Clip art cycle 

Francis of Assisi


About Powers of Literature:
site map & outline
level of instruction
course objective
course textbooks
for best viewing
copyright notice

(in this web):

Powers Home Page
Powers Index

1: Genesis

Homer Background
2. Odysseus' voyage
3. Magic words
4. Mission to Achilles
5. Hero Patroklos
6. They buried Hektor
7. Odysseus' Return
8. City of Dreams
9. Homer in Hades
10 Technology & Lit

Homer Exam
For further study

11. Socrates busted
12. Socrates' trial
13. Socrates in jail
14. Immortal Socrates

Plato Exam
For further study

15. Acts of God
16. Second Coming
17. Romance
18. Medieval self

More pages
coming soon!
site map
for details.








Images below on this page are adapted from the medieval cycle of paintings of the life of St. Francis (c. 1181 - 1223 AD), depicted in the Upper Church of S. Francesco at Assisi. The original 28 frescoes are attributed to the school of Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267-1337 AD).

Giotto is regarded as a founder of modern western painting because his work broke free from the stylizations of Byzantine art by introducing a convincing sense of three dimensional space. His work stunned the poet Dante and other contemporaries. 

Before Giotto's time, medieval graphic art appeared mainly in manuscript illumination: for centuries two-dimensional illustrations had been inserted in the margins of Bibles, stories of saints and other texts. Giotto's art liberated the images of stories from books. The stories now could be seen by everyone, not only by scholars and literates. This text-less format of story presentation was a critical step toward the later rediscovery of popular drama. Of course, drama not only freed the images from text; it made the pictures talk and move with fluid human motion. Taking drama and movies for granted today, we under-appreciate how revolutionary Giotto's art was in its time. 

Francis was a natural subject for Giotto and his colleagues to paint, because Francis also liberated images from books. In an age when scholastic philosophers treated Christianity as if it had been invented so that they would have something to dispute about, Francis simply lived the New Testament. He was, or tried to be, a performance of Jesus, the gospel without the writing.

Good on-line photos of the original paintings at Assisi, with location maps of the church and further information, can be viewed at Christus Rex et Redemptor and The Web Gallery of Art, among other sites. (The images below on the present page have been revised with picture editing software.)


What Giotto never anticipated was that someday the words would need to be restored to the images because people like us had forgotten the stories. Luckily, the words about Francis that explain the frescoes at Assisi still can be recovered. They come from Franciscan writers Thomas of Celano (who compiled three separate story collections about Francis dating from about 1228, 1244 and 1250 AD) and St. Bonaventure (The Major Life of St. Francis, 1263). Passages from these texts are translated below on this page. For the complete works in translation, see Marion A. Habig (ed.), St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies (Franciscan Press: Quincy University, 1991).

It is generally believed that Brother Thomas had met Francis, and that he collected stories from other early Franciscans who had met Francis. Bonaventure developed his account from Thomas with some additions from unknown sources. The Giotto school painters must have known all of these texts, though in a couple of instances they seem to have remembered the stories incorrectly. (For example, the wrong animals appear to have been inserted in the manger at Greccio.)

The literary form or convention used by Thomas and Bonaventure was the saint's life--or "legend" as the medievals called it. Legends of saints weren't meant to be probable stories. On the contrary, they stressed miracles because the performance of miracles was understood to be the sign of sainthood. The church canonized only those who had done miraculous things.

Thomas' first collection of miracle stories about Francis clearly was intended to persuade Pope Gregory IX that Francis should be canonized. (Gregory had his doubts at first: see The Appearance to Gregory below.) Thomas and the other brothers who survived Francis obviously stood to benefit from Francis' sainthood. Canonization would mean that, among other things, there would be an officially approved holy shrine that would attract a stream of visitors seeking health cures and other help from the saint.

The reported miracles of Francis increased in each of Thomas' successive collections of stories. Later they were expanded again in Bonaventure's Major Life, which was adopted as the Franciscans' authorized life of the saint. Once Bonaventure's work had been published, Thomas' texts were ordered to be burned. Fortunately, some copies of these precious manuscripts escaped the flames and survived into modern times. By comparing all of the texts historians today can see how Francis' legend grew during the first generations after his death. (This is not to question the legitimacy of Francis' sainthood or to deny the validity of any of the miracles ascribed to him. Such issues of faith fall outside of the jurisdiction of historians and literary scholars.)

