Below are two readings relating to Francis of Assisi (d. 1226). The first is a general introduction to Francis and the early Franciscan movement. The second focuses on an episode in Francis’ life–the stigmata.

Thinking about metaphor, consider how the writers "created" Francis. Try not to get bogged down with the authors' names–for our purposes only their product is important.

Introduction to Francis of Assisi

"Francis was a native of Assisi, in the Spoleto valley. He was born (1182) during his father's absence, and his mother gave him the name Giovanni; but, on his father's return from his journey to France, he started to call his son Francis. As a young man, with a lively intelligence, he began to practice his father's profession, dealing in cloth, but in a completely different manner. Francis was far more cheerful and generous: he liked to enjoy himself and to sing, strolling around Assisi day and night with a band of friends, spending all the money that he earned or could get hold of on parties and entertainments.... One day, as he was walking past the church of San Damiano, he was moved to enter. Inside, he started to pray fervently in front of the image of the Crucifix, which spoke to him with touching kindness: 'Francis, can you not see that my house is falling down? Go then and repair it for me.' Trembling and amazed, the young man replied: 'I will do so willingly, Lord."' (Legend of the Three Companions, I, 2)

Francis understood Christ's request literally, and took money from his purse to give to the priest who looked after the church, to pay for a lamp and oil so that there would always be a light under the sacred image. Shortly afterward, the mer chant's son left his father's house and embarked on the life of a "penitent"; wearing a hermit's robe, he devoted himself to the repair of small decrepit churches, a practice that was very common at the time. He wandered through the streets of the city begging for the stones he needed to do this work. He used to say: "Whoever gives me one stone will have one reward; who ever gives me two, two rewards, whoever three, the same number of rewards." After repairing the church of San Damiano, where he was later to take the young Clare, Francis continued his life as a penitent in the humble chapel of Santa Maria della Porziuncola. This was a rural dependency of the abbey of San Benedetto al Subasio. Francis completed its restoration three years after his conversion. "

But one day, while listening to Mass, he heard the instructions given by Christ when he sent out his disciples to preach: that is to take nothing for their journey, neither gold, nor silver, neither bread, nor staves; neither footwear, nor a change of clothing. He understood these orders better afterward, when he had got the priest to explain the passage to him: Then, radiant with joy, he exclaimed: ‘It is exactly what I long to do with all my strength!’" (Legend of the Three Companions, VIII, 25)

Casting off his hermit's clothes, he made himself a tunic out of coarse fabric, cut in the shape of a cross, girdled at the waist with a piece of rope, and began to preach the Gospel in a simple manner. He was soon joined at the Porziuncola by his first companions, drawn by a way of life based o poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Church, in the manner of the Gospel. Francis decided to call them "Friars Minor." As the community grew, Francis went to Rome to obtain the papal placet. At the time the Church was engaged in harsh repression of the heretical beliefs widespread among lay people and had forbidden the formation of new religious orders outside the rule of St Benedict. Nonetheless Pope Innocent III authorized Francis to preach his penitence. Having obtained approval from the pope, the movement grew with marvelous speed and the novelty of its way of, life impressed Bishop Jacques dc Vitry, who visited Perugia in 1216:

"I have found though, in those regions, something that has been great consolation to me: people, of: both sexes, wealthy and lay, who, stripping themselves of all property for Christ, abandoned the world. They were called frati minori and sorelle, minori and are held in great esteem by the pope and cardinals.

"They do not meddle at all in temporal matters, but instead, with ardent desire and passionate commitment, labor everyday to wrest foundering souls from the grip o worldly vanities and draw them into their ranks. And, by divine grace, they have already produced much fruit and many have gained by it, so that anyone who hears then tells others: come, and see with your own eyes. "These people live in the manner of the early Church, of which it is written: 'the multitude of the faithful were of one heart and one soul' During the day they go into the towns and villages, striving actively to win others for the Lord." (Jacques de Vitry, First letter)

Francis died at the Porziuncola in the evening of October 3,1226. For two years he had borne the mysterious marks of the stigmata on his hands, feet, and side, which he had received on the mountain of La Verna after seeing a vision of a seraph. While he lived, the saint kept the scars carefully concealed, but they were revealed after his death by his best-loved disciple Elias, who had been a personal friend of Francis and his deputy from 1221 to 1227:

"And now I announce to you a great joy, an extraordinary miracle. Never has such a portent been heard of in the world, except in the Son of God, who is Christ the Lord. Some time before his death, our brother and father appeared to have been crucified, bearing the marks of the five wounds on his body, which were truly the stigmata of Christ. His hands and feet were pierced as if by nails passing from one to the other side, and had scars the black color of the nails. His side appeared to have been pierced by a spear, and often discharged drops of blood.

