STIGMATA AND DEATH OF ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI, BEREAVEMENT ELIXIR, & HONEY ALMOND COOKIES
St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved and well-known saint throughout the world as he was marked, body and soul, by Jesus Christ. He was born in either 1181 or 1182 in Assisi, Italy. He founded the Franciscan Order of Friar Minors, lived the gospels in obedience to the Church, traveled in peace to the Middle East during the crusades, created the first Nativity scene, saw God in everyone and everything, inspired countless people in his lifetime, and continues to inspire us today in areas of leadership and spirituality.
He’s the patron saint of animals and ecology. He’s honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal), and Lutheran Churches. St. Francis is one of two patron saints of Italy (along with St. Catherine of Siena) and many other places throughout the world, including San Francisco, CA, in the United States. He died on October 3, 1226, and his feast day, October 4, is usually celebrated with a Blessing of the Animals.
Along with Dominicans, Franciscans have spread all over the world as the Order of Friar Minors, The Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of St. Francis (brothers, sisters, and laypeople).
Unlike the unified Dominicans, a rift occurred within the Franciscans that Francis recognized and tried to prevent. Essentially, Spiritual Franciscans who focused mainly on St. Francis’s teachings of poverty as a way of life clashed with the official Franciscan Order of the Friar Minors, who were sanctioned by the Church and given property and approval for theological study and teaching.
One can imagine how difficult it was for Francis to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ relying only on His Father for his daily bread while simultaneously bearing responsibility for his brothers and sisters in faith. His deep humility hindered his role as leader, plus he was utterly obedient to Church authority and respected theologians. (All observant Christians belonged to the same Church until the Reformation began in the year 1518.)
Francis returned home from the Middle East late in the spring of 1220. He spent the next years traveling, preaching, and attending Church and brotherhood meetings. During this time, he formed a friendship with Cardinal Hugolino, whom, as Francis predicted, would later become pope due to his deep spirituality and leadership abilities.
Francis also visited his friar minors and, at their insistence, rewrote and expanded his Rule for the Order. Again, the deep humbleness within his soul made it difficult for Francis to give orders, yet he knew he had to if his brothers and sisters were to follow the right path. To balance out the necessity of writing the Rule, he turned the leadership of the Order to vicars. They didn’t run the Order the way that he would have, yet it made him uncomfortable to correct them.
He spent years in extreme frustration over the Order and the messages people were getting from various brothers who misinterpreted the Franciscan path.
But, he found solace and joy in prayer. Whenever he spoke of Jesus, he radiated a joy that touched all those around him. He prayed and sang all the time, as well. He also meditated and fasted, treating his body, which he called Brother Ass (donkey), with little comfort or nurture. He was sick often.
In December of 1223, he traveled to Greccio, Italy, to recover his health and prepare for retirement. On Christmas Eve, he created the first Nativity. He stayed there until spring 1224, when he was healthy enough to travel and preach.
During this preaching trip, he was particularly harassed by people who called him a living saint and wanted to touch him in order to benefit from his unwitting miracles. Others were just curious and wanted to get a good look at him.
Although there were plenty of respectful and pious people who wanted to hear him preach, Francis sought solitude and seclusion on Mount La Verna so that he could pray in peace.
He dedicated this fast to St. Michael the Archangel and Blessed Mother Mary. Then, as was his habit, Francis sought direction from the Lord through an actual gospel book via sortes biblicae. One day, after placing it on the altar, he picked it up three times and opened the book at random to a different section about the Passion of Christ.
Francis took this to mean he should devote himself to prayers about the Passion or suffering of Jesus on the Cross. He fasted, prayed, and meditated for a month.
Meanwhile, as the rift in the brotherhood widened, he suffered physical illness, discomfort, and guilt anytime he allowed himself to be comforted with things like a blanket, pillow, or nourishing food. Focusing on the divine suffering of Jesus on the Cross gave him the strength to endure his own “unworthy” suffering due to illness. He repeatedly asked God to help him understand more clearly the suffering of Jesus on the Cross.
Every day, he prayed the Passion Cycle of his Little Office of the Passion. He asked St. Michael the Archangel and Blessed Mother Mary for their intercession. Every prayer throughout the day was dedicated to a different part of the Passion scriptures.
