FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

1. St. Francis and St Clare - life and times (6)

The end of the earthly journey

The stigmates on La Verna
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1.37. Between 15 August and 29 September 1224 Francis was at La Verna, for a period of prayer and fasting which he called"the lent of Saint Michael". It was during this time, probably around the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, 14 September, that Francis had the mystical vision of the crucified seraph and received the marks of the passion of Christ in his body. The event is well documented by all the reliable mediaeval sources of his life. After the end of this period of retreat he returned to the Porziuncola, passing through Borgo San Sepolcro, Monte Casale and Città di Castello. Although he was weak and very ill, riding on a donkey, Francis made a preaching tour in Umbria and the Marches during winter of 1224-1225.

1.38. The year 1225 marks the beginning of his last illness. He became virtually blind, and during the spring was taken to San Damiano to be taken care of by sister Clare. Friar Elias insisted that Francis should receive medical care, but the treatment was postponed. At San Damiano, after a difficult night, Francis composed the first part of his Canticle of Brother Sun, or Canticle of Creatures. Later on he would add the part regarding forgiveness, after he reconciled the bishop and the podestà of Assisi.

St. Francis in extsasy
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1.39. In July 1225 Francis agreed to go to Rieti, to receive medical treatment at the hands of papal physicians. In Rieti he was welcomed by Cardinal Hugolino and the papal court. Then he proceeded to Fontecolombo where, under pressure from friar Elias, he accepted to undergo the painful operation of having his temples cauterised. The operation was a complete failure. In September 1225 he was transferred to San Fabiano della Foresta, near Rieti, where he underwent further treatment. By his prayers the vineyard of the poor priest who took care of the church of San Fabiano, produced abundant fruit, even though it was trampled by the persons who often came to visit Francis.

1.40. The year 1226 was to be his last. In the spring he was taken to Siena for further treatment. One night he was in agony, and fearing he would die, he dictated some words of farewell which are known as the Siena Testament. Later on he was transferred to the hermitage of Celle di Cortona, where he probably dictated his Testament, or last will.

1.41. In the summer of 1226 Francis was at Bagnara, on the hills near Nocera. His condition was worsening, and he was taken to the bishop's residence in Assisi. He was aware that"sister death" was not far away. So he asked to be taken to the Porziuncola in September. Bishop Guido at the time was away on a pilgrimage to Monte Gargano. On his way to the Porziuncola Francis blessed his home town.

The dying St. Francis (from stage play "Int fejn sejjer?")


The Transitus Chapel at the Porziuncola where St. Francis died

1.42. On Saturday 3 October 1226, at sunset, Francis died at the Porziuncola, after asking the friars to read to him the passion of Christ according to John, and praying psalm 141. On Sunday 4 October the funeral cortege transported Francis to Assisi, and passed by San Damiano so that Clare and the sisters could see their spiritual father for the last time. Francis was buried in the church of San Giorgio, where, as a child, he used to go to the cathedral school. The Vicar, friar Elias announced Francis' death to the Order by a circular letter.

St. Francis after his death
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The poor Clares in front of the dead body of St. Francis
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1.43. On 19 March 1227 Cardinal Hugolino was elected Pope and took the name of Gregory IX. One of his first preoccupations was to render glory to the "poverello"of Assisi. On 30 May 1227 Giovanni Parenti was elected Minister General of the Order during the Pentecost Chapter.

The lower church on the tomb of St. Francis
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1.44. On 29 April 1228, with the papal bull"Recolentes" Gregory IX decided to built a"specialis ecclesia", a special church, in honour of Francis. On 16 July he came personally to Assisi to canonise Francis. The bull"Mira circa nos" of 19 July declared Francis of Assisi saint and fixed his feast day for the universal Church on 4 October. During the same occasion Gregory IX laid the foundation stone of the basilica he order to be built on the"collis inferni", on the western part of the town, which he renamed"collis paradisi". The triple church was built in record time, under the direct care of friar Elias. It consists of the burial cell of the saint, and of two superimposed basilicas, that is, a sepulchre church and a monastic church. The sepulchre church was ready for the solemn translation of Saint Francis' relics on 25 May 1230.

Final scene from the stage play "Int fejn sejjer?"

1.45. In 1939 Francis was proclaimed patron saint of Italy and in 1980 he was proclaimed patron of ecology by Pope John Paul II.

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm


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