"While he lived he had a plain appearance and there was no beauty in his face: there was no member of his body that was not lacerated. His members were stiff, through contraction of the nerves, as happens in a dead body. But after his death his face became very beautiful, shining with wonderful purity and comforting to see. His members, rigid previously, became flexible and could be bent in any way one wished, like those of a tender child." (Letter written by Brother Elias) The next morning a great crowd came down from Assisi, along with all the clergy, took up the sacred body, and carried it with great honor into the city, to the accompaniment of hymns, songs, and trumpet blasts. Passing by San Damiano, the procession halted for a while for a last farewell to Clare - founder of the Order of the Damianites - and, having at last reached its destination, the coffin was interred in the church of San Giorgio, just outside the old city walls, where the convent of St Clare (Santa Chiara) would later be built. Francis's tomb immediately became the object of intense popular devotion, stirred up by the news of the first miracles.

"Our Lord Pope Gregory [IX], having consulted the cardinals and numerous other prelates and approved the reports of the miracles worked by the Lord through Francis's intercession, inserted his name in the list of saints venerated by the Church, ordering that the anniversary of his death be celebrated as his feast day.

"The ceremony of canonization was conducted in Assisi, in the presence of many dignitaries of the Church, a large group of princes and barons, and a countless multitude of people who flocked there from different places, and which the Pope had convened in the year of Our Lord 1228, the second of his pontificate." (Legend of the Three Companions, VIII, 71). By order of Gregory IX, the Francis can Thomas of Celano wrote a biography of Francis, the Vita prima (1228). In 1246 Tommaso compiled a Vita secunda, drawing on the information he had gathered from the saint's first companions on the instructions of the minister-general, Crescenzio da Iesi, who was anxious to preserve the deeds and words of Francis. In 1260 the Chapter in Narbonne entrusted the new minister-general, Bonaventura da Bagnoregio, later St Bonaventura, with the task of writing a new biography. Called the Legenda major, it was presented at the following Chapter, held in Pisa in 1263. Three years later the General Chapter in Paris ordered the destruction of all biographies of the saint predating the Legenda major, which became the official interpretation of St Francis propagated by the Order. St Bonaventura did not confine him self to recounting the story of Francis's life, but presented him "in the guise of the angel who rises from the east and bears on himself the seal of the Living God, as described by that other friend of Christ, the apostle and evangelist John, in his accurate prediction. Indeed John says in Revelation, on the opening of the sixth seal: And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God." This vision was based on the Joachimite interpretation of the historic role of St Francis that had been put forward by the more extreme fringes of the Spiritual Franciscans, faithful to the saint's last will dictated in his Testament.

After the death of Francis in 1226 writing the life of Francis became a major issue within the Franciscan order. Eventually Bonaventure became leader of the order and was asked to write the "official" account of Francis’ life. When his Major Life came out in the 1260s, all other accounts were ordered destroyed.

The section below is Bonaventure’s account of Francis’ stigmata. Read it and consider how Francis is characterized as a metaphor for the figure of Christ.




(From Bonaventure’s Major Life of Saint Francis, c. 1260)

1. The angelic man Francis

had made it his habit

never to relax in his pursuit of the good.

Rather, like the heavenly spirits on Jacob's ladder

he either ascended to God

or descended to his neighbor.

For he had wisely learned

so to divide the time given to him for merit

that he expended part of it in working for his neighbor's benefit

and devoted the other part

to the peaceful ecstasy of contemplation.