Now, he usually kept quiet about his private prayers and visions, but one morning he was so moved by a vision that he had to share it with his closest brothers, probably Leo, Illuminato, and Rufino.
He saw what he believed to be a seraph, a six-winged angel, looking at him with peace, comfort, and acceptance. Francis was greatly disturbed by the fact that the being was attached to a Cross, which is why he spoke to his brothers about it. Soon after, strange markings appeared on Francis’s body.
On the tops of his feet and the palms of his hands, wounds appeared that looked like nail heads and on the opposite sides of the hands and feet there appeared hard formations that looked like nail points. These wounds did not bleed, but they did get darker. He had also a wound on his side that dripped blood. These wounds caused him physical pain, but also deep spiritual joy as his prayers were answered by this gift of connection to Jesus on the Cross. Francis swore those few brothers who knew about these wounds to secrecy.
After his death two years later, these marks became known as the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi and are an important part of devotion to him as a Saint.
Although it’s possible that these marks were a physical manifestation of Francis’s emotional state, it’s equally possible that these marks were indeed the miraculous way God gave Francis to experience more fully Jesus’s suffering on the Cross. There’s documented testimony by the brothers as well as citizens of Assisi that they witnessed these marks on the body of St. Francis upon his death.
Upon the completion of his fast, in September of 1224, Francis left his mountain retreat at the hermitage of La Verna and traveled to the Church of San Damiano to be with Clare and the sisters so they could care for him in his illness.
Based on a dream that his vicar, Brother Elias, shared with him, and the condition of his body, Francis knew he was dying. He was also greatly disturbed that Pope Honorius granted the friars a new permission to use portable altars. Francis considered this a Papal Privilege which he never wanted for the Order.
These situations were serious enough to prompt Francis to dictate his “Letter to the Entire Order” or what was later known as his farewell address. He wrote of those issues that were out of his control and the dangers of Church permissions and allowances. For example, Francis feared that portable altars would allow for a lack of respect, casualness, and even sloppiness unbefitting the Communion Service.
He gave this letter to Brother Elias to share with the Order. Elias had been recommended to Francis as vicar by Cardinal Hugolino because he was a perfect organizational balance to Francis’s humble avoidance of the desire to give orders. (Problems occurred after Francis died due to Elias’s focus on grand organization and personal power.)
Meanwhile, even though the Stigmata affected his ability to write, Francis wrote a letter to Brother Leo in his own hand in reference to Leo’s need to seek Francis’s input on everything he did:
I am speaking my son, in this way—as a mother would—because I am putting everything we said on the road in this brief message and advice. If, afterwards, you need to come to me for counsel, I advise you thus: In whatever way it seems better to you to please the Lord God and to follow his footprint and poverty, do it with the blessing of God and my obedience.
As we all know, the written word can be misinterpreted. So Francis followed up what could be interpreted as “grow up and stop bugging me” with:
And if it is necessary for you, for your soul, for some consolation to you, and you want to come back to me, come.
Leo kept this letter near his heart for the rest of his life. It’s preserved today in the Duomo of Spoleto.
As autumn turned to winter, Francis stayed in a little hut attached to the Church of San Damiano. The sisters nursed him there as best as they could, but he continued to suffer eye pain (ophthalmia and trachoma, and/or conjunctivitis), pain from the Stigmata wounds, the effects of fasting, and the cold weather. On top of all that, mice and insects crawled all over him at night.
It was during this time that he composed his “Canticle of Brother Sun,” the first great poem written in the Italian (not Latin) language. It survives today and is sung in many churches to different musical arrangements because there is no historical record of the music he wrote with it:
Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours be the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong
and no one is worthy to mention your Name.
Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures, especial Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day, and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor,
and bears a likeness of you, Most High One.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear, and precious and wonderful.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom you give sustenance to all your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful, and humble, and precious, and chaste.
Praised be you my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night.
And he is beautiful, and playful, and robust and strong.
Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth,
Who sustains and governs us,
and produces fruit with colored flowers and herbs.
Praise and bless my Lord and give him thanks,
and serve him with great humility.
He wrote this song and sang it often in order to help him deal with all his sufferings, as if to remind and reinforce his belief that God was in the sunlight and firelight that hurt his eyes so and also in the vermin that irritated him.
