San Francesco d'Assisi
To read the story of Saint Francis and the wolf, click HERE


Saint Francis of Assisi.

To listen to a famous Italian song about Saint Francis, click on the button and go to Track 53.  This song is called
Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna. Sung by Claudio Baglioni.
               french musicTo see the words, click HERE.

is a small town in the Italian region of Umbria and the province of Perugia.  It is an ancient town, built high up on a hill and surrounded by an old wall. 
Below is the coat of arms of Assisi.


The patron saint of Italy is San Francesco: Saint Francis.
He was born in Assisi in 1182.  His mother was called Pica and there is a possibility that she was French.  His father was called Pietro (Peter).  The family's surname was Bernardone.

The family was very wealthy.  Pietro was a cloth merchant, selling fine fabrics to the rich.  This meant that the family was always dressed in the finest clothes.  Pietro probably travelled to France or had dealings with the French in order to buy his special fabrics.

  So, Francesco grew up in a wealthy household where he heard the French language.  As a young child, he would sing French songs and this impressed the people of Assisi.
In fact, his real name was Giovanni, meaning: John. 
As he loved the French language so much he was nicknamed Francesco, meaning: Frenchy. 

Francesco had lots of friends.  Most of them were the sons of the other rich families of Assisi They loved to go to parties - staying out all night and sleeping during the day.  They had grown up as spoilt youths who didn't need to work because their parents were rich.  They spent lots of money on having a good time.
                          Andiamo alla festa!

In 1202, the town of Perugia declared war on Assisi. 
Francis went to fight as a soldier to defend his town but he was captured and was held as a prisoner.   His family paid for him to be released and he returned home at the age of twenty-two.

Later, he was expected to fight once again in another battle.  His father bought him a magnificent horse and expensive armour.  In those times, parents were very proud of their sons who went to battle.  It was a sign of bravery and added prestige and honour to the family name.

So, Francesco left Assisi looking like a hero and accompanied by the cheers of the people.

However, something strange and mysterious happened!
The next day, Francesco returned to Assisi.  He appeared to be ill and feverish.  He explained nothing and just went straight to bed.  His parents were embarrassed because their son seemed weak and not at all like the heroic figure of the day before.

Nobody knows what happened to Francesco.  
It remains a mystery. 
Had he been attacked by robbers?  Had he fallen ill? 
Had God spoken to him? 
Whatever it was, Francesco was a changed person.  Never again would he wish to fight as a soldier, go to parties with his friends or spend lots of money.

As he recovered, Francesco grew more and more interested in animals and nature.  The sound of birds singing and the beauty of nature made him feel better.

He was becoming less and less interested in earning lots of money in his father's business.  Instead, he decided to give away all his belongings to the poor and to live outside the walls of Assisi in the countryside with no money and no possessions. 

He had always dressed in the finest clothes but from now on he decided to wear only a simple tunic, tied with a cord at the waist.  Francesco's father was furious!

Living outside the town, Francesco's time was spent helping lepers and rebuilding old, ruined chapels.  In those days, the most feared disease was leprosy.  Anyone who caught the illness was forced to live outside the town in caves or huts.  The lepers were forced to wear a bell around their necks so that people could hear them from a distance and run away before they came too close. 

Everyone was horrified to learn that Francesco was now living with those sick people. 

Francesco believed that God had told him to help lepers and to rebuild ruined chapels in the countryside outside Assisi. 

One day, when he was passing in front of a ruined chapel called San Damiano, the cross hanging above the old altar spoke to him and told him to rebuild the chapel. 
This cross is very famous.  It is called Il Crocifisso di San Damiano and it can be seen today in the church called La Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi. 
The cross is in the style that was common at that time:
a colourful image painted onto a wooden cross shape. 
Photo of the famous cross, below.

Francesco obeyed the words spoken by the cross and rebuilt a total of three chapels, stone by stone. 
Two of those chapels -San Damiano and Santa Maria degli Angeli - still exist today!  

Below is a photo of the chapel called Santa Maria degli Angeli.  It is also known as La Porziuncola, meaning: the little portion of property.
Can you see the arched entrance? Do you notice how the external wall has been colourfully painted?


Was Francesco suffering during his new lifestyle?  Absolutely not!  He was very happy! 
In fact, he was soon joined by his rich friends!  They  decided that they wanted to be as happy as Francesco by living in a simple manner.  They abandoned their rich homes and possessions. All of their parents were furious!

One of the beautiful, wealthy girls of Assisi decided to run away from her family to join Francesco's group of friends.
Her father was furious and tried to bring her back. 
It did not work.
Her name was Chiara (Clare) and she was seventeen years old at the time.  

In order to prove that she did not want to return home, she asked Francesco to cut off her long blond hair. 
This was the sign that she was giving up her beauty to live in a simple manner, with no vanity. 
Clare's long, blond hair has been preserved and can be seen in a glass case in the Basilica di Santa Chiara, Assisi. 

And did Clare feel sad and lonely in her new lifestyle?  Absolutely not!  She was very happy! 
Soon, she was joined by lots of other girls and ladies who wanted to live in simplicity with her. 
Even Clare's sister and mother moved in! 
Nowadays, she is known as Saint Clare.  Below is her portrait.

The female companions all lived in the rebuilt chapel called San Damiano.  These ladies became known as The Poor Clares.  In Italian they are called Le Clarisse.  Their Order still exists today. 

Francesco with his male companions lived in the other rebuilt chapel called Santa Maria degli Angeli.  Francesco referred to it as 'his little portion of property':- La Porziuncola.  He loved this place.

There are many famous stories about Francesco.  It is said that he loved animals and he knew how to speak to them. 
For that reason, he is the patron saint of animals. 