All of this art -- the narrative paintings of the Giotto school, and the saint's legends written by Thomas and Bonaventure -- promote Franciscanism and the religious complex at Assisi, which was completed in 1230 with the reburial of Francis' remains under the altar. Collectively this art is the advertising, or foundation myth, for the Franciscan way and shrine, much as the Socratic dialogues promoted Plato's Academy [recall Lesson 12], or as the legends of Alexander supported Ptolemy's Alexandria [recall Lesson 9] or as Virgil's Aeneid gave the story of Augustus Caesar's Roman Empire [see Lesson 17.] This observation is not a criticism of the art but a description of its conventional, quite practical use. Recognizing the function, we can see how effective the art is. After more than 750 years, it still "works" very powerfully, drawing huge crowds of devotees of Francis cults, admirers and curiosity-seekers. 

READINGS for Powers of Literature
(with Lesson numbers):

1. Genesis 1
Creation Story

1. Genesis 11
Babel Story

2. Odyssey 8
Odysseus' voyage 1

3. Iliad 1-2
Achilles' anger

4. Iliad 9
Mission to Achilles

4. Peleus & Thetis
ancient sources

5. Iliad 15 ff
Death of Patroklos

6. Iliad 20 ff
Burial of Hektor

7. Odyssey 13-18
Return of Odysseus

8. Odyssey 20-24
City of Dreams

9. Life of Alexander
the Homeric king

10. Origins of writing
ancient sources

11. Plato, Euthyphro
Socrates gets busted

12. Plato, Apology
Socrates on trial

13. Plato, Crito
Socrates in jail

14. Plato, Phaedo
Socrates in heaven

15. Luke, Acts
Paul does Christ

16. Saint Francis
gospel without text

17. Chretien, The Knight of the Cart
Sire Lance's genes

18. Virgil, Aeneid
Aeneas & Dido





The Dream of the Palace: As a young man, Francis had a dream, but what did it mean?

"Francis was shown a vision of a splendid palace that was full of military equipment, and it also was the home of a most beautiful lady. He was called by name in the dream, and when he awakened he was enchanted with its promises. He wanted only to become a knight, so he armed himself to go to war and to win honors in Apulia. It was an evil spirit that prompted him to misinterpret the dream in this way. 

"A far more glorious interpretation was hidden from him until, on another night, he had a second vision. Someone questioned him about what he was doing, and he replied that he was on his way to fight at Apulia. The voice then asked him who could help him more, the servant or the Lord? Francis said, 'The Lord.'  So the voice asked further, 'Why then are you seeking the help of my servant instead of me?' Francis answered, 'Lord, what do you want me to do?' And the Lord said, 'Go home and your dream will be fulfilled through me.' So Francis awakened and returned home without delay, for already he had become a model of obedience, a Paul in place of a Saul. He changed his military weapons into spiritual ones and became a knight of God."  Thomas of Celano, Second Life 6 

The Advice of St Damian's Crucifix: Devoted now to the Lord, Francis stopped to worship in the ruins of an old church outside of Assisi, where he became almost deranged.

"Changed now in heart, Francis was walking near the old church of Saint Damian, which was abandoned and had nearly fallen into ruin. Led by the Spirit, he went in and fell down before the crucifix in devout and humble prayer. While he was praying, strange things began to happen that changed him forever. Among these, the painted image of Christ crucified began to move its lips and speak. It called him by name and said: 'Francis, go, repair my house, which as you see is falling completely into ruin.' Francis was amazed and became almost deranged by these words. He prepared to obey and gave himself completely to the fulfillment of this command."  Thomas of Celano, Second Life 10

The Renunciation of Wealth: Francis' father, Pietro d' Bernardone, was a well-to-do cloth importer, and young Francis assisted him as a traveling salesman. But one day, after Francis sold his father's wares in the market, he thought of Saint Damians' crucifix, contributed all of the sale proceeds to the church, and never came home again. Pietro sued his son for the return of the money. When the case was called by the local bishop, Francis took off his clothes in court! 