Sometimes he believed there were demons in the vermin sent to torment him. He prayed to God for acceptance of his suffering and he sang his canticle to remind him of the glory of God’s creations. A short time later, he added this stanza that dealt directly with his sufferings:
Blessed be you, my Lord, through those who give pardon for your Love,
and who bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by you, Most High, shall they be crowned.
In June of 1225, after dictating the Canticle of Exhortation, his testament for Clare and her sisters, Francis gave in to the demands of Cardinal Hugolino and Elias to leave San Damiano and seek medical treatment in Rieti.
As much as Francis refused and stalled, in January of 1226, a doctor tried to stop the symptoms of his eye conditions by cauterizing his face along the side of the weaker eye.
It didn’t work, to say the least. To say the most, the pain must have been unbearable. Francis bore it by repeatedly singing the Canticle of Brother Sun, with an emphasis on the stanza in praise of Brother Fire.
Another doctor believed that piercing Francis’s ears would solve his medical problems. It didn’t.
Francis languished in suffering his eye conditions, stomach pain from extended malnutrition, the pain from the Stigmata wounds, and insomnia.
He was a difficult patient for the beloved brothers charged with his care. He demanded songs sung and prayers said at all hours plus “special food” that he thought his stomach might tolerate such as the wild parsley that grew nearby. He also allowed visitors as in folks who wanted or needed something from him. He regularly gave away his clothing and even his own food and the food allotted to the brothers. Although the items he gave away provided many unwitting miraculous recoveries in others, the loss of the food and warm clothing directly affected his own recovery and lack thereof.
Francis knew all of this, and apologized repeatedly to his brothers for his behavior and the needs of Brother Ass.
In April of 1226, it was decided that he should travel to Siena for further medical treatment.
While on the road, three women asked for alms which one of his doctors provided. Francis, who saw divine messages in everything, believed they represented the Trinity and were sent to offer him support during his difficult times.
He stayed in the friary in Siena in a small cold cell. Medical treatment again failed to the point that one night he vomited blood for hours. Based on historical records, Francis was probably suffering from an ulcer made worse by malnutrition and stress, stomach cancer, or the residual effects of malaria that he contracted in the Middle East.
Elias rushed to Francis’s bedside and begged him to dictate a final message to the brothers. Francis said, “Write that I bless all my brothers, those who are and who will be in the religious order until the end of the world.” He went on, but the pages have been lost to history and replaced by what he dictated later when he was stronger.
Believe it or not, in July, he recovered enough to travel with Brother Elias to another hermitage near Cortona. But soon after arriving, his stomach swelled due to dropsy and he could no longer eat.
Francis asked Elias to take him home to Assisi, but not before giving away his cloak to a poor man.
Dropsy is edema or swelling, and it spread through his body as he was moved from place to place in Assisi in an effort to better provide for his care. The local people were ever generous in providing food and alms to the brothers who cared for their local saint.
Francis continued to ask the brothers to sing “The Canticle of Brother Sun,” which they did sometimes all night long.
Everyone knew he was dying and some spoke openly to him about it and reminded him to do something memorial before his death as was medieval custom. So he added more personally significant stanzas to his canticle:
Praised be you, my Lord, for our Sister Bodily Death,
whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are those whom Death finds in your most holy will,
for the Second Death shall do them no harm.
Blessed are those who die in penance,
for they shall be in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Woe to those who do not die in penance,
For they shall be children of the Devil,
whose works they do.
And they shall go into everlasting fire.
During this time, Francis was also able to dictate a testament in which he spoke of his early life, the Rule of the Order, humility, gospel living, and respect for the Church and the sacraments.
Francis asked to be taken to the Church of St. Mary of the Little Portion, or Porziuncula, to die as this church was so important to him in his early years. (It was where the friars lived after turning San Damiano over to Clare and her sisters.)
They carried him in a litter, and he stopped them so that he could bless the city of Assisi from a hill before they carried him to his cell inside the Porziuncula.
He heard that Clare was seriously ill and could not leave San Damiano, so he dictated a letter of blessings for her.
Only his closest brothers were allowed near him, including a noblewoman named Jacoba de Settesoli. She was a dedicated friend to Francis and he considered her one of his brothers. He asked her to sew his burial shroud. She had known to bring the material with her based on a dream she had earlier about his death.
