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St. Francis of Assisi is a beloved and well-known saint throughout the world perhaps because he was so human about his difficult journey. 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 crusadescreated the first Nativity scene, saw God in everyone and everythingreceived the Stigmata of Christ Crucifiedinspired countless people in his lifetime, and continues to inspire us today.

He’s the patron saint of animals and ecology and 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 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.

Born sometime before or after the New Year, Francis was baptized on March 28, 1182, along with the other infants of Assisi, Italy, at the city’s annual Easter Eve Baptismal Service.

Originally named Giovanne (John), his father changed it to Francesco (Francis). It means “the Frenchman.” Although not common, it was a name in use at that time and it indicates his father’s love of all things French, including his wife.

Francis’s mother, Pica de Bourlemont, came into the marriage with a large dowry upon which, his father, Pietro Bernardone, built a successful and profitable profession as a cloth merchant.

Francis probably attended school in which he learned business skills — math, reading, French, and some Latin.

At age 14, he became an apprentice in his father’s shop and worked with his elder brother, Angelo.

As a young man, Francis lived up to his name by dressing in fine garments and taking great care with his appearance. He enjoyed an expensive lifestyle and probably traveled with his father to France on business.

In the evenings, he and his friends acted like French troubadours, singing, and entertaining people in the streets. Francis enjoyed amusing his friends with his performances and treating them to fine meals.

Although Pietro chided Francis for his frivolous and expensive behavior, he was proud of Francis’s antics because he acted like a nobleman’s son, rich and carefree.

Young Francis lived a full life, but it was not as carefree as his father believed. Francis was disturbed by the beggars who would come into the shop. He would give alms to them occasionally, as their suffering troubled him. But their filth and odor repulsed him.

Lepers were another group he avoided and shunned. They had a type of skin disease that caused open, bleeding sores, and deformity. Francis was terrified of coming in contact with them and looked upon them with horror. Many lepers were treated in lepertoriums, and cared for by dedicated people who didn’t fear infection and could handle the sight and smell of their sufferings. Others were too poor for the lepertoriums and grouped together outside the city relying on alms for their survival.

At this time in history, the High Middle Ages, Italy was made up of individual city states, some of which formed alliances and others that battled each other over territory and rule.

Chivalry wouldn’t begin to die until the Late Middle Ages (during the time of St. Joan of Arc) and as expected, Francis hoped to achieve honor in battle so he could become a knight. At age 20, he joined the young men of Assisi in a battle against the neighboring city of Perugia.

Although his mother feared for his safety, even she understood his participation in a victory over Perugia would bring great honor to the family whether or not Francis survived.

The battle was fierce. Francis witnessed the killing and wounding of many of his friends. No doubt, he also inflicted wounds. The horrified Francis was captured along with some others from wealthy families and placed in prison for one year until his father arranged to pay for his ransom.

Upon Francis’s arrival home, he fell ill with, most likely, tuberculosis and spent a year in bed.

His body mostly recovered, as far as can be expected with medieval health care, but his mind remained greatly troubled. He had dreams and flashbacks in which he vividly re-experienced the horror of the battle. He felt great grief and survivor’s guilt over the brutal deaths of his friends and suffered much guilt over whatever battle wounds he inflicted himself.

Now labeled Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for which treatment is available, no one in the Middle Ages would have known how to help Francis, least of all Francis.

But, he searched. He read the gospels and perhaps contemplated joining the nearby Benedictine monastery as his mother desired for him. His father grew impatient waiting for Francis to do something. Anything.

Somehow Francis got it into his head, some believe he saw himself in a dream wearing white with a red cross, that he should join the crusades and fight in the Holy Land for Jesus. His father took great pride in outfitting him for this adventure.

After one day’s travel under the orders of a local property owner or lord, he realized he wasn’t supposed to wield a sword. He sold his horse and weapons and returned home. About two miles outside of Assisi he stopped at San Damiano, a church almost in ruins due to lack of use.

Francis was granted permission by Don Peter, the priest and caretaker of San Damiano to stay the night. Francis placed the money he received from the sale of his horse and armor onto a window ledge and promptly forgot about it.

The next day, Francis returned home, but not to his old ways. He no longer had fun out with his friends. He lost all interest in the family business and would not help out.

He spent much time alone suffering guilt and self-loathing. As was the common tradition of his era, he did acts of penance – almsgiving, prayer, and mortification of the body.

Further, in what appeared to be a compulsive manner, he often gave money, food, and the clothes he wore away to the poor.

His father demanded that he stop giving away so much and return to work. Francis refused.

As was also the custom of his times, Francis went on a pilgrimage to Rome which was about a four-day journey by foot. After praying at the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, he threw an astonishingly large quantity of coins through the grate. Before he left Rome, he exchanged clothes with a beggar and begged for alms in the streets.

Upon his return, he sought advice from Bishop Guido II of Assisi and then began to spend all his time praying in the falling down church of San Damiano.

His family found out he was there and despite the anxiety of his father over Francis’s state of mind, they brought him food.

