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Assisi owes its fame to the well-known Saint Francis who was born here in 1182.

The son of a prosperous fabric merchant, Pietro di Bernardone, and a noblewoman named Giovanna, in his youth he took part in the wars with the nearby cities, and was captured and imprisoned for a year. During his imprisonment, he reconsidered his comfortable life, opening his heart to profound compassion for the poor, the lepers and the disadvantaged. Once freed, he laid down his weapons, left his family, dramatically renounced his wealth and embarked on a life of penance and solitude in complete poverty. He began preaching the Gospel, and his first disciples, enthralled by his words, began to follow him. He later went to Rome and obtained approval from the Pope to found a new religious order.

He traveled in the East to talk with Muslim peoples, and walked the streets and squares preaching and attracting increasingly large crowds of disciples, whom he called “brethren”, or “brothers”, as no one had done before him.

One night, while deep in prayer, Francis had a vision of an angelic creature on a cross. When the vision faded, his heart was left burning with love, and the signs of crucifixion had appeared on his hands and his body: the stigmata.

Weakened by disease, he retired to Assisi, where he composed the “Canticle of the Creatures”, a marvelous song of praise in which he identified the presence of God in nature and its creatures. He died in 1226 at the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

His message of unconditional love and the radical choice of a life of poverty, humility and peace were profoundly innovative for society and the Church of the time, and helped to transform both. He was canonized two years after his death, and the Basilica of San Francesco was built to accommodate his body and glorify his teachings.


An interesting fact: San Francis is the patron saint not only of Italy, but of Umbria, the environment, animals, shopkeepers and the Scouts and Guides of AGESCI, the Italian Catholic Scouts and Guides Association. He is also the patron of the US city of San Francisco.

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