"When he was brought before the bishop, he did not wait for any words to be spoken, nor did he speak any, but he immediately took off his clothes and threw them back at his father. There he stood, completely naked in full sight of everybody! The bishop so admired Francis' act that he drew him within his arms and covered him with his own cloak. He understood that what he had witnessed was inspired by God." Thomas of Celano, First Life, 15.

"The pious bishop informed Francis that it was not lawful to spend anything for sacred uses that had been obtained unlawfully. So, Francis gave up to his father the money he had wanted to use to restore the church of Saint Damian. Then, so that everybody there could hear, he shouted, 'Now I can freely say 'our father who art in heaven, not father Pietro d' Bernardone, to whom I give not only the money but my clothes, too. I will go naked to the Lord.' " Thomas of Celano, Second Life 12. 

Homage of the simple man: The story of the following painting is unknown, and perhaps it was censored because the symbolism is clear enough. Well-dressed, preoccupied churchmen ignore the ragged saint and the simple peasant who honors him. A gaping empty building occupies the focal point in the center, as young Francis sets foot on the scene.

The Dream of Pope Innocent III: Innocent (pope from 1198 to 1216) faced widespread belief that it had become impossible to be both Christian and Roman Catholic. Could anybody repair his church? When a poor stranger with a band of raggedly dressed men from the country appeared before him in Rome one day, it was a dream come true.

"The lord pope remembered a vision that he had a few nights before, a vision that was to be fulfilled by the power of the Holy Spirit. In his sleep he had seen the Lateran basilica about to fall to ruin when a certain poor man, small and despised, propped it up on his shoulder so that it would not fall. So when Francis appeared before him with a petition one day, he thought: surely this is the man who is to support the church in his works and his teachings of Christ." Thomas of Celano, Second Life 17.    

Confirmation of the Rule: In 1209 Innocent gave his blessing to Francis' petition by confirming the Rule and Life of the Friars Minor. This charter authorized the original brotherhood that we call the Franciscan order, and it described the brothers' way of life.

"When Francis saw that God was daily adding to their number, he wrote a form of life and rule for the desired perfection of himself and his brothers in a few simple words, mostly from the gospel, but he also inserted a few other things necessary to provide for a holy way of life. Then he went to Rome with his brothers hoping that what he had written would be confirmed by the Pope, Innocent III. . . a famous man, greatly learned, renowned in speech, burning with zeal for the cause of the Christian faith. When Innocent knew the wishes of these men of God he granted their request and instructed them in all things that had to be done. He blessed Francis and brothers and said to them: 'Go with the Lord, brothers, and as the Lord inspires you, preach penance to all.' " Thomas of Celano, First Life 32-33.

Preaching before Pope Honorius III: Francis was such a simple fellow that the bishop worried a lot about introducing him to the dignitaries higher-up in the church. (Pope Honorius seems to have accepted Francis ok, for in 1221 he confirmed the rule of the third Franciscan order.) One of the sticky issues was social class, as the princes of the church were noblemen but Francis and most of his followers were commoners.

"Lord Hugo, bishop of Ostia, brought Francis before the lord pope and reverend cardinals, and standing before such great princes, after receiving their blessing, Francis began to speak fearlessly. In fact he spoke with such enthusiasm that he was unable to contain himself for joy. When he spoke the words with his mouth, his feet moved, too, as if he were dancing to his song, burning with the fire of divine love. Many of the great men were pierced to the heart in admiration of divine grace within him, but the bishop prayed to the Lord with all his strength that they would not ridicule Francis' simplicity. The saint's glory or disgrace would reflect upon the bishop, since he had charge over him like a father." Thomas of Celano, First Life 73 

Vision of the Fire Chariot: Francis had the power to appear to his brothers in new guises.

