St. Francis of Assisi ~ Our Patron Saint

St Francis of AssisiSaint Francis of Assisi was the Founder of the Franciscan Order of Priests and Brothers. He is the Patron Saint of Animals and many cities. His writings are greatly know throughout the world and accepted by all Christian faiths. He is known as the 'brother of peace' and a 'confessor of souls'.

Saint Francis, the son of a wealthy Assisian (Italy) cloth merchant is believed to have been born in 1181 or 1182. His exact birthdate is unknown but he died in Assisi on October 3, 1226. Saint Francis of Assisi Feast Day is October 4 when many commerated his memory, his teaching and writings and his life with special festivals where pets (animals and birds) are blessed.

Born to a large family, Saint Frances was named Giovanni at his baptism but his father later changed his name to Francesco out of fondness.

It is said he was not very studious and his literary education was incomplete. He showed little interest in his father's trade career even though it appears his parents indulged him with everything he wanted. Saint Frances is said to have been very wild in his youth and a lavish spender of his father's money.

St Francis was about twenty years old when he joined townsmen of Assisi in fighting the Perugians. He was taken prisoner and held captive in a cave for more than a year in Perugia. It is said he suffered a fever and during this illness began to think of eternity. But as his health returned he sought a military career and was to join Count Walter of Brienne at war. The night before he was to leave he dreamed of a vast ball of armor marked with the Cross and a voice telling him, "These are for you and your soldiers." Frances eagerly traveled into battle but became ill again and experienced another dream where the same voice bade him to return to Assisi. The year was 1205 and Frances immediately returned to the town of his birth.

From this day Saint Francis gave up his wasteful ways and began to give up his colorful life. One day, while riding across the Umbrian plane on horseback St. Francis encountered a leper and gave that poor man all the money he carried. Soon after he made a pilgrimage to Rome and gave more money to the poor who gathered at the tomb of St. Peter and fasted among the hordes of beggars there.

Shortly after his return to Assisi Francis was praying before the ancient crucifix in the forsaken chapel of San Damiano when he heard a voice saying, "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin."

Taking these words to heart as instruction to rebuild the chapel he bundled drapery from his father's house and sold his horse to procure enough money to rebuild that church. The friar of the church did not believe his intend was genuine and threw the money back in St. Francis' face. Francis' father was so incensed by his actions, Francis hid from him in a cave for a month. When Francis returned to Assisi, emaciated with hunger and filthy, the people of the town mocked him and called him a madman. His father finally dragged him home, beat him and locked him in a dark closet.

St. Francis mother freed him. He returned to San Damiano and this time the priest provided him shelter but he was soon cited before the city consul by his father. Francis' father sought to relieve St. Francis of his inheritance. However, having entered the service of God, Saint Francis was no longer under his father's jurisdiction. He stripped himself of his clothes and all his worldly goods and handing them to his father declared his desire to serve "only Our Father in Heaven".

Francis wandered into the woods where he was attacked by robbers who took all he had and threw him in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen Francis managed to seek shelter at a neighboring monastery where he worked as a scullion for a time.

In the town of Gubbio he was given clothes and the staff of a pilgrim from a friend. He returned to San Damiano yet again and this time gathered stones, begging them if he must, and rebuilt that small church by his own hand. He also rebuilt the deserted chapels of St. Peter's, some distance from Assisi and St. Mary of the Angels in a place called the Portiuncula.

One day after mass at St. Mary of the Angels where the Gospel spoke of throwing away all of one's worldly goods, Frances took those words to heart and literally threw away all of his possessions. He obtained a woolen tunic the 'color of the beast', worn by the poorest Umbrian peasants and tied the waist with a knotted rope. He began to travel the countryside imploring people to do penance and to practice brotherly love and peace. The Assisians who had once scorned him now began to join his cause. His followers built themselves small huts near the Porziuncola and began to dress as St. Francis. They embraced poverty and soon became known as "the penitents of poverty."

Though at first skeptical Pope Innocent III gave verbal sanction to for this new order. Before leaving Rome, the new Franciscans received the ecclesiastical tonsure. Francis was ordained deacon later on.

