1. St. Francis and St Clare - life and times (6)
The end of the earthly journey
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.
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
|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
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
|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