"And behold, about midnight when some of the brethren were sleeping and others were praying devoutly in silence, a fiery chariot entered through the door of the house. It wheeled around inside, here and there, two or three times. A big globe of bright light rode above it like the sun and lit up the night. Those who had been asleep were startled into waking, and all of the watchers were amazed. They gathered together in wonder, trying to say what it was. Then, by the grace of the light, each one's mind was opened to the others, and they understood that it was the soul of their holy father that shone with such brilliance in tenderness for his sons. . ." Thomas of Celano, First Life 47 

The Appearance to the Chapter at Arles: Francis also had the power to appear to followers in remote locations.

"Francis could not personally preside at all of the chapters of the different provinces, but through his prayers he was always there in spirit in his anxious care for his followers. Once in fact, through God's power, he appeared visibly in the chapter of Arles when the famous preacher whom we now honor as St. Anthony was speaking to the friars about the proclamation that Pilate had written on the cross: 'Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.' One of the friars, a holy man named Monaldus, on a sudden inspiration looked toward the doorway of the hall. And there he saw Francis, standing in mid-air with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross, blessing the friars. The others who were there felt a great consolation in their hearts as the Holy Spirit assured them that their father was present with them. It was only afterwards that Monaldus told them what he had seen and that the saint himself told them that he had been there, so that they had proof for what they had felt and believed at the time. Almighty God permitted Francis to assist at the sermon given by his preacher St. Anthony, to attest to the truth of Christ's cross which he carried as God's servant." Bonaventure, Major Life I. iv. 10 

The Vision of the Thrones: One of Francis' prayer companions once saw the glorious throne in heaven that had been reserved for Francis.

"When the morning came, Francis' companion returned to the church and found him prostrate before the altar, so he waited for him outside the choir and then also began to pray devoutly before the cross. And behold he went into ecstasy and saw among the many thrones in heaven one that was more honorable than all the rest, ornamented with precious stones and radiant with glory. He wondered at this noble throne and whose it might be, and while he was thinking about these things, he heard a voice saying to him: 'This throne belonged to one of the fallen angels but now it is reserved for humble Francis.' 

"At length, coming back to himself, the brother saw Francis returning from his prayers. He quickly prostrated himself at Francis' feet and spoke to him, not as one living but as one already reigning in heaven: 'Father, pray to the Son of God for me that He will not impute my sins to me.' Francis stretched out his hand and raised him up, recognizing that he must have been shown something in his prayers. 

"As they began to leave that place, the brother asked blessed Francis, "Father, what is your opinion of yourself?' And Francis replied, 'It seems to me that I am the greatest of sinners, for if God had treated any criminal with such mercy as he has shown to me, that man would have been ten times more spiritual than myself.' But the Holy Spirit said in the heart of the brother, 'Know that the vision you saw was in fact true, for humility will raise this humble man to the throne that was lost through pride.'" Thomas of Celano, Second Life 123 

31. The Ecstasy of Francis: Francis was raised up to commune with the Lord, in the sight of his brothers below.

"Francis would never let any call of the Spirit go unanswered. When he experienced it, he would make the most of it and enjoy the consolation that it gave him as long as God permitted it. If he was on a journey, he would stop and let his companions go ahead, while he enjoyed his inspiration. He refused to offer God's grace an ineffectual welcome (2 Corinthians 6:1). He was often taken out of himself in rapture of contemplation so that he was lost in ecstasy and had no idea what was going on around him as he experienced things that were beyond human understanding. . . He was occasionally seen raised up from the ground and surrounded with a shining cloud, as he prayed at night with his hands stretched out in the sign of a cross. The brilliance that surrounded his body was a sign of the miraculous light that flooded his soul." Bonaventure, Major Life I. 10. 2-4.

The gift of the mantle: The painting known as "the gift of the mantle" perhaps should be called "the rescue of the lambs." It's a scene from my favorite Francis story.

"Once when Francis was traveling, he met a stranger who had two little lambs hanging bound up over his shoulder. When the saint heard them bleating, he was filled with pity. He approached and he touched them gently as a mother caresses her weeping children. He asked the man, 'Why are you torturing my brother lambs in this way?' The man answered: 'I am taking them to market because I need the money.'  Francis asked: 'But then what will happen to them?' He answered: 'Those who buy them will kill them and eat them, I suppose.' 'God forbid!' the saint replied. 'This must not happen. Give the lambs to me, and take this mantle that I am wearing as their price.' The stranger gladly gave him the lambs and took the cloak, for the cloak was worth much more money.