After their return to Assisi, the Friars Minor, as Francis named his brethren - either after the minores (or lower classes),or as some believe, with reference to the Gospel (Matthew 25:40-45), as a perpetual reminder of their humility - Around 1211 the friars, through the generosity of the Benedictines of Monte Subasio, were given the little chapel of St Mary of the Angels or the Portiuncula which became the cradle of the Franciscan Order (Caput et Mater Ordinis) and the central spot in the life of St Francis, the Friars Minor. Yet the first fiars traveled, singing their joy and calling themselves the Lord's minstrels, entertaining people, imploring peace and sleeping in haylofts of grottos.

During Lent in 1212 the friars were joined by Clare, a young heiress of Assisi. Just eighteen years old Clare secretly left her father's house and with two companions went to the Porziuncola where the friars met her in procession carrying torches. There, Francis cut her hair, clothed her in the habit and received her into a life of poverty, penance and seclusion. St. Clare and her sister St. Agnes and other pious maidens who joined them were the first in the Second Franciscan Order of Poor Ladies, today know as the 'Poor Clares'.

About this time (1213) Francis received from Count Orlando of Chiusi the mountain of La Verna, an isolated peak among the Tuscan Apennines, rising some 4000 feet above the valley of the Casentino, as a retreat.

In 1214 Francis of Assisi set out for Morocco, in another attempt to reach the infidels and, if needs be, to shed his blood for the Gospel, but while yet in Spain was overtaken by so severe an illness that he was compelled to turn back to Italy once more. Authentic details are unfortunately lacking of Francis's journey to Spain eighteen months thereafter were the most obscure of the saint's life.

Saint Francis was present at the death of Innocent II in Perugia during July 1216. It is said while Francis prayed at the Portiuncula, Christ appeared to him and offered him whatever favor he might desire. Francis wished to make his beloved Portiuncula a sanctuary where many might be saved. He begged a plenary Indulgence for all who, having confessed their sins, should visit the little chapel. Our Lord acceded to this request on condition that the pope should ratify the Indulgence. Shortly afterwards, the pontificate of Honorius III, placed the concession of the famous Portiuncula Indulgence.

St Francis of Assisi went to Rome and preached before the pope and cardinals during 1217-18. It was during that time St. Francis is said to have met with St Dominic who created the Holy Rosary. The year 1218 Francis devoted to missionary tours in Italy preaching out of doors, in the market-places, from church steps, from the walls of castle court- yards. During this time St. Francis devised his Third Order of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.

During Christmas time of 1223 St. Francis conceived the idea of reproducing the scene of Christ's birth in Bethlehem inside a church at Greccio; thus, Saint Frances created the first Nativity Scene. Live animals were used in the scene and the hay from the manger was kept. That hay was later fed to sick animals in the area and those animals were made well.

The Stigmata of Saint Frances appeared in 1224 during the time he and other brothers went to retreat at the mount of La Verna keeping a forty day fast in preparation for Michaelmas (the feast of Michael the Archangel). He was praying on the mountainside when St. Francis in ecstasy beheld a vision of the 'seraph' or the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified Christ. Brother Leo, who was present, described Saint Francis' right side as bearing on open wound appearing as if struck by a lance. His hands and feet bore black nails of flesh with the points bent backward.
Afterward during the final two years of his life, St. Francis' strength gave way completely, and at times he was nearly blind. During a last visit to St Clare at St. Damian's, the saint composed that 'Canticle of the Sun'.

St Francis of Assisi death occurred on October 3, 1226 in Porziuncola.

St. Francis of Assisi tomb lies in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy. St. Frances of Assisi's relics were exhumed in 1818. In 1939 Pope Pius XII declared Saint Frances of Assisi Patron of Italy. St. Frances is also Patron Saint of Animals. His most animal story would be St. Frances and the wolf where he tamed a wolf to protect the town of Gubbio. There are many St. Francis stories written in The Little Flowers of Saint Frances by Brother Ugolino.

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