St. Francis of Assisi

Early Life and Youth


Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone in the year 1181 or 1182 in Assisi, Italy, is one of the most revered and beloved figures in Christian history. His extraordinary life, marked by profound humility, selflessness, and love for all creatures, has impacted the world indelibly. Often referred to as the "Poverello" or "Little Poor Man," his unwavering faith and dedication to God inspired countless individuals, establishing him as a venerated saint of the Catholic Church.


His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a wealthy cloth merchant, and his mother, Pica, came from a noble family. Pietro frequently travelled for business, seeking trade opportunities in various places, including France. During one of these business trips, Pietro found himself away from Assisi when his son was born. Pica was left to take care of the newborn and make decisions in her husband's absence. Pica took on the responsibility of baptizing the newborn and arranged for the baptism to take place in the local church. During the baptism, the child was given the name "Giovanni," after John the Baptist. When Pietro returned from his business trip and learned of the baptism, it is said that he was not particularly pleased with the name choice and gave Giovanni the nickname ‘Francesco (Francis)’, which means Frenchman, perhaps as a tribute to his prosperous achievements in his cloth merchant business and his passion for everything French.


Growing up in Assisi, the young Francis experienced a childhood filled with privilege and comfort. Francis received a rudimentary education, learning basic reading, writing, and arithmetic. His father had hoped that he would follow in his footsteps and become a successful merchant, continuing the family trade. Consequently, Francis received an education in business and trade, preparing him to inherit his father's wealth and business. 


In his late teens, Francis embraced a carefree lifestyle, typical of a young man from a prosperous family. He enjoyed revelry and spent his time with friends, indulging in lavish parties and social gatherings. His charismatic and generous nature endeared him to many, and he became a popular figure among the young people of Assisi. When he reached the age of 20, Assisi became involved in a military conflict with the neighbouring city of Perugia. Francis, drawn by a desire for glory and adventure, eagerly joined the ranks of the Assisian soldiers. However, his dreams of military fame and fortune were cut short when he was captured during the Battle of Collestrada in 1202.


Francis spent a year in captivity as a prisoner of war. During this time, he endured harsh conditions and experienced the reality of suffering and deprivation. This period of captivity was a turning point in his life. It shattered his illusions of grandeur and compelled him to reflect on the emptiness of his former pursuits. He began to question the values he once held dear and pondered the purpose of life and existence.


The Awakening, Conversion, and Dedication to God


Upon his release, Francis returned to Assisi, a changed man. He no longer found joy in the superficial pleasures that had captivated him before. Instead, he sought solitude and spent time in prayer and contemplation. His encounters with beggars and the destitute during his travels deeply moved him, leading him to question the stark contrast between his life of abundance and the suffering of the less fortunate.

Francis' transformation was gradual, but his newfound spiritual insights continued to deepen. He spent hours in prayer at the crumbling San Damiano Chapel, where he sought guidance and direction from the crucifix. It was during one of these moments that he heard the voice of Christ instructing him, "Francis, go and repair my house, which, as you see, is falling into ruin." 


At first, Francis interpreted this message literally, believing that he was meant to physically rebuild the chapel. He sold some of his father's cloth to acquire the necessary materials for restoration. However, his understanding of God’s command evolved, and he came to realize that his mission extended beyond mere physical reconstruction. He recognized that God called him to renew and revive the spiritual foundation of the Christian faith. This pivotal moment marked the beginning of Francis' spiritual journey and his commitment to a life of poverty, humility, and service to God. He dedicated himself to imitating the life of Jesus Christ, embracing simplicity and compassion for all people.


Embracing Poverty and Founding the Franciscan Order


Concerned about his son's newfound lifestyle, Pietro was adamant about discouraging Francis from his chosen path. He disapproved of Francis' behaviour and was determined to bring him back to the comforts and security of their wealthy family life. Thus, he decided to confront Francis in front of the bishop, hoping that the bishop's influence and authority might persuade his son to reconsider his choices. The meeting took place in a public setting, likely in the town square or a local church. Pietro expressed his disapproval and anger, demanding that Francis renounce his life of poverty and return to his previous way of living. He insisted that Francis should give up his beggar's clothes and rejoin the family business, embracing his rightful place as a prosperous merchant's son.


