Giovanni Bernardone was born around September 1182 to Giovanna (Pica) and Pietro di Bernardone. When little Giovanni was born, his father, a very successful cloth merchant, was on a business trip to Champagne, France, to buy fine French cloth. In his absence, his mother had him baptized him John. When his father arrived home, he was outraged to find his son named John, and had it changed to Francesco, or “Frenchman”.
When Francis was about 10, his wealthy parents sent him to Saint George’s, a school near the city walls of Assisi. The school belonged to the Church of Saint George, and was taught by canons. It was here young Francis
heard the story of Saint George and the dragon. Then, Francis’s heart was set on becoming a Knight. What young boy can resist the story of a brave knight fighting evil dragons in order to save the beautiful princess?
Francis turned 14, and then his wild parties began. He and his other young friends would eat and drink themselves sick, at Francis’s treat of course. After that, all through the night the large party would dance through the town, Francis leading them and singing his heart out the whole way. Didn’t it disturb the townspeople? Yes, but when they saw it was Francis, everyone would smile and shake their heads. No could not love this charming boy with his looks, generosity, and splendid voice.
Of course, all this merry-making cost money. And who was the ever-ready provider? Why, Pietro Bernardone, of course. He and his family were very wealthy, and he kept his boy’s pockets well lined. He also made sure Francis wore nothing but the best. He being a clothier, his son wore nothing but the finest fabrics in the newest styles. But still, he would sometimes cringe at the way Francis ridiculously spent money. Or when he gave it away. Francis was very generous, and would give to every beggar. When he had no more, he would give the fine clothes off his back.
This pleased his mother, but when would the spending stop?
As Francis became older, the dream of knighthood never left him. In January 1200 war broke out with Perugia.
For two years, this was nothing more than skirmishes, a game of cat and mouse between the two cities. It wasn’t until December 12, 1202, that a true battle was fought. The armies of Assisi were assembled. And where was our young knight? With the knights and nobility. He had been splendidly outfitted by his father, who was anxious to see him with the nobles.
With the army, he charged into the fighting plain, along the banks of the Tiber. It was a fruitless massacre. Perugia’s armies slaughtered Assisi’s men. Only knights were taken prisoner, because owning a horse meant one could pay a ransom, horses being a sign of wealth. Assisi’s nobles were put into dark Peruvian dungeons, to be left there for years.
Being stuck in a dungeon was not good for Francis, who contracted tuberculosis. He was released early by a charitable organization who cared for sick prisoners. His father paid a ransom, and Francis went home. He was about 19 when he was taken prisoner. He was now 22.
Francis was having troubles at home. After returning defeated, his father was very disappointed. And upset at the money he spent on fine clothes for Francis. When he was recovering from his illness, he was very quiet and spent much time reflecting and praying. He no longer sang. And Assisi was having a hard time recovering from the war.
But after while, things again began to lighten up. Once again, the dream of knighthood was stirred in Francis. It was the time of the Crusades, the Holy Wars. And Francis was drawn to go. This time he would come back victorious. His father spent the equivalent of a large farm fro the armor and horse of Francis. And so Francis went off once again.
While on his way to Spoleto, Francis fell ill, and lodged with his squire in an inn. In the silence of the night, a voice called him. The voice asked Francis what he was going to do. When Francis explained, the voice said ?Who can give you more, the master of the servant??
Answered Francis ?The master?
And the voice said ?Then why do you abandon the master for the servant and the prince for the vassal??
Francis asked ?What do you wish me to do, Lord??
?Return to the land you were born in and you will be told what to do.?
Francis stayed in Spoleto when he caught a case of quartan auge. When he was well again, he started on the road home. While passing through Foligno he stopped. He could not wear his armor home. What a pathetic sight: And knight in unblemished armor. Francis sold his horse and armor and bought himself some simple clothes. He came home, and the arguments with his father began. His father had spent so much money–the sum of a large farm!–and what did Francis have to show for it? Nothing!
One day, after returning home, Francis changed.He suddenly was converted. He gave alms to every beggar. Should he run out of money, he would give the poor his cap, his tunic, his belt. He once discreetly made a gift of his lovely shirt to a poor wretch. He started to wear simple clothes. He was full of love for God. His mother was so proud. This generous Christian boy was hers son. But his father…
One day, while in this spiritual drunkenness, Francis was walking in the countryside. He ventured out as far as San Damiano, a small church, crumbling with age. Inside the church was a large crucifix, beautifully painted with the image of Christ. Francis fell on his knees before the cross. And then, the crucifix spoke. It said ?Francis, repair my house?.
About this time, Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome. Upon arriving, he immediately went to the Church of Saint Peter. As he stood on the steps of the great church, he noticed all the beggars on the steps, pulling at the clothes and crying in the ears of all who entered. Francis thought ?Here in Rome, where so many men are rich, wise, and holy, is there no one who would take acre of these miserable creatures?? And, acting on a moments impulse, he exchanged clothes with a beggar and for the rest of the day begged on the steps of Saint Peter’s. This one day of begging helped him understand the poor. And the more he understood, the more he could help.
Soon Francis’s father was enraged at the way his son ways acting. He beat him, and locked him up. So finally, Francis, in front of the bishop, took off all his clothes and laid them and his money at the feet of his father, and said ?I used to say, ?my father, Peitro di Bernardone’, but now I shall only say ?Our Father, who art in heaven’ ?Bernardone greedily gathered up the clothes without a second look. Francis was no longer his son. And the bishop came and covered the young man with his cloak. Then the bishop gave Francis an old gardener’s cloak. Francis had never been happier.
Now, Francis still had to rebuild the church of San Damiano. He danced and sang of the love of God in the streets, asking not for money, but for stones and mortar. And people gave them to him. So, with his own hands, he rebuilt the Church of San Damiano.