On one occasion, when he was trying to speak to a group of people, the birds perching in the surrounding trees were making too much noise.  Nobody could hear a word.  Annoyed, Francesco scolded the naughty birds - telling them to keep quiet.  Immediately, there was silence!

Another famous story is about Saint Francis and a wolf. 
To read it, click HERE.


Francesco loved to sing and to write poetry. 
It is believed that he wrote the earliest known piece of Italian literature in 1226.  
It is a poem
called Cantico di Frate Sole  (also called Cantico delle Creature.
In this poem, he refers to everything in nature as either a brother or a sister, for example, Brother Sun and Sister Moon.   Before this date, literature was produced in Latin or in Greek.

Saint Francis was the person who invented the tradition of the Christmas crib (il presepe) in 1223.  To find out more click HERE.

Everybody was fascinated by Francesco.  People travelled from all over Europe to visit him and to hear what he had to say.  One of those people was a Portuguese man called Antonio.  He was so impressed by Francesco's words that he stayed in Italy as one of his supporters.  Antonio is now called Saint Anthony of Padua (Sant' Antonio di Padova.)

Francesco believed that:-
1. Everyone should live in peace.
2. That all creatures are important.
3. That everything belonging to nature should be cared for.
4.  That money is not important.  We should enjoy life without thinking all the time about how to become rich.  Just like animals, there should be no need to earn money or to own possessions.

Francesco called everything a 'brother' or a 'sister'.  For example: Frate Sole (Brother Sun), Sora Luna (Sister Moon), Frate Vento (Brother Wind), Sora Aria (Sister Air), etc....  In other words, if a noun was masculine it was a brother, if it was feminine it was a sister.

San Francesco died on 3 October 1226 at the age of forty-four, shortly after writing his famous poem Cantico delle Creature.   In the final period of his life, he lost his sight and suffered from ill-health. 

He was canonized (made a saint) in 1228 by
Pope Gregorio IX.  Saint Francis is the patron saint of Italy and of animals and nature.  His special day of remembrance is every year on 4 October.

Saint Francis oif Assisi

His shrine is in the
Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi

In the Basilica you can also see the very tunic that Francesco wore every day. 

The shrine of Saint Clare can be visited in the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi.  She died on 11 August 1253 and was canonized by Pope Alessandro IV in 1255.  She is the patron saint of the television because, even though she lived in a separate building away from Francis, she had the great vision to 'see' and understand his work,  following and supporting his ideas about living in peace, simplicity and in harmony with nature.

Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi.


Notebook of Twenty Interesting Facts
About Saint Francis.

 1. Just like Dr. Dolittle, San Francesco spoke the language of animals.

2.  San Francesco lived happily with no money.  Although he came from a very rich family, he gave away everything he owned to the poor.  He wore a simple tunic and shaved the top of his head to show that he was not vain.

3. San Francesco was not frightened to work with lepers.

4.  He began the tradition of celebrating Christmas with a crib and a stable with animals.  Nowadays, it is normal to celebrate Christmas with the Nativity Scene because of Saint Francis.

5. San Francesco believed that EVERYTHING was equally important, so he called everything either a 'brother' or a 'sister.' For example, Sister Air, Brother Wind, Sister Earth, Brother Sea, Sister Moon, Brother Sun.

6. Saint Francis loved all creatures and took care not to step on insects when he was walking.

7.  Saint Francis loved the letter T.
His special letter T is called the T Tau.

8.  He built ruined churches, stone by stone. Two of them still stand today: San Damiano and Santa Maria degli Angeli.

9.  Francesco was very popular and fascinating.  Thousands of people travelled from all over Europe to the area of Assisi just to hear his words. 

10. Francesco loved the French language even though he was Italian.  He was nicknamed 'Francesco' (Frenchy) for that reason.  His real name was Giovanni (John.)

11.  Francesco loved songs and poetry. He wrote his own songs and poems.  Many people believe that he composed the famous hymn called 'Make me an instrument of your peace.' 
He also wrote a very famous poem called Canticle of Brother Sun. This poem is the first piece of literature known to be written in Italian (rather than Latin or Greek.) 
Click HERE to read it.   

12. Francesco developed sores on his hands and feet. These mysterious sores are known as stigmata. They are in the form of the wounds received by Jesus at the time of His death.

13.   Francesco's best friend was called Bernardo. 

14.   Francis travelled with his companions from Assisi to Rome, to speak to the Pope. 
Pope Innocent III was so impressed with Francis that he remained his friend for the rest of his life and thought that he was wonderful.

15.  Francis travelled to Egypt during the Crusades, to speak to Malik-al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt. The Sultan was so impressed with Francis' peaceful words that he became his friend and gave him gifts, even though Italy and other European countries were fighting against the Sultan's country. 
This proves how effective words can be and that Francis would have been an excellent politician.

16.  Although Francis had no possessions, a friend (Count Orlando of Chiusi) gave him a mountain as a gift!  That mountain is in Italy and is called Mount La Verna.

17.  Francis befriended a fierce wolf that was terrorizing the town of Gubbio.  After a discussion with the wolf, a deal was made that the wolf would become friendly if the people agreed to feed him. Everyone lived happily.  To read the story, click HERE.

18.  Francis had a friend called Clare.  She became Saint Clare of Assisi.

19.   The beliefs of Saint Francis are still practised today.  Men who live according to the teaching and beliefs of Francis are called 'Franciscans.'

20.   Francis is laid to rest in The Basilica of Saint Francis (La Basilica di San Francesco) in Assisi, with all his companions.

Grazie San Francesco!  Thank you Saint Francis for living your life as an example of how everyone should live:
in simplicity and peace, without greed, without hatred and with respect for all people, all creatures and our planet.
Grazie mille!

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