"Now Francis had borrowed this cloak earlier that day from a certain faithful man to keep warm on his journey. On the return trip, he considered what should be done, and finally he agreed with a suggestion made by a traveling companion. Francis gave the lambs to the man who had loaned him the cloak, and he instructed the man never to sell them or do them any harm but to keep them, feed them, and always care for them." Thomas of Celano, First Life 79 

The Manger of Greccio: Francis invented the manger scene when he reenacted the birth of Jesus at Christmas in 1223. Of course it's easy to bring the right animals into church with Photoshop.

"The humility of the incarnation and charity of the passion occupied Francis' mind to the extent that he wanted to think of hardly anything else. We should especially remember how he kept the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ near the little town of Greccio in the third year before his glorious death. In that town lived a good man named John who held a position of honor and was loved by Francis, for he had trampled upon the nobility of his birth to pursue the nobility of soul. Francis sent for this man about fifteen days before the birth of the Lord, as he often did, and he said to him: 'To celebrate Christmas at Greccio this year, hurry and prepare as I tell you. For I want to do something that will recall the little Child who was born at Bethlehem, how he lay in a manger, how--with an ox and an ass standing by--he lay there upon the hay with such inconveniences.' When John heard these things, he ran and prepared the place as he had been directed.

"When the day of joy drew near, the brothers were called together from their various places, and men and women of the neighborhood to the best of their means prepared candles and torches to light up the night that has lit up so many years with its gleaming star. At length the saint of God arrived and found all things ready. He saw it and was glad. The manger was prepared, the hay had been brought, the ox and ass were led in. In its simplicity, poverty and humility Greccio was a new Bethlehem." Thomas of Celano, First Life 84-85

Preaching to the Birds:  Francis performed literally the word of Mark 15:16: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."  

"My little sisters, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple raiment. He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world. Still more are ye beholden to Him for the heavenly element of the air which He hath appointed for you. Ye sow not, neither do you reap, and yet God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink, mountains and valleys for your refuge, and tall trees for your nesting. Because ye know not how to spin, God clothes you and your children. Seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits, it is certain that your Creator loveth you much. Therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to sing praises unto God." See First Life 58

The Miracle of the Thirsty Man: Francis drew water from a stone through the power of prayer alone.

"Once when Francis wanted to go on retreat to a remote hermitage, but he was too weak to walk, he borrowed an ass to ride. The animal's poor owner followed them up the mountain but soon became fatigued with the summer's heat. Finally, he called after the saint and begged him to have pity, saying that he would die unless he had water to drink. The compassionate man of God immediately got down from the ass, knelt on the ground, stretched out his hands toward heaven and prayed, and he did not stop praying until he believed that his prayer had been heard. 'You will find living water over there, which Christ mercifully brings from the rock for you to drink,' he told the peasant. The man went and drank the water that flowed from the rock by the power of him who prayed." Thomas of Celano, Second Life 46 

Chasing the devils out of Arezzo: When Francis and Sylvester made peace between the factions in Arezzo, everybody knew that it was a miracle.

"It happened once that Francis came to Arezzo where the whole town was wracked by feuding and civil conflicts. As he approached the city he saw devils rejoicing over it and stirring up the citizens to each other's destruction, so he called a brother, Sylvester by name, a man of God of worthy simplicity, and he said to him: 'Go before the gate of the city and on the part of almighty God command the devils to leave the city quickly.' The man hurried to the city gate speaking psalms of praise before the face of the Lord. Then he cried out loudly before the gate: 'On the part of almighty God, and at the command of our father Francis, depart from here, all you devils!' 

