St Francis of Assisi Biography

St Francis of Assisi, a highly revered religious figure in Christianity, founded the Order of Friars Minor, also known as the Franciscans. Born into a prosperous family in Assisi, he lived a spirited life until he received a calling to embrace poverty. Despite his short life of only 44 years, he attracted thousands of followers who abandoned their worldly possessions to follow Christ. He established the Order of Friars Minor for men, the Order of Saint Clare for women, and the Third Order of Saint Francis for householders. Prior to his death, he experienced the stigmata, becoming the first recorded person to do so. Shortly after his passing, he was canonized by the Pope and became the Patron Saint of Italy.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone
  • Died At Age: 45
  • Family:
    • Father: Pietro di Bernardone
    • Mother: Pica de Bourlemont
  • Born Country: Italy
  • Died on: October 3, 1226
  • Place of Death: Portiuncula

Childhood & Early Life

St. Francis of Assisi was born sometime between December 1181 and September 1182 in Assisi, Italy. His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a prosperous silk merchant, and his mother, Pica de Bourlemont, came from an aristocratic family. St. Francis was baptized as Giovanni di Bernardore, but his father later changed his name to Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone, meaning Frenchman.

St. Francis received his elementary education at a school associated with the Church of San Giorgio in Assisi. He learned mathematics, music, poetry, and how to read and write Latin. He also learned French from his father.

War with Perugia

In November 1202, war broke out between Assisi and its enemy Perugia. St. Francis, then twenty years old, joined the cavalry and went off to fight. However, he was taken prisoner due to his lack of training and experience. He remained imprisoned for almost a year, waiting for his father to pay the ransom.

During his time in prison, St. Francis is believed to have had his first vision. He was also afflicted with disease due to the damp and cold atmosphere. By the time he was released, he was a changed man.

Returning Home

After his release, St. Francis returned to Assisi, but he soon realized that his heart was no longer in his previous lifestyle. One day, he encountered a leper and instead of being repulsed, he embraced and kissed him. This experience marked a turning point in his life, and he began to focus more on God and the poor.

In 1205, St. Francis tried to join the papal forces against the emperor Frederick II, but he had a vision that led him to return to Assisi. He faced taunts and humiliation from others, including his father, but he remained steadfast in his new path.

A New Life

St. Francis began to spend more time praying and nursing lepers. He went on a pilgrimage to Rome and exchanged his clothes with a poor mendicant to test himself. He also heard a voice from a crucifix in the church of San Damiano, which told him to “repair my house.” Taking this literally, he sold his possessions and began to rebuild churches.

By 1209, St. Francis had gathered a group of followers who lived as “fratres minors” or lesser brothers. They sought permission from the Pope to establish a new order, and in 1210, the Franciscan Order was officially admitted. St. Francis also established the Order of Poor Ladies for women and the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance for householders.

Providing Institutional Structure

St. Francis felt the need to establish more detailed rules for the order, and he formed the “Rule without a Papal Bull.” However, these rules did not receive the approval of the Pope. In 1222, he modified the rules to create the “Second Rule,” which was approved by Pope Honorius III.

St. Francis handed over the leadership of the Order in 1220 but continued to involve himself in running it. He withdrew from the external world and focused on his spiritual life. In 1224, he had a vision of a seraph and received the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ.

Death & Legacy

St. Francis lived in constant pain and blindness for two more years before passing away on October 3, 1226. He was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX in 1228, and the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi was built in his honor. St. Francis is recognized as the patron saint of ecology, and on his feast day, animals are blessed in Catholic and Anglican churches.

Leave a Comment