In response to his father's demands, Francis faced a defining moment. With firm resolve and a deep sense of commitment to his new calling, he removed his beggar's garments and stood before the bishop, completely naked. Francis declared that he was no longer Pietro di Bernardone's son but now belonged only to God. He would rely on God's providence for all his needs, placing his trust in divine care and abandoning all earthly possessions. Witnessing this extraordinary scene, the bishop was deeply moved by Francis' unwavering faith and courage. He recognized the profound sincerity in Francis' actions and his genuine desire to follow Christ's example of poverty and humility. The bishop embraced Francis and covered him with his own cloak, symbolizing the protection and blessing of the Church. 


From that moment forward, Francis' dedication to poverty and devotion to God became even more noticeable. His act of stripping himself naked before the bishop and his father is remembered as an act of complete surrender and selflessness, marking the final step in his transformation. Following this encounter, Francis continued his life of poverty and service, and his influence and reputation spread far and wide. His commitment to living the Gospel through action inspired countless individuals to him, resulting in the establishment of the Franciscan Order.


Pope Innocent III granted verbal approval to Francis and his followers in 1209, allowing them to establish the Franciscan Order, also known as the Order of Friars Minor. The name "Friars Minor" symbolizes Francis and his followers' desire to occupy a humble and simple position in society. By adopting this name, they acknowledged their commitment to embody Christ's spirit of humility and service. After receiving papal approval, Saint Francis and his followers sought to formalize their way of life through a set of guiding principles. In 1221, Pope Honorius III formally confirmed the "Rule of St. Francis," which provided a comprehensive framework for the Order's way of life. The Rule prioritized absolute poverty, obedience to Church authorities, and a life devoted to prayer, contemplation, and active ministry.


The Franciscan Order grew rapidly, attracting men from diverse backgrounds and countries. The friars travelled far and wide, preaching the Gospel, ministering to the poor and sick, and establishing communities dedicated to spiritual renewal and social service. They had a profound impact on the medieval world, touching the lives of countless people and inspiring a revival of faith and piety.




In 1224, Francis went on a retreat to Mount La Verna in Tuscany, Italy, to strengthen his communion with God. During his stay, he fasted, prayed, and engaged in deep contemplation to better understand Christ's suffering and sacrifice. During this time of deep spiritual contemplation, Francis had a vision and encountered the crucified Christ. A mysterious and radiant seraphic figure appeared before him, bearing the wounds of Christ's crucifixion in its hands, feet, and side. These wounds mirrored the five sacred wounds Christ suffered during his crucifixion - the nail marks in the hands and feet and the lance wound in the side. Francis was filled with a mixture of awe, reverence, and an overwhelming sense of love and suffering. To his astonishment, he found the same wounds beginning to appear on his own body, marking Francis the first recorded stigmatic within the church. 


As news of the stigmata spread, it added to Francis' reputation as a holy man, drawing even more people to seek his guidance and inspiration. The stigmata experience further solidified Francis' role as a revered spiritual leader and contributed to the rapid growth of the Franciscan movement. The stigmata experience became a focal point of his devotion, reminding him daily of the suffering and love of Christ and motivating him to serve others with compassion and selflessness. Throughout the remainder of his life, Francis continued to embrace a life of self-sacrifice, humility, and unwavering dedication to God and his creation.


Final Days and Death


Towards the end of his life, Saint Francis' health began to decline rapidly due to various illnesses and the physical toll of his austere lifestyle. He had lived a life of simplicity and humility, dedicated to serving the poor and spreading the message of the Gospel. During these days, Saint Francis composed a song or poem known as "Canticle of the Sun" or "Canticle of Brother Sun," praising God's creation and expressing his profound spiritual connection with nature and all living beings.


On his deathbed, he asked to be laid on the bare ground, following his lifelong commitment to poverty and simplicity. He died at the Portiuncula, a small church outside Assisi, which had become a significant place for the Franciscan order. On October 3, 1226, Saint Francis of Assisi passed away. His death was met with immense grief from his followers and the people of Assisi, who recognized his holiness and the impact of his spiritual teachings.


Saint Francis' legacy continues to influence millions of people worldwide. He founded the Franciscan Order, which, along with the Poor Clare’s, has played a vital role in the history of the Catholic Church. His life and teachings inspire countless individuals seeking a path of compassion, humility, and love for all of God's creation.

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