Therefore when in his compassion he had worked

for the salvation of others,

he would then leave behind the restlessness of the crowds

and seek out hidden places

of quiet and solitude,

where he could spend his time more freely

with the Lord

and cleanse himself of any dust

that might have adhered to him

from his involvement with men.

Two years

before he gave his spirit back to heaven,

after many and varied labors,

he was led apart by divine providence

to a high place

which is called Mount La Verna.

When according to his usual custom

he had begun to fast there for forty days

in honor of St. Michael the Archangel,

he experienced more abundantly than usual

an overflow of the sweetness of heavenly contemplation

he burned with a stronger flame

of heavenly desires,

and he began to experience more fully

the gifts of heavenly grace.

He was borne aloft

not like one who out of curiosity

searches into the supreme majesty

only to be crushed by its glory,

but like the faithful and prudent servant

searching out God's good pleasure,

to which he desires with the greatest ardor

to conform himself in every way.


2. Through divine inspiration he had learned that if he opened the book of the Gospel, Christ would reveal to him what God considered most acceptable in him and from him After praying with much devotion, he took the book of the Gospels from the altar and had his companion, a holy man dedicated to God, open it three times in the name of the Holy Trinity. When all three times the book was opened the Lord's passion always met his eyes, the man filled with God under stood that just as he had imitated Christ in the actions of his life, so he should be conformed to him in the affliction and sorrow of his passion, before he would pass out of this world (John 13:1). And although his body was already weakened by the great austerity of his past life and his continual carrying of the Lord's cross, he was in no way terrified but was inspired even more vigorously to endure martyrdom. His unquenchable fire of love for the good Jesus had been fanned into such a blaze of flames that many waters could not quench so powerful a love (Cant. 8:6-7).

3. By the Seraphic ardor of his desires, he was being borne aloft into God; and by his sweet compassion he was being transformed into him who chose to be crucified because of the excess of his love (Eph. 2 :4). On a certain morning about the east of the Exaltation of the Cross, while Francis was praying In the mountainside, he saw a Seraph with six fiery and shining wings descend from the height of heaven. And when in swift flight the Seraph had reached a spot in the air near the man of God, there appeared between the wings the figure of a man crucified, with his hands and feet extended in the form of cross and fastened to a cross. Two of the wings were lifted above his head, two were extended for flight and two covered I his whole body. When Francis saw this, he was overwhelmed and his heart was flooded with a mixture of joy and sorrow. He rejoiced because of the gracious way Christ looked upon him under the appearance of the Seraph, but the fact that he was fastened to a cross pierced his soul with a sword of compassionate sorrow (Luke 2:35).

He wondered exceedingly at the sight of so unfathomable a vision, realizing that the weakness of Christ's passion was in no way compatible with the immortality of the Seraph's spiritual nature. Eventually he understood by a revelation from the Lord that divine providence had shown him this vision so that, as Christ's lover, he might learn in advance that he was to be totally transformed into the likeness of Christ crucified, not by the martyrdom of his flesh, but by the fire of his love consuming his soul.

As the vision disappeared, it left in his heart a marvelous ardor and imprinted on his body markings that were no less marvelous. Immediately the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet just as he had seen a little before in the figure of the man crucified. His hands and feet seemed to be pierced through the center by nails, with the heads of the nails appearing on the inner side of the hands and the upper side of the feet and their points on the opposite sides. The heads of the nails in his hands and his feet were round and black; their points were oblong and bent as if driven back with a hammer, and they emerged from the flesh and stuck out beyond it. Also his right side, as if pierced with a lance, was marked with a red wound from which his sacred blood often flowed, moistening his tunic and underwear.

4. When Christ's servant realized that he could not conceal from his intimate companions the stigmata that had been so visibly imprinted on his flesh, he feared to make public the Lord's secret (Tob. 12 :7) and was thrown into an agony of doubt whether to tell what he had seen or to be silent about it. He called some of the friars and, speaking in general terms, presented his doubt to them and sought their advice. One of the friars, who was named Illuminato and was illumined by grace, realized that Francis had had a miraculous vision be cause he seemed still completely dazed. He said to the holy man: "Brother, you should realize that at times divine secrets are revealed to you not for yourself alone but also for others. You have every reason to fear that if you hide what you have received for the profit of many, you will be blamed for burying that talent" (Matt. 25:25). Although the holy man used to say on other occasions: "My secret is for myself (Isa. 24:16), he was moved by Illuminato's words and then with much fear re counted the vision in detail, adding that the one who had appeared to him had told him some things which he would never disclose to any man as long as he lived. We should believe, then, that those things he had been told by that sacred Seraph who had miraculously appeared to him on the cross were so secret that men are not permitted to speak of them (2 Cor. 12:4).