"Soon peace returned to the city and the people were tranquil again. Thereafter, when Francis was preaching to the people in this city, he began his sermon by saying: 'I speak to you as people who were once subjected to the devil, and in the bonds of the devils, but I know that you have been set free by a poor man's prayers." Thomas of Celano, Second Life 108 

The proof of fire before the Sultan: Unhappily, the truest faith often is assumed to be the one that followers are most willing to suffer for. So the object of holy war between faiths is not to win, as in secular war, but to demonstrate the most courage and suffering. According to Bonaventure, Francis went looking for martyrdom with the crusaders in the holy land. But the Sultan of Egypt cleverly presented him with gifts instead of death. Note how the Muslim leader in this scene is portrayed as anti-Christ sitting in a parody of the Last Judgment. 

"They were dragged before the Sultan by God's providence, just as Francis had wished. The sultan asked them why they were there. Francis told him that they had been sent by God, not by men, in order to show him and his subjects the way to salvation through the truth of the gospel message. He proclaimed the holy trinity and Jesus Christ the Savior with such courage and spirit that it was clear the promise of the gospel had been fulfilled in him. 'I will give you such eloquence and wisdom as all of your adversaries shall  not be able to withstand or refute' (Luke 21:15). 

"The sultan listened willingly and pressed Francis to stay with him. Francis however was inspired by God to reply: 'If you and your people are willing to become converts to Christ, I will willingly stay with you for His sake, but if you are afraid to abandon the law of Mahomet, then light a big fire and I will go into it with your priests in order to show you which faith is more sure and more holy.'

"The Sultan replied that he didn't think his priests would be willing to expose themselves to the flames to defend their faith or to undergo any sort of torture for it. He had seen one of them, an old and esteemed one, slip away from the room as soon as Francis voiced his proposal.

"Francis continued: 'If you and your people will embrace the Christian religion when I come out of the fire unharmed, then I am prepared to enter it alone. If I am burned in the fire, then you must attribute it to my sins alone, but if God saves me by his power, you must acknowledge that Christ is the power of God, Christ is the wisdom of God' (1 Corinthians 1:24). 

"But the Sultan answered that he did not dare to accept a choice like that, for fear of a revolt among his people. "Then he offered Francis a number of valuable presents, but the saint was anxious only for the salvation of souls, and he scorned these things as if they were so much dust. The sultan admired his disregard for worldly wealth and respected the saint more than ever." Bonaventure, Major Life I. ix. 8 (No crusader episodes appear in Thomas of Celano.)

Death of the Knight of Celano: Francis also had the power of prophecy.

"When Francis was approaching Celano to preach there, a certain knight with humble devotion and great insistence invited him to dinner. Francis excused himself and begged off, but in the end he was overcome by the knight's persuasion. 

"The mealtime came and the table was prepared. The host was happy and his whole family rejoiced at the coming of the poor guests to dine with them. Francis stood up, raised his eyes to heaven, and spoke to his host: 'Brother host, I have come to your house to eat, because of your prayers, but listen quickly to me now, for you are not going to eat here but elsewhere. Confess your sins devoutly, and let nothing remain in you that you do not make known by true confession. The Lord will repay you today because you have received his poor people with such devotion.' 

"The knight consented to these holy words, a priest who was a companion of Francis was called, and the the man confessed to him. He put his house in order and expected the word of the saint to be fulfilled. When all of the people started to eat, the knight made the sign of the cross upon his breast and extended his hand fearfully toward the bread. But before he drew his hand back, he bowed his head and breathed forth his spirit." Thomas of Celano, Miracles of Blessed Francis (Thomas' third collection of Francis stories), 41  

Receiving the stigmata: Francis' imitation of Christ was completed in 1224 when the marks of crucifixion mysteriously appeared in his hands, feet and side. 

"Two years before he gave his soul back to heaven, Francis was living in Tuscany in a hermitage at a place called Alverna when he saw a godly vision of a man standing above him in the likeness of an angel with six wings, his hands extended and his feet pinned together to a cross. Two of the wings were extended above his head, two were extended as if for flight, and two were wrapped around the body. He was filled with wonder at this sight but he did not understand what it could mean. . . And while he was wondering about the strangeness of this vision, the marks of the nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them in the crucified figure above him.