Soon after her arrival, Francis couldn’t sleep at all one night due to physical pain. In the morning, he decided that it was a good day to leave his brothers. He gathered them around him and blessed them each individually, beginning with Elias and his faithful caretakers, Leo, Rufino, Bernard, Angelo, Illuminato, and/or John.
Then he blessed a loaf of bread which he was too weak to break up himself. He gave a piece to each brother. They were to eat it all at once in honor of all those absent brothers and sisters as well as those who had yet to join the Order.
One brother kept a piece of the bread and shared tiny pieces of it with people who ate them and were relieved of all symptoms of their illnesses. Another of Francis’s unintentional miracles.
As was custom of the time, Francis then asked to be dressed in sackcloth, placed on the floor, and sprinkled with ashes. Next, a brother read aloud Passion of Christ from the Gospel of John.
Just before nightfall, a flock of larks flew into his cell and sang to Francis. Larks were his favorite bird because their markings looked like a friar’s habit, and they constantly sang praises of God.
Francis died later that evening, October 3, 1226.
Even though they were expecting his death and rejoiced in his passage to heaven where they could now venerate him as a Saint, the brothers wept with grief.
After keeping the traditional vigil all night, the brothers laid his body out for visitation. This is when so many friars and lay people witnessed the Stigmata.
A funeral procession formed and his body was carried first to San Damiano for the sisters to venerate then to the Church of San Giorgio where a requiem mass was sung.
Brother Elias had Francis’s body placed in a stone coffin that had previously been used as a drinking trough for farm animals.
On March 19, 1227, Cardinal Hugolino was elected pope and chose the name Gregory IX. He declared Francis a saint on July 16, 1228, “The life of this saint does not require the evidence of miracles for we have seen it with our own eyes and touched it with our hands.”
Brother Elias oversaw the construction of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi. It was completed in the spring of 1230 and the body was transported on May 22. The shrine is a popular site for pilgrims and tourists.
There are many reasons why Francis of Assisi remains such a popular saint — his service to the poor and sick, commitment to non-violence, the love of everyone and everything, and his intense desire to identify with Jesus and His life in the gospels.
We wouldn’t suspect this, but there is another completely logical reason why St. Francis of Assisi remains so extremely popular.
In August when I was curious about why there were so many more books about St. Francis than there were of his contemporary, St. Dominic, I emailed my priest to ask if he knew why. He replied that St. Francis had a better PR team.
Thinking he was joking, I didn’t pursue it. But, guess what? He’s right.
Now, try to guess who led St. Francis’s public relations team. Who had the influence to start a trend that we’d witness the effects of so many centuries later?
That’s right! It was Francis’s good friend and Cardinal Protector of the Friar Minors, Hugolino dei Conti di Segni, who had become Pope Gregory IX.
After he canonized Francis of Assisi, Pope Gregory IX sent a letter dated February 21, 1229, to all the bishops urging them to promote the memory of St. Francis.
Several days later, he officially endorsed and promoted the book, THE LIFE OF SAINT FRANCIS by Thomas of Celano.
These two actions sparked the widespread veneration and study of the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi down through the ages.
During a time of heretical uprisings, failed crusades, and political power struggles within the Church, Pope Gregory IX offered the people a way back to God via St. Francis of Assisi, a humble and simple follower of Jesus Christ.
Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the similarities between that historic situation in the Church and the modern-day situation in the Roman Catholic Church?
Whatever went on during the recent papal Conclave that elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become the next pope and his decision to take on the name of St. Francis of Assisi, it’s working.
Pope Francis reminds us all of St. Francis of Assisi in his humility, messages, and acts of love and acceptance.
Francis is changing the Church and quite possibly the world.
For More Info:
FRANCIS OF ASSISI: A NEW BIOGRAPHY by Augustine Thompson, O.P.
THE LIFE OF SAINT FRANCIS by Thomas of Celano
THE LITTLE FLOWERS OF SAINT FRANCIS by Brother Ugolino
ALL SAINTS: DAILY REFLECTIONS ON SAINTS PROPHETS, AND WITNESSES FOR OUR TIME, by Robert Ellsberg
My daughter, Julia, and I share St. Francis of Assisi as our birthday saint. He died on my birthday, October 3. His feast day is the day of his funeral procession and the first day of his veneration, October 4. Another reason why his feast day is not the actual day he died is due to a slight misalignment between the medieval and modern day calendars.
