Saint Francis of Assisi
Middle Ages for Kids
- Occupation: Catholic Friar
- Born: 1182 in Assisi, Italy
- Died: 1226 in Assisi, Italy
- Best known for: Founding the Franciscan Order
Saint Francis of Assisi was a Catholic friar who gave up a life of wealth to live a life of poverty. He established the Franciscan Order of friars and the women's Order of the Poor Ladies.
Saint Francis of Assisi by Jusepe de Ribera
Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in 1182. He grew up leading a privileged life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Francis loved to learn and sing songs as a boy. His father wanted him to become a businessman and taught him about the French culture.
Going to Battle
About the age of nineteen Francis went to battle against the nearby town of Perugia. Francis was captured and taken prisoner. He was held prisoner in a dungeon for a year before his father paid the ransom and he was set free.
Visions from God
Over the next few years Francis began to see visions from God that changed his life. The first vision was when he was sick with a high fever. At first he thought that God had called him to fight in the Crusades. However, he had another vision that told him to help the sick. Finally, when praying in a church, Francis heard God tell him to "repair my church, which is falling in ruins."
Francis gave all his money to the church. His father became very angry with him. Francis then left his father's home and took a vow of poverty.
The Franciscan Order
As Francis lived his life of poverty and preached to people about the life of Jesus Christ, people began to follow him. By 1209, he had around 11 followers. He had one basic rule which was "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps".
Francis was a devoted follower of the Catholic Church. He and his followers traveled to Rome to get the approval for their religious Order from the pope. At first the pope was reluctant. These men were dirty, poor, and smelled bad. However, eventually he understood their vow of poverty and blessed the Order.
The Franciscan Order grew as men joined and made vows of poverty. When a woman named Clare of Assisi wanted to take similar vows, Francis helped her start the Order of the Poor Ladies (Order of Saint Clare). He also started another order (later called the Third Order of Saint Francis) that was for men and women who didn't take vows or leave their jobs, but lived out the principals of the Franciscan Order in their daily lives.
Love for Nature
Francis was known for his love of nature and animals. There are many stories about Saint Francis and his preaching to animals. It is said that one day he was talking to some birds when they began to sing together. Then they flew into the sky and formed the sign of a cross.
It was also said that Francis could tame wild animals. One story tells of a vicious wolf in the town of Gubbio that was killing people and sheep. The people of the town were frightened and didn't know what to do. Francis went to the town to confront the wolf. At first the wolf growled at Francis and prepared to attack him. However, Francis made the sign of the cross and told the wolf not to hurt anyone else. The wolf then became tame and the town was safe.
Francis became ill and spent the last few years of his life mostly blind. He died in 1226 while singing Psalm 141. He was declared a saint of the Catholic Church only two years after his death.
Interesting Facts about Saint Francis of Assisi
- October 4th is observed as Saint Francis feast day.
- It is said that he received the stigmata two years before he died. This was the wounds of Christ from the cross including his hands, feet, and side.
- Francis traveled to the Holy Lands during the Crusades hoping to conquer the Muslims with love rather than war.
- Francis set up the first known Nativity scene to celebrate Christmas in 1220.
- He believed that actions were the best example, telling his followers to "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."
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