Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi was a Roman Catholic preacher who was to become one of the most well known historical religious figures.

He was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone around 1181 to wealthy parents. His father was a cloth merchant named Pietro di Bernardone.

Although he was born Giovanni, he was known by his father as Francesco.

Being born into a wealthy family, he was to spend much of his youth partying and drinking and was known to buy the best clothes as befitting a young man of his station. He spent his money freely and was not interested in following in his father’s footsteps.

He did however join the military and when fighting against Perugia in 1201, he was to be imprisoned for a year. It is believed that during this time he started to receive visions from God. He was released when his father finally paid a ransom, but following this imprisonment he became seriously ill.

This illness and his time in captivity made him think deeply about spiritualism.

He was to travel on a pilgrimage to Rome and during this he was to see begging on the streets of Rome; he was so moved by this that he decided to give up his wealthy lifestyle and live in poverty. When he returned to Assisi, he started preaching on the streets and was to gain followers with his teachings of the Christian Gospels.

One day while praying at the small country chapel of San Damiano outside of Assisi, Francis states that Jesus Christ spoke to him and stated ‘Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which as you can see is falling into ruins’.

Francis took cloth from his father’s store and sold it, giving the money to the priest to restore the church. His father was angry with him and beat him, even taking legal proceedings against him to the Bishop of Assisi, but this just made Francis more determined to preach God’s words. Francis abandoned his privileged life and his father and even laid aside his clothing, vowing to live the life of a beggar.

Francis spent the next few months living in the countryside around Assisi preaching and helping to restore many chapels and churches.

Following this, Francis heard a sermon, Matthew 10:9 that changed his life forever. In this Christ tells his followers to go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, they should take no money with them, or even a walking stick or shoes for the road.

Francis now devoted himself to a life of poverty, dressed only in a rough tunic and barefoot, spending his time preaching to ordinary townspeople, although he did not have a licence to do so.

By 1209, he had attracted eleven followers and he composed one simple rule for them ‘To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps’.

Francis led his eleven followers to Rome to gain permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious order. Initially the pope was reluctant to meet Francis, but he finally agreed after having a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Basilica of St John Lateran (Cathedral of Rome), the pope then blessed the new Franciscan Order, better known at the time as the Friars Minor or Lesser Brother’s.

A noblewoman Clare of Assisi, after hearing Francis preach in the Church of San Rufino in Assisi, was so deeply moved by his message, that she left her privileged home and with Francis, established the Poor Clares, a religious order just for women. Later Francis also formed, The Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, later known as the Third Order of St Francis.

After spreading the gospel outside of Italy, Francis returned to Italy in 1220 and on 29 September 1220 he handed over the governance of the Order. Two years later he modified the ‘First Rule’ and created the ‘Second Rule which was then approved by Pope Honorius III on 29 November 1223.

While praying on the mountain of Verna during a forty-day fast, Francis had a vision of which he received the stigmata (body marks or sores matching the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ).

Suffering from stigmata and infectious disease trachoma, Francis died on 3 October 1226 while singing a Psalm.

Pope Gregory IX pronounced Francis a Saint on 16 July 1228. He then laid the foundation stone at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.

Francis was buried on 25 May 1230 under the Lower Basilica, however later moved to protect his body from Saracen invaders.

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