Either way, we both love St. Francis of Assisi and share his particular characteristic of appreciating the life in all life forms.
Also, I’m particularly drawn to Francis because it could be said that he was more than a little crazy in his love for Jesus Christ. This appeals to me and gives me courage to take my love for Jesus always to the next level.
I chose to write about the Stigmata and death of St. Francis at this time because our 13-year-old cat, Nelix, died recently. It was a traumatic case of acute kidney failure including misunderstood symptoms, a Sunday visit to the emergency animal hospital, heroic efforts, public prayers, a gentle goodbye, and a burial in our backyard St. Francis Cat Sanctuary Garden.
Oh my God, how I cried.
And then I felt foolish mourning the loss of an animal while within a week’s time, two friends suffered the loss of their mothers. Their mothers!
Not to mention the absolute horror of the attack and death of all those hundreds of adults and CHILDREN in Syria. Plus the seemingly daily reports of violent acts in other parts of the world, our country, and even our own town.
How does someone deal with all that?
Well, I just cried and absorbed the words of support and comfort from my friends.
And then I cried some more.
What about the recent violent loss of lives we keep hearing about?
My unsolicited advice, dearworthy readers, is to deal with it any way which works for you. Whether that means you sit on the couch by the window crying for the victims and their families or distract yourself from the news so that you can simply get through your day.
And then we can decide to understand that there is evil in the world, and there is good in the world – simple as black and white. But there’s a gray area as well. A gray area called “free will.” And we can fill up this gray area by joining Pope Francis in a prayer vigil dedicated to peace in the world, and we can fill it up with good works, and we can fill it up with simply being nice to each other.
And if you need to cry over any loss in your life, any loss, no matter how seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, do it.
Crying relieves tension and removes toxins from the body. How often you cry depends on how great your loss. Accept this truth and accept those tears.
And in between, or when you are finished, replete yourself with:
Pour into glass.
Fresh-Squeezed by someone else
Store-bought, not from concentrate
Store-bought, from concentrate
(Obviously, avoid due to any medical condition, allergies, or sensitivities.)
Orange juice is a glassful of sunshine and a semi-healthy, sweet treat that just seems to hit the spot after a good cry.
In memory of Nelix:
April 1, 2000 — September 8, 2013
In honor of Seven, who reminds us of another path to solace:
Updated Bonus Material (September 23, 2014):
And so, a year’s time does what it does and we adopted a pair of kittens:
Patchwork is the gray and white girl whose birthday is on Epiphany. Quilt is the tabby boy whose birthday is on St. Paddy’s Day.
They were adopted not to replace Nelix, but to fill the void left by our college boy. Didn’t work, but we love them.
And so does Seven.
Dearworthy Readers, for sticking with me throughout this long post, I offer a bonus recipe.
Remember the bit about Francis requesting the presence of his friend in his final days? Francis called her Brother Jocoba and she was his true friend and hostess when he was in Rome. He was closer to her than to St. Clare. Besides wanting her to sew his burial shroud, he also wanted one last time to taste the dessert he frequently enjoyed as her guest. Based on her dream that he was dying, she had brought the ingredients with her along with the material for his burial shroud.
The dessert was a concoction made with almonds and honey. There are a few recipes floating around about how it was made. Some call it a candy, others a biscotti. But the recipes are cumbersome and not so sweet.
Instead, I created an easy and delicious recipe which I would offer to St. Francis of Assisi in a heartbeat.
HONEY ALMOND COOKIES
2 stick (1/2 pound) butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup honey-roasted almonds, chopped
Preheat oven to 375˚ F. Place butter in electric mixer bowl. Cream. Add sugar and blend. Add egg, vanilla and lemon juice. Mix.
In another bowl, place flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix with fork.
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well. Add almonds and blend.
Drop by rounded regular teaspoon onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets about one inch apart.
Bake for 9 – 11 minutes until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire rack. Makes about four dozen.
(Originally posted on 10/3/2013 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)