Saint Francis of Assisi – a brief life history

St Francis of Assisi is one of the most popular saints, and his role in shaping Christian civilisation is unappalled.

His father was a rich textile merchant and his mother a distinguished French lady.

Being wealthy and lively, Francis became the leader of the local group. He was attracted to a knight’s career and in 1201 fought for Assisi, in the attack on Perugia. While he was preparing for his second expedition in Apulia, a vision turned him away and sent him back to Assisi.

One day while riding his horse, he saw a leper sitting by the road. People used to keep away from lepers as they were stinking and leprosy was contagious. Francis went straight to him, gave him some money and embraced him like an old friend.

He felt called to Christ's service and began to take care of the sick and to distribute his possessions generously to the poor. His father took this as wasteful behaviour and brought him before the bishop. There in the presence of the bishop, Francis aged 25, renounced all his rights to inheritance, including the clothes he had on, and joyfully embraced "lady poverty".

On 12 April 1206, while praying in the little church of San Damiano, thrice he heard a voice from the crucifix urging him: "Go Francis, restore my house which is falling into ruins." Full of joy Francis renounced his old way of life, put on the hermit's dress and begged from door to door for offerings to repair the Church.

In 1210, he established the "Franciscan Order" for men, and in 1212 he established the "Order of the Poor Clares" for women.

In 1223, Francis and his brethren celebrated Christmas in a mountain cave at Greccio, where they brought in an ox and a donkey, and spread some hay under the altar. During midnight Mass, he and his assembly saw baby Jesus smiling on the hay. Here, Francis made the first ever Christmas crib.

On 14 Sept 1224, feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, while on solitary retreat, Francis was contemplating the passion of Christ, he received in his body the 'stigmata'. The stigmata which is the sacred wounds of the Lord, is the first recorded case of anyone receiving this extraordinary grace. It caused him acute physical pain, and stayed with him till he died. He was struck with many ailments, struck blind and had to be carried around. It was in this state that he wrote the "Canticle of the Creatures", which he expressed his deep appreciation for all God's creations. On the 3rd Oct 1226, lying totally naked on bare earth at Portiuncula, he breathed forth his soul.

Francis was a deacon and considered himself unworthy of being a priest.