Saint Francis was born Giovanni Bernadone in either 1181 or 1182 in the
Italian hill town of Assisi. His parents, Pietro and Pica, were members of the
rather well-to-do merchant class of the town. Pioetro Bernadone was away in
France when his son was born. On his return, he had the boy's name changed from
Giovanni to Franceso (“The Little Frenchman”-perhaps a tribute to France, a
country he loved and from which his wife's family came). Saint Francis of Assisi,
was born in 1182, more probably in the latter year. His mother's family, which
was not without distinction, may originally have hailed from Provence. His
father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a prosperous cloth merchant and one of the
influential business men of Assisi. A merchant in those days was a far
different individual from the modern shop keeper; forced by circumstances to be
both daring and prudent, he constantly embarked upon the most hazardous
undertakings and his career was likely to be a succession of ups and downs.
Moreover, business activities, which today tend more and more to assert their
independence of any ethical code, were then strictly subordinated to accepted
moral standards, as is clearly shown in the writings of Leo Battista Alberti, a
century and a half later, or in the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas.
Bernardone was not in Assisi when his son was born. At first the child was
called John but upon his father's return he was christened Francis, in memory of
France, whence Pietro di Bernardone had just returned. More than any other
character in history, St. Francis in after life retained the qualities most
characteristic of childhood, so that it is not difficult to imagine him as he
must have appeared during his early years, with his combination of vivacity,
petulance and charm.
At the proper time young Francesco Benardone was sent to clergy of San
Giorgio, his parish church, to learn his letters and the ciphering necessary for
a merchant. He sat on a bench with the better-class boys, chorusing sacred
Latin. He was not a brilliant student. The three extant scraps of his writing
betray a clumsy fist and abound in sad solecisms. In later years he avoided
holding a pen; he preferred to dictate, and to sign his pronouncements with a
cross or tau, a semisacred symbol. However, he learned ...
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Not only am I sick, but the brothers who were sent to help me will not do it, as
the ought.” Saint Francis, divinely inspired to understand that this leper was
possessed by an evil spirit, prayed most devoutly for this man before God.
After he had prayed, he returned again to speak to the leper: “My son, I will
take care of you, since the others do not want to.” “I'll willingly have you.
What can you do though that the others have not done?” “What do you want me to
do?” “I want you to wash me, for I stink so bad that I cannot stand myself.”
Saint Francis immediately went and heated water, which he scented with
herbs. Then he undressed the man and washed him with his own hands, while
another brother poured the water. Through divine power, wherever Saint Francis
touched him with his hands, the leprosy disappeared and the flesh grew
immediately healthy. And as his body healed, his soul also healed along with
his body. When the leper saw his body heal, he began to weep bitterly because
of his sorrow for his sins and great compunction that he felt. As his body was
cleansed from the leprosy by the bathing, so his soul was cleansing power of his
tears and his sorrow.
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