SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI - UMBRIA - ITALY
Francis was born to Pietro di Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant, and his wife Pica Bourlemont, about whom little is known except that she was originally from France.He was one of seven children. Pietro was in France on business when Francis was born, and Pica had him baptized as Giovanni di Bernardone in honor of Saint John the Baptist, in the hope he would grow to be a great religious leader. When his father returned to Assisi, he was furious about this, as he did not want his son to be a man of the Church and decided to call him Francesco (an adjective meaning French in Italian), in honor of his commercial success and enthusiasm for all things French.
As a youth, Francesco--or Francis in English--became a troubador and yearned to become a writer of French poetry.Although many biographers remark about his bright clothing, rich friends, street brawls, and love of pleasure; his displays of disillusionment toward the world that surrounded him became fairly early, as is shown in the "story of the beggar". In this account, he was selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace on behalf of his father when a beggar came to him and asked for alms. At the conclusion of his business deal, Francis abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage.
In 1201, he joined a military expedition against Perugia, he was taken as a prisoner at Collestrada, and spent a year as a captive. It is probable that his conversion to more serious thoughts was a gradual process relating to this experience. After his return to Assisi in 1203, Francis recommenced his carefree life. In 1204, however, a serious illness started a spiritual crisis. In 1205 Francis left for Puglia to enlist in the army of the Count of Brienne. In Spoleto, a strange vision made him return to Assisi, deepening his spiritual crisis.
It is said that thereafter he began to avoid the sports and the feasts of his former companions; in response, they asked him laughingly whether he was thinking of marrying, to which he answered "yes, a fairer bride than any of you have ever seen", meaning his "lady poverty". He spent much time in lonely places, asking God for enlightenment. By degrees he took to nursing lepers, the most repulsive victims in the lazar houses near Assisi. After a pilgrimage to Rome, where he begged at the church doors for the poor, he claimed to have had a mystical experience in the Church of San Damiano just outside of Assisi, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified came alive and said to him three times, "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins". He thought this to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying, and so sold his horse and some cloth from his father's store, to assist the priest there for this purpose.
His father Pietro, highly indignant, attempted to change his mind, first with threats and then with corporal chastisement. After a final interview in the presence of the bishop, Francis renounced his father and his patrimony, laying aside even the garments he had received from him. For the next couple of months he lived as a beggar in the region of Assisi. Returning to the town for two years this time, he restored several ruined churches, among them the Porziuncola, little chapel of St Mary of the Angels, just outside the town, which later became his favorite abode.
At the end of this period (according to Jordanus, on February 24, 1209), Francis heard a sermon that changed his life. The sermon was about Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers that they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road. Francis was inspired to devote himself to a life of poverty.
Clad in a rough garment, barefoot, and, after the Evangelical precept, without staff or scrip, he began to preach repentance.He was soon joined by his first follower, a prominent fellow townsman, the jurist Bernardo di Quintavalle, who contributed all that he had to the work. Within a year Francis had eleven followers. Francis chose never to be ordained a priest and the community lived as "lesser brothers," fratres minores in Latin.
The brothers lived a simple life in the deserted lazar house of Rivo Torto near Assisi; but they spent much of their time wandering through the mountainous districts of Umbria, always cheerful and full of songs, yet making a deep impression on their hearers by their earnest exhortations.
In 1209 Francis led his first eleven followers to Rome to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious order. Upon entry to Rome, the brothers encountered Bishop Guido of Assisi, who had in his company the cardinal bishop of Sabina, Lord John of St Paul. The Cardinal, who was the confessor of Pope Innocent III, was immediately sympathetic to Francis and agreed to represent Francis to the pope. Reluctantly, Pope Innocent agreed to meet with Francis and the brothers the next day. After several days, the pope agreed to informally admit the group, adding that when God increased the group in grace and number, they could return for an official admittance. The group was tonsured and Francis was ordained as a deacon, allowing him to read Gospels in the church.