"His hands and feet seemed to be pierced through the center by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing on the palms of the hands and the tops of the feet, and their pointed ends on the opposite sides. In the hands, the marks were round on the palms but on the backs of the hands they were elongated, and some small pieces of flesh took the appearance of the ends of the nails, bent and driven back and rising above the skin. The marks in the feet were similar. Further his right side was wounded as if it had been pierced by a lance, and it frequently bled so that his tunic and trousers were soaked with his sacred blood. Few merited to see this wound in his side, while he lived, but happy was Brother Elias who saw it and also Brother Rufino, who accidentally touched the precious wound while he was rubbing the holy man. . .

"It was Francis' custom to reveal his great secret rarely or to no one, for he feared that revealing it would have the appearance of showing special favor or friendship to that person, so that he would lose some of the grace that had been given to him." Thomas of Celano, First Life 94-96

The death of Francis: Francis was received into heaven at age 44 or 45 on Sunday, October 4, 1226.

"One of the brothers and disciples, a man of some renown, whose name I think I should not mention here because while he lives in the flesh he prefers not to glory in so great a privilege, saw the soul of the most holy father ascend over many waters directly to heaven. It was a star, having in some way the immensity of the moon, but to a certain extent the brightness of the sun, and it was borne upward on a little white cloud." Thomas of Celano, First Life 110. Also in Second Life 217A.

The Appearance to Brother Augustine: Francis appeared to them at their hour of death.

"Brother Augustine was the minister of the brothers in the Terra di Lavoro. When he was dying in his last hour, he suddenly cried out so loudly that all heard him, even though he had lost the power of speaking long before that time: 'Wait for me, father! Wait for me! I am coming with you!' The brothers asked him who he spoke to. He replied, 'Do you not see our father Francis going to heaven?'  And immediately, Brother Augustine's soul was released from his flesh and followed the holy father." Thomas of Celano, Second Life 218 

45. Lamentations of the Claretine Nuns: One of Francis' first converts had been a young aristocratic girl named Clare. Francis had helped her to run away from her family and to establish her own order of nuns at the restored church of Saint Damian (where the crucifix had spoken to Francis). Although Francis practiced strict segregation of the sexes, a long tradition in art makes Francis and Clare romantic soul mates.

"Sighing and looking upon him with deep sorrow of heart and many tears, they began to lament: 'Father, father, what shall we do? Why do you forsake us in our misery? To whom do you leave us in our desolation? Why did you not send us rejoicing ahead of you to the place where you are going? What do you want us to do, shut up here in this prison where you never will visit again? All our consolation goes with you. No comfort remains. You loved poverty, but who will help us in our poverty now?  You overcame temptation, but who will strengthen us against our temptations now? You were our guide, but who now will lead us through our troubles? O, bitter separation! Unfriendly leave-taking! Dreadful death, this day you bereave thousands of sons and daughters. You take our father forever, in whom was our strength.' " Thomas of Celano, First Life 117

Examining the stigmata: The post mortem indicated that Francis died of Christlikeness.

"They had never read or heard in Scriptures what was set before their eyes, what they could hardly believe if it had not been proved to them by such evidence. There appeared in Francis a true image of the cross and of the passion of the lamb without blemish that washed away the sins of the world. He seemed as though he had recently been taken down from the cross, his hands and feet pierced as though by nails and his side wounded as though by a lance.

"They saw his flesh, which before had been dark, now gleaming with a dazzling whiteness and giving promise of the rewards of the blessed resurrection by its beauty. They saw that his face was like the face of an angel, as though he were living and not dead. And the rest of his members had taken on softness and pliability like an innocent child's body. His limbs were not contracted as they generally are in the dead. His skin had not become hard, and his members were not rigid but could be turned this way and that, as one wished." Thomas of Celano, First Life 112

The Appearance to Pope Gregory IX: The spirit of Francis haunted doubters.

"Before the canonization of the saint, Pope Gregory IX of happy memory, of whom St. Francis had foretold would be pope, was inclined to doubt the wound in Francis' side. Then one night, as the pope himself used to relate with tears, Saint Francis appeared to him in a dream. His face was hard and he reproached him for his doubts. Then he raised his right arm and showed him the wound and told him to get a glass and catch the blood that was streaming from his side. The pope got the glass and it seemed to fill up with blood to the brim. After that night, the pope was so devoted to the stigmata and such a strong believer that he could never allow any one to call these wonderful signs into doubt by attacking them in their pride, and he corrected such people severely." Bonaventure, Major Life II.2.