Francis cared for the sick and the poor. He was never ashamed to touch anyone, and even kissed the hands of a leper. Soon, others would join Francis in his life of poverty.
Many young men, inspired by Francis, also wished to change their lives. Francis told them to give all they had to the poor. The first two were Bernardo di Quintavalle and Peitro dei Cattani, and they lived with Francis in huts of branches and mud by Portiuncula. Soon, many others joined the group and they moved to a small, rotten shed in a place called Rivo Torto. They led a hard life. Sometimes, there would be nothing to eat and the could would freeze them. Later they went to Rome for the Pope’s blessing. At first he declined, but a vision was shown to him in a dream. Francis was saving the church.
The Works of Saint Francis
Saint Francis, leader of the Friars Minor, was known for his love of the poor and destitute. There are many accounts of works he has done concerning lepers, poor, sick, and old.Near the convent where Saint Francis lived was a hospital for leprosy and other ailments, where many of the Brothers worked. As it was, in this hospital was a leper who was impatient, rude, and blasphemed God and The Virgin Mary, to the extent it disturbed the brethren. They presented the case to Saint Francis, who visited the leper. Upon entering, he said ?May God give you peace, my beloved brother!? to which the leper replied, ?What peace can I look for from God, who has taken from me every blessing and made me this disgusting object?? Francis answered, ?My son, be patient; the infirmities of the body are given by God in this world for salvation in the next. There is great merit in them when patiently endured.? Said the foul creature ?How can I patiently bear the pain that afflicts me night and d!
ay? For not only am I afflicted by my infirmity, but the friars the hast sent to care for me do serve to make it only worse, for they do not serve me as they ought.? St. Francis then said, ?My son, I myself will serve thee, seeing as thou art not satisfied with the others.? Came the answer, ?What can thou do more than they have done?? ?Whatever thou wishest I shall do for thee? ?I want then, that you wash me all over; for I am so disgusting that I cannot bear myself.? Said the leper. Francis heated some water, and then adding odiferous herbs, undressed him and began to wash him with his own hands, and then by some miracle, when the holy hands of Francis touched the body, the leprosy disappeared, the flesh was healed! And as the body of the leper healed, so did his soul. Seeing his leprosy vanish, the man felt great repentance for his sins, and began to weep bitterly. Feeling himself so healed in body and soul, he cried out ?Unhappy me! I am worthy of Hell for the wickedness I!
have done against the brethren, and my blasphemy of the Lord!? He prayed for days, and he soon died at peace with God.
St. Francis has also been known for his love of animals. Many stories are told of Saint Francis with birds, fish, and beasts. One of the best known stories may be that of the Wolf at Gubbio.
There was a time when Saint Francis lived in a town called Gubbio. One day a large and dangerous wolf appeared in the neighborhood, a wolf so large and fierce it had no problem killing a sheep or a man. The people of Gubbio lived in fear of the wolf and would not even venture out of the city walls. Upon hearing of this, Saint Francis opened the gates of the city and began to approach the wolf. At seeing saint Francis the wolf lunged at the man, but quickly made the sign of the cross and called out ?Come hither, Brother wolf; I command thee not to harm me.? And as meekly as a lamb the wolf lay down at Francis’s feet. ?Brother wolf? began Francis, ?Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land destroying and killing the creatures of God without permission, yea, not only animals, but men, too, created in the likeness of God, for which thou art worthy of being hanged like a murderer. All men cry out against thee; dogs pursue thee ; all the inhabitants of this city are thy!
enemies. But I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, If thou would give me a promise not to offend them any more.? The wolf, as best could, made it clear he agreed with everything Saint Francis said. Saint Francis said again ?If thou dost make peace, I promise thee the inhabitants of the city will feed thee every day for as long as thou shalt live among them, thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as hunger has caused all this. But if I obtain such things, you must promise on thy side to never again harm men or sheep or any animal; dost thou promise?? Again, the wolf made signs he consented. Saint Francis then said ?Brother wolf, give me a sign of thy pledge.? And then the wolf put his paw into Francis’s hand. ?Come now, before the people and show them you are no longer a threat.? So the wolf and Francis went back to the town and again performed this miracle to show all the peace of the wolf, and the people gladly accepted to feed him. So for many days, the wolf!
went meekly from house to house and the people feed him. And when he died after 2 years, the people grieved his death, for his humble presence had always remind them of Saint Francis.
These two examples are nothing but a taste of the works of saint Francis. The saint has done much more, along with the Friars Minor, and would later pray so hard he received visions, and ultimately, the holy stigmata.
About the Diorama: The Christmas at Greccio
The Christmas at Greccio, the Living Nativity, was brought about by Saint Francis, in an attempt to make people remember the meaning of Christmas. In front of the Church of Greccio, a real stable was set up and real animals brought to the scene; a real child was placed in the manger. Midnight Mass was said for the people in the little stable. And once again, recreated, the people saw where the Christ Child had been born. Some say this was the inspiration for the cr?che, or nativity scene many people now have in their homes at Christmas.
The Francis Timeline
1182 Birth of Francis
1206 The cross speaks to Francis at San Damiano
1209 Pope Innocent II give oral approval of the Rule
1224 Francis receives the Stigmata
1226 Francis dies
1228 Francis is proclaimed a Saint
1230 The body of Saint Francis is taken to the Basilica of San Francisco
1818 The body of Saint Francis is recovered during excavations in Basilia
1928 Pope Pius XII proclaims Saint Francis Patron of Italy
1980 Pope John Paul II proclaims Saint Francis Patron of Ecology
The feast day of Saint Francis is October 4.
I had a lot of fun doing this report and learned a lot about my conformation namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi.