Saint Francis of Assisi

   Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), the founder of the Franciscan friars, was born at Assisi, Italy. His family was wealthy, and Francis had a good education. As a young man he was the companion of other young men of fashion. Even at that time he was remarkable for his gentleness and kindness to all about him. When he was still very young, he gave up all he had and determined not to own anything at all but to go around preaching, depending on alms for his daily bread. He felt very strongly that the church needed reforms from within—that there should be more true devotion and imitation of Jesus among its members. He preached before the pope about this, saying that poverty, chastity, and obedience were the greatest virtues. He said that Lady Poverty was his bride. He was considered to be a mystic; that is, he used to have visions, in one of which it is believed that he received on his own body the marks of Jesus' wounds, called the stigmata. His hands and his feet bore the marks of the nails that had held Jesus on the cross, and his side bore the mark of the spear with which the soldiers had wounded him.
   St. Francis was charming. He loved all created things, and it was said that he used to preach to the birds, who flocked to hear his voice. He wrote a well-known canticle, or hymn, to the sun. His life has been a favorite subject for some of the greatest painters, particularly Giotto.
   About 1209 St. Francis founded an order of preaching friars, which was called the Franciscan order. These friars were called Cordeliers because they wore a cord around the waist. They were also called Friars Minor for their humility. After St. Francis died the book Little Flowers of St. Francis was written about him by his disciples. He was buried at Assisi. He was canonized, or made a saint, by Pope Gregory IX in 1228.