5. When the true love of Christ

had transformed his lover into his image

and the forty days were over

that he had planned to spend in solitude,

and the feast of St. Michael the Archangel

had also arrived,

the angelic man Francis

came down from the mountain,

bearing with him

the image of the Crucified,

which was depicted not on tablets of stone

or on panels of wood

by the hands of a craftsman,

but engraved in the members of his body

by the finger of the living God.

Because it is good to keep hidden

the secret of the King,


aware that he had been given a royal secret,

to the best of his powers

kept the sacred stigmata hidden.

Since it is for God to reveal for his own glory

the wonders which he has performed,

the Lord himself,

who had secretly imprinted those marks on Francis,

publicly worked through them

a number of miracles

so that the miraculous though hidden

power of the stigmata

might be made manifest

by the brightness of divine signs.

6. In the province of Rieti a very serious plague broke out and so cruelly took the lives of cattle and sheep that no remedy could be found. A certain God-fearing man was told in a vision at night to hurry to the hermitage of the friars and get the water in which God's servant Francis, who was staying there at that time, had washed his hands and feet and to sprinkle it on all the animals. He got up in the morning, came to the hermitage, secretly got the water from the companions of the holy man and sprinkled it on the sheep and cattle. Marvelous to say, the moment that water touched the animals, which were weak and lying on the ground, they immediately recovered their former vigor, stood up and, as if they had had nothing wrong with them, hurried off to pasture. Thus through the miraculous power of that water, which had touched his sacred wounds, the plague ceased and deadly disease fled from the flocks.

7. Before the holy man stayed on Mount La Verna, clouds would often form over the mountain, and violent hailstorms would devastate the crops. But after his blessed vision the hail stopped permanently, to the amazement of the inhabitants, so that the unusually serene face of the sky pro claimed the extraordinary nature of his heavenly vision and the power of the stigmata that were imprinted on him there.

In wintertime because of his physical weakness and the rough roads Francis was once riding on a donkey belonging to a poor man. It happened that he spent the night at the base of an overhanging cliff to try to avoid the inconveniences of a snow fall and the darkness of night that prevented him from reaching his place of lodging. The saint heard his helper tossing and turning, grumbling and groaning, since, as he had only thin clothing, the biting cold would not let him sleep. Francis, burning with the fire of divine love, stretched out his hand and touched him. A marvelous thing happened! At the touch of his sacred hand, which bore the burning coal of the Seraph (Isa. 6:6-7), immediately the cold fled altogether and the man felt great heat within and without, as if he had been hit by a fiery blast from the vent of a furnace. Comforted in mind and body, he slept until morning more soundly among the rocks and snow than he ever had in his own bed, as he used to say later.

Thus it is established by convincing evidence

that these sacred marks were imprinted on him

by the power of the One

who purifies, illumines and inflames

through the action of the Seraphim.

With their miraculous power

these sacred marks,

in the external realm,

restored health by purifying from a pestilence,

produced serene skies,

and gave heat to the body.

After his death

this was demonstrated

by even more evident miracles

as we will record in the proper place later.


