7 Things Few People Know About St. Francis of Assisi

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St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most well-known Saints of the Church. Best known for his love of nature and life of extreme poverty, Francis was the founder of both the Franciscan Order and the Poor Clares. Here are seven things to know about this much loved Saint.

1. He was baptized under a different name

When Francis was born in 1181, his mother baptized him under the name “Giovanni” in honor of John the Baptist. His father, who was out of town at the time, was furiously angry upon his return. He wanted a son who would grow up to be wealthy like he was, not a man of God. He renamed his newborn son Francesco, in honor of his love for France.

2. He didn’t convert until he was in his 20s

Francis grew up very wealthy and had somewhat of a wild youth. He was well-liked and charismatic, and he used that charisma to gain popularity. He threw extravagant parties and eventually joined the Fourth Crusade as a knight, seeking honor and glory. He never made it to the battlefield, however. Instead, he received a vision from God telling him to change his ways. Francis immediately laid down his sword and gave away everything he had to follow that call.

3. He was held for a year as a prisoner 

Before Francis left to join the crusades, he was part of an army whose goal was to take over a neighboring town. Most of the other soldiers in his troop were slaughtered in the fight, but Francis was captured and held for ransom. He remained in prison for a year before he was at last ransomed and returned home. 

4. He probably didn’t actually talk to animals

We all know that Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment, and many of his statues show him surrounded by various creatures. Even so, the stories of Saint Francis speaking to animals are probably no more than pious legends. He really did believe that all of nature were his brothers and sisters, however, and had a deep respect for everything in God’s creation.

5. The pope threw him out

Francis traveled to Rome to personally ask the pope’s permission to form his brotherhood and continue preaching. Pope Innocent III took one look at his rags and had him thrown out. Later, after receiving a dream from God, he called Francis back and gave his approval.

6. He received the stigmata

Most people know this one, but not the full story. Francis was in prayer during the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) when the figure of a crucifed angel appeared to him. After the vision left, Francis was marked with the stigmata — the wounds of Christ — on his hands and feet. Francis took great care to hide these marks, which stayed with him for the final two years of his life.

7. He was almost entirely blind in the years before his death

Francis contracted an eye disease while preaching in the East and experienced many other illnesses as a result of his lifestyle. For the final two years of his life, Francis was in constant pain and almost completely blind. Despite this, Francis never stopped praising God. He eventually died of his illnesses at the age of 45. 

Featured image: Flickr. Photo by Steven Zucker. Free for commercial use.

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