Recovery of the Wounded Man of Lerida: Francis was and is considered to be a saint because of the miracles he performed, not only during his lifetime but afterwards.

"At Lerida in Catalonia a man called John who was very devoted to St. Francis was walking along a road one evening where a deadly ambush had been laid. John himself had no enemies. The attack was intended for a companion who looked like him. One of the assailants struck John so fiercely with his sword that there was no hope for John's recovery. The very first blow he received almost severed his shoulder and arm from his body, and another thrust pierced his chest, making such a gash that the escaping breath would have blown out half a dozen candles.

"The doctors knew that John could not be saved. His wounds were festering and the smell was so bad that even his wife could hardly stand it. Since no human remedy could help him, John began to call to Saint Francis, begging his intercession as fervently as he could. 

"As he lay there on his bed of pain, fully conscious and repeating the name of Francis again and again, a man dressed in the habit of the Friars Minor entered by the window and stood beside him, as it seemed to him. He addressed John by name and said: 'You had confidence in me, and so God will save you.' When the dying man asked who he was, he replied that he was Saint Francis. He bent over him and unwound his bandages. Then he seemed to anoint all of the wounds with ointment. As soon as John felt those holy hands, which drew their healing power from our Savior's stigmata, his flesh was renewed.  The puss disappeared, the wounds closed up, and he was completely restored to health." Bonaventure, Major Life II. i. 5.

The Lady of Benevento: Dead Francis could bring back the dead.

"At Monte Marano near Benevento a woman died who had been particularly devoted to St. Francis. That night a number of priests came to celebrate the office of the dead and there, in sight of them all, the woman suddenly sat up in bed and called one of them who was her uncle. 'I want to go to confession, father,' she said. 'Hear my sin. I was dead and I was condemned to a cruel prison because I had never confessed the sin which I shall reveal to you. But St. Francis prayed for me because I had always served him devotedly when I was alive, and so I was allowed to come back to my body. When I have confessed this sin, I will enjoy eternal life. The moment that I have revealed it, you will see that I have gone to my promised reward.' Then she confessed to the terrified priest and received absolution. She composed herself in the bed and died happily." Bonaventure, Major Life II. ii. 1.

The Liberation of Pietro of Alife: Dead Francis freed prisoners.

"When Gregory IX was pope, a man called Peter from Alife was accused of heresy and taken prisoner at Rome. The pope gave him over to the bishop of Tivoli for safe-keeping. The bishop put him in chains and threw him into a dark dungeon from which there was no escape. 

"Because it was the vigil of the feast of St. Francis, Peter entreated the saint with prayers and tears to have pity on him. He purified his faith and renounced all heresy and became a devout client of St. Francis, one of Christ's most loyal servants. As a result he was found worthy to be heard by God, through the merits of St. Francis. 

"At twilight on the evening of the feast day, St. Francis took pity on him and came into his prison cell. He called him by name and told him to stand up. Peter was terrified and asked who it was. He was told it was St. Francis. There and then he saw the chains on his feet suddenly broken. At the same time, some of the iron bolts fell from the stone walls of the cell, and the walls opened and left the way free for him to leave. He was free but so overcome that he could not make his escape; instead, he rushed to the door of the cell and frightened the guards with his cries. 

"They told the bishop how he had been freed from his bonds, and when he had heard the story, the bishop visited the prison himself. There he realized clearly that the power of God had been at work. The chains were shown to the pope and the cardinals and when they saw what had happened they were amazed and gave thanks to God." Bonaventure, Major Life II. v. 4.

Brother Francis, pray for us: Gregory declared the sainthood of Francis on August 17, 1228.

"The solemn day came, a day to be held in reverence by every age, a day that shed its sublime rapture not only upon the earth but even upon the heavenly mansions." Thomas of Celano, First Life 124

Powers of Literature home

Copyright  2002, 2005