8. Although he tried his best to hide the treasure found in the field (Matt. 13:44), he could not prevent at least some from seeing the stigmata in his hands and feet, although he always kept his hands covered and from that time on always wore shoes. A number of the friars saw them while he was still alive. Although they were men of outstanding holiness and so completely trustworthy, nevertheless to remove all doubt they con firmed under oath, touching the holy Gospels, that this was so and that they had seen it. Also some of the cardinals saw them because of their close friendship with the holy man; and they inserted praises of the sacred stigmata in the hymns, antiphons and sequences which they composed in his honor, and thus by their words and writings gave testimony to the truth (John 5:33). Even the Supreme Pontiff Lord Alexander, in a sermon preached to the people at which many of the friars and I myself were present, affirmed that he had seen the sacred stigmata with his own eyes while the saint was still alive. More than fifty friars with the virgin Clare, who was most devoted to God, and her sisters, as well as innumerable laymen saw them after his death. Many of them kissed the stigmata out of devotion and touched them with their own hands to strengthen their testimony, as we will describe in the proper place.

But the wound in his side he so cautiously concealed that as long as he was alive no one could see it except by stealth. One friar who used to zealously take care of him induced him with a pious strategem to take off his tunic to shake it out. Watching closely, he saw the wound, and he even quickly touched it with three of his fingers determining the size of the wound by both sight and touch. The friar who was his vicar at that time also managed to see it by a similar strategem. A friar who was a companion of his, a man of marvelous simplicity, when he was one day massaging Francis's shoulders that t were weak from illness, put his hand under his hood and accidentally touched the sacred wound, causing him great pain. As a result, from that time on Francis always wore underclothes made so that they would reach up to his armpits to cover the wound on his side. Also the friars who washed these or shook out his tunic from time to time, since they found these stained with blood, were from this evident sign convinced without any doubt of the existence of the sacred wound, which after his death they along with many others contemplated and venerated with unveiled face (2 Cor. 3:18).

9. Come now, knight of Christ,

vigorously bear the arms of your unconquerable Leader!

Visibly shielded with these,

you will overcome all adversaries.

Carry the standard of the Most High King,

and at its sight

let all who fight in God's army

be aroused to courage.

Carry the seal of Christ, the High Priest,

by which your words and deeds

will be rightly accepted by all

as authentic and beyond reproach.

For now because of the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus

which you carry in your body,

no one should trouble you;

rather every servant of Christ

should show them deep devotion.

Now through these most certain signs


not by the sufficient testimony

of two or three witnesses,

but by the superabundant testimony

of a whole multitude)

God's testimony about you and through you

has been made overwhelmingly credible,

removing completely from unbelievers

the veil of excuse,

while these signs confirm believers in faith,

raise them aloft with confident hope

and set them ablaze with the fire of charity.

10. Now is fulfilled

the first vision which you saw,

namely, that you would be a captain

in the army of Christ

and bear the arms of heaven

emblazoned with the sign of the cross.

Now is fulfilled

the vision of the Crucified

at the beginning of your conversion

which pierced your soul

with a sword of compassionate sorrow.

Now the voice that came from the cross

as if from the lofty throne and secret mercy-seat33 of Christ,

as you have confirmed with your sacred words,

is believed as undoubtedly true.

Now is fulfilled

the vision of the cross,

in the course of your conversion,

which Brother Silvester saw

marvelously coming from your mouth;

and the vision which the holy Pacificus saw,

of the swords piercing your body

in the form of a cross;

and the sight of you

lifted up in the air in the form of a cross,

which the angelic man Monaldus saw

when the holy Anthony was preaching

on the inscription on the cross--

all of these

we now firmly believe

were not imaginary visions

but revelations from heaven.

Now, finally

toward the end of your life

you were shown at the same time

the sublime vision of the Seraph

and the humble figure of the Crucified,

inwardly inflaming you and outwardly marking you

as the second Angel,

ascending from the rising of the sun

and bearing upon you the sign of the living God.

This vision confirms the previous ones

and receives from them

the testimony of truth.


these seven visions of the cross of Christ,

miraculously shown and manifested

to you or about you

at different stages of your life.

The first six were like steps

leading to the seventh

in which you have found your final rest.

The cross of Christ

given to you and by you accepted

at the beginning of your conversion

and which from then on

you carried continuously

in the course of your most upright life,

giving an example to others,

shows that you have finally reached

the summit of Gospel perfection

with such clear certitude

that no truly devout person

can reject this proof of Christian wisdom

ploughed into the dust of your flesh.

No truly believing person can attack it,

no truly humble person can make little of it,

since it is truly the work of God

and worthy of complete acceptance.