Assizskii. St. Petersburg, 1896.
Pepe, G. Francesco d’Assisi. Manduria, 1965.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.