We talk a lot about Saint James when we think of pilgrimage, but he is not the only saint to have a connection to spiritual travel. Saint Francis of Assisi is a fascinating saint who travelled extensively throughout his life.
We have created a journey based on sites and locations significant to Saint Francis’ life that you can walk in Italy.
Who is Saint Francis of Assisi?
Saint Francis of Assisi, baptized Giovanni di Bernardone, is a co-patron Saint of Italy with Saint Catherine of Siena.
He was born in 1181 or 1182, in the duchy of Spoleto, Assisi, Italy and died on October 3rd, 1226, also in Assisi. Canonized on July 16th, 1228, Saint Francis’ feast day falls on October 4th.
He was born in Italy to a silk and spice merchant father and a noblewoman mother. Saint Francis was one of seven children. In his early years, Francis studied Latin and vernacular, music, poetry, French and Provençal.
Saint Francis was the founder of the Franciscan orders of the Friars Minor (Ordo Fratrum Minorum), the women’s Order of St. Clare (the Poor Clares), and the lay Third Order. He was also a leader of the movement of evangelical poverty in the early 13th century.
In 1979 Pope John Paul II recognized him as the patron saint of ecology.
Early Life and Career
Francis’ courageous spirit brought him to war. He was held in captivity as a prisoner of a war between Assisi and Perugia. Francis came home from his captivity very sick, and in a spiritual crisis.
After healing, in 1205, Francis enlisted in the army of Walter III, Count of Brienne. When he arrived with the army, he had a vision from God telling him to turn around and go home. The vision is said to have been an exchange that had gone like this:
“Francis, who do you think it is better to follow, the Master or the servant?”
Francis answered: “It is the Master.”
“Why then,” continued God “do you worry to look for the servant instead of the Master?”
“What is it your pleasure I should do, my Lord?”
“Return to Assisi, This is not your life.”
This marked the end of Francis’ military career as he headed back to Assisi. Next, Francis went on a pilgrimage to Rome. Upon arrival, Francis donated all of his money to the church and traded his clothes for clothes a beggar would wear.
Upon arriving back in Assisi, Saint Francis’ compassion was highlighted in an instance with a leper. Overcoming the instinct of self-preservation, instead of shying away from the leper, Saint Francis approached him with open arms and kissed him with love and walked away. Looking back, he noticed the leper had disappeared. It was Jesus Christ returning to Earth to receive a kiss from his faithful servant.
Saint Francis recalls this event:
“See in what manner God gave it to me, to me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penitence; when I lived in sin, it was very painful to me to see lepers, but God himself led me into their midst, and I remained there a little while. When I left them, that which had seemed to me bitter had become sweet and easy.”
Saint Francis quickly became misunderstood by friends and family. This led to Saint Francis being financially cut off from his father. Saint Francis then left Assisi for a while and settled in a town called Gubbio. Here, a wolf was tormenting a town. Saint Francis is said to have domesticated and tamed the wolf, ending its torment. This was Saint Francis’ first miracle.
Founding of the Franciscan Orders
The “Order of Friars Minor” is commonly called the “Franciscans.” The Franciscan Order was approved by Pope Innocent III orally in July 1210 to Francis and his companions. The group was tonsured, which is the practice of shaving one’s scalp as a sign of religious devotion or humility. The group preached on the streets and had little to no possessions.
Today, three separate congregations, or sects, exist. There are the Clareni, Minorities of Narbonne, and Reform of Johannes de Vallibus. Franciscans are sometimes referred to as minorities or Greyfriars because of their habit. In Poland and Lithuania, they are known as Bernardines.
Marks, sores, and sensations of pain in the hands, wrists, and feet are called stigmata. A stigma corresponds to the wounds Jesus Christ suffered during his crucifixion. When someone bears these wounds, they are referred to as a stigmatist or stigmatic.
Saint Francis is the first recorded stigmatic.
A vision on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross resulted in Saint Francis’ stigmata. A second-hand account of this event is accounted for by Brother Leo, “Suddenly he saw a vision of a seraph, a six-winged angel on a cross. This angel gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ.” Treatment for the stigmata as well as trachoma did not work and Saint Peter died on the evening of Saturday, October 3, 1226. He was about 45 years old when he died.
Entrance to Sainthood
Saint Francis was declared a saint On July 16, 1228; he was pronounced a saint by Pope Gregory IX. Immediately after, the Basilica of Saint Francis was constructed in Assisi. Saint Francis was buried on May 25, 1230, under the Lower Basilica.
His tomb was soon hidden on orders of Brother Elias to protect it from Saracen invaders. The location of the tomb was unknown until it was discovered in 1818. Upon discovery, a new crypt was constructed.
What was Saint Francis known for?
Besides the several miracles that Saint Francis performed, he is known for being close to nature and animals. Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals. Animals were known to be drawn to St Francis and this was because they were transfixed by his preaching.
Pope Francis is the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He chose Pope Francis to honour Saint Francis of Assisi. He was the first pope to choose a name not used by a predecessor since Lando in 913 A.D.
Pope Francis is often recognized for his compassion and mercy in his teachings. He was born in born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
When he took his papal vows, he became the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since a pope from the 8th century, Syrian Gregory III.
Celebrating Saint Francis
The Feast Day of Saint Francis of Assisi is October 4th and is celebrated throughout the world. Special religious services are held in the Basilica of St Francis and in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Walk in the Footsteps of Saint Francis
Discover Assisi in Italy in the footsteps of Saint Francis! The scenic St Francis Way walk will take you through “il cuor verde d’Italia”, the green heart of Italy, visiting sites that are connected to the Saint. You will go via Assisi, the home of the saint, and end in the classic Eternal City of Rome.
Pilgrimages to Rome have been happening for centuries. However, unlike the Via Francigena, there is no historical text to follow on this walking holiday. There are a number of routes to walk that are linked with the life of St Francis. For this trip, we have selected sites that have a strong link to his life, whilst enabling you to enjoy the beauty of the Appennine range.
The region you will walk through has a rich and colourful history. Begin your adventure on the St Francis Way by getting in touch with us today!
Learn more about Saint Francis of Assisi here.
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Originally published on 6th April 2022