Saint Francis was born in Assisi into a fairly wealthy merchant family. As a young man he liked to live the high life and would spend many evenings revelling with his friends. He went into the family cloth business, travelling as part of his work. After his conversion, much to his father's dismay, he gave up all worldly goods and dressed himself in a simple cassock of peasant quality. His father brought him home and imprisoned him in a small, very small, room in an effort to change his mind. This was an unsuccessful attempt, and Frances went off to travel the Italian countryside preaching and working with the poor and the sick, especially lepers, much reviled and outcast at the time
This was the room (now a little chapel) where the young Francis was born. He was called John initially, until his father changed it to Francis on his return from a business trip in France, a place he was very fond of.
A statue of Saint Francis parents.
This is the floor level of the family cloth business, note the small door on the left. They must have been so much smaller then - everything is shorter and narrower.
The room where Francis, as a young man was imprisoned.
The Basilica where Francis was buried, and some of the hoards of people that visit this extraordinary place.
At the time of Francis conversion he was instructed to "go and rebuild my church". Francis took this literally, and rebuilt the tiny church of San Damiano, not realizing that it was a metaphorical instruction. This Church was eventually given to Clare (known in Italian as Chiara), who established the order which has become known as the Poor Clare's. They were given permission by the Pope to live a life of poverty, and he signed a document to say that it was their right to do so. Clare too came from a very wealthy family and when she first fled to Francis and his followers, her relatives tried, unsuccessfully, to forcibly remove her.
The path leading to the Church of San Damiano.
A little chapel on the way to San Damiano.
The Church of San Damiano, and a fresco on the wall (below).
Frances is buried in the crypt under the lower Basilica. He died near the tiny chapel of Porziuncola, where Clare had fled to years before. The monks leading the funeral procession stopped at the chapel at Porziuncola and lifted Francis body up so that Clare and the other women now ensconced in the convent could view his body for the last time.
The lower Basilica is behind the doors in the centre of the picture, and of course the crypt is below that.
Looking up towards the upper Basilica.
The tiny chapel of Porziuncola is completely covered by this massive basilica, Santa Maria degli Angelo. Pilgrims trek here to see the church where Clare fled to and found refuge with the monks holding vigil. Despite the fact that this great edifice dwarfs everything around it, it is surprisingly moving to go into the tiny, beautifully proportioned Romanesque Church within these walls. Photos are not allowed, and so I can't show you.
Francis, a well educated, erudite, and obviously personable man, very early in his life as an itinerate preacher, adopted the Tau as his symbol. He signed all communications with it, and these days it has become a symbol of the Franciscans. I quickly took this photo below as I walked towards the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Imagine my astonishment when downloading photos for this post when I saw the sky. I'd you wonder what the Tau is, just look at the sky on the photo below - a very good example of one!
Santa Maria degli Angeli (above and below)
Clare was also buried in Assisi, at the opposite end of the town to Francis. Her waxed body is in thw crypt of he Basilica of Santa Chiara.
Basilica Santa Chiara
Francis was an itinerant preacher. He practised what he preached, eschewing material things throughout his life, living simply. He was a kind man, caring for the sick and the underdog. He was a man of peace, often playing the role of peace maker. He lived a simp!e life, caring for all living things. Indeed , not only is he the Patron Saint of Italy, but also of ecology!
One can't help but wonder what this simple, educated man would think of the hype that surrounds anything to do with him, but at the same time one can understand the fascination and interest that he holds for modern man.