St Francis of Assisi

(1181—1226) Italian monk

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founder of the Franciscan Order. The son of a rich merchant of Assisi, in 1202 he was taken prisoner in a border skirmish and held captive for a year. Setting off for war again in 1204, he was directed by a vision to return home. On a pilgrimage to Rome he exchanged clothes with a beggar and spent the day begging. When he returned to Assisi, he broke with his old companions, was disowned by his father, overcame his fear of leprosy by embracing a leper, and devoted himself to repairing a church which was in ruins. About 1208 when attending Mass he heard the Lord's words read, bidding His disciples to leave all (Mt. 10: 7–19), and took them as a personal call. He soon gathered a band of followers. When their number reached twelve, he drew up a simple rule (‘Regula Primitiva’) and on a visit to Rome in 1209 secured for it the oral approval of Innocent III. On his return he sent out friars in pairs to preach; they called themselves ‘friars minor’ and increased rapidly. In 1212 his ideals were accepted by St Clare, who founded a similar society for women. Failing to reach Africa because of illness, Francis was probably at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) where his Order escaped the command to adopt an existing rule. In 1219 he went to Egypt, leaving two vicars in charge of the Order, but because of their mismanagement, he had to return. To correct abuses, with the help of the future Gregory IX, he codified his original rule into what became known as the ‘Regula Prima’; Honorius III in 1223 approved a revised form of this, known as the ‘Regula Bullata’. Later in 1223 Francis arranged for apparently the first Christmas crib to be made. He received the gift of the stigmata in 1224. His generosity, his simple faith, his passionate devotion, his love of nature, and his deep humility have made him one of the most popular saints in modern times. Feast day, 4 Oct. (commemoration of the stigmata, 17 Sept.). See also Canticle of the Sun and Little Flowers of St Francis.

Subjects: Christianity.

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