He prayed under an icon of Christ Crucified for direction:

Most high glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true Faith, certain Hope and perfect Charity; give me perception and knowledge, Lord, that I might carry out your holy and true command. — Francis of Assisi: Early Documents

San Damiano Church, circa 1100

He also meditated on the Passion of Christ. He desired to be one with Jesus on the cross and in doing so, beat himself in acts of penance, fasted, and wept uncontrollably in spasms of empathy and grief.

At some point in his love for Christ, the Eucharist, and the sacred space of a church, Francis understood his mission from God to be, “Rebuild my church for it is in disrepair.”

As is written in many religious biographies, it’s possibly that Francis heard the voice of God coming from the icon of Christ Crucified. However, the quote is a loaded phrase that’s poetic in its prophecy of how he would later change the Church, and therefore, most likely not something he actually heard.

Nevertheless, he began to repair the church of San Damiano. His role became that of a private penitent attached to that particular church.

At this point, Francis’s appearance was in shambles — his lifestyle that of an insane man on the fringe.

His father went to San Damiano Church and tried one last time to reason with his son.

Francis was too distraught to understand what his father was saying to him about the family fortune. He gave the money he received from the sale of the horse and weapons that had been on the window sill all that time to his father hoping to please him. But Pietro Bernardone was freaking out about a fortune much larger than the worth of a horse and armor.

In Assisi at that time, by law, if Pica were to die before Pietro, the family fortune built upon her original dowry, would not go to Pietro, but to their heirs – Angelo and Francis. Pietro was afraid Francis would squander away his half of the family fortune which would ruin the family’s business.

So, Pietro went to the secular legal court to have Francis declared insane and not eligible to this inheritance.

Francis claimed himself to be an ecclesiastic (associated with the Church) and under the jurisdiction of Bishop Guido II of Assisi. So, the secular court turned the matter over to the bishop who became a mediator between father and son.

Pietro explained his worries to the bishop and the whole family, including Pica and Angelo.

Bishop Guido advised Francis renounced his claim to any family money as he would now only rely on God.

Francis, being Francis, upped the drama of the moment by stripping down to his penitent’s hair shirt (a garment of rough cloth made from goat’s hair). He placed his outer clothes at his father’s feet and said:

Until now I have called Pietro di Bernardone my father. But because I have proposed to serve God, I return to him the money on account of which he was so upset, and also all the clothing which is his, wanting to say, from now on: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, and not, ‘my father, Pietro di Bernardone.’ — LIFE OF ST. FRANCIS, Thomas of Celano

Giotto di Bondone, Basilica di San Francesco, circa 1300

Everyone in the room cried. The bishop covered Francis with his mantle in a gesture showing that he was now under the Church’s protection.

Pietro said nothing, picked up the clothes, and walked out.

Possibly due to the Church’s PR team, many people believe that this was Francis’s defining moment. Eh, not so much. But it does indicate his love of and life-long obedience to the Church.

His defining moment came after more months wandering around near Assisi searching for his purpose when he found himself volunteering in one of the three lepertoriums near Assisi, San Rufino dell’ Arce, San Lazzaro, or San Salvatore della Pareti.

After a life time of visceral fear and physical repulsion of lepers, somehow he was able to care for their health needs in which he touched them, looked them in the eyes, and deeply understood they were human beings and loved by Jesus.

Piero Casentini

Francis realized it was God who removed the physical repulsion and fear he had always experienced near lepers and replaced it with joy. His mental confusions about his path and inner torments about his previous life ended:

The Lord granted me, Brother Francis, to begin doing penance this way; when I was in my sins, just to see lepers was very bitter for me. And the Lord himself took me among them, and I showed mercy to them. And on leaving them, what seemed bitter to me had turned for me into sweetness of body and soul. And afterwards I waited a little and left the world.” — Francis of Assisi, Testament

With no foresight as to where his path would lead, Francis took a deep, peaceful breath and began his journey forward.

Most High, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — Collect, Holy Women, Holy Men

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As with any real-life path toward Christ, Francis’s journey was far from easy, but it was joyful.

This is a revision of my first Young St. Francis post, the need of which came mostly from improved research techniques and materials and my growing focus on writing saint biographies based more on history and less on legend.

I recently realized this unrecognized mission was the reason why I suffered through a Lent’s worth of writer’s block when I attempted to write a middle grade novel about the saints in early 2012. In other words, I couldn’t write a work of fiction about the saints because I didn’t want to. (It’s okay if that statement only makes sense to fellow writers – we are a strange, but lovable, lot.)

Toward the end of that Lent, the idea for a blog called Saints and Recipes came to me after prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is my name patron saint and my muse.

St. Francis of Assisi gives me the courage to “bare my soul” on these pages. I aspire to let myself be as crazy in love with Jesus as St. Francis was in life. Plus, he’s my birthday patron saint.

My daughter and I “fight” over who gets St. Francis of Assisi as our birthday patron saint. My birthday is October 3, the day he died and her birthday is October 4, the day of his funeral procession and feast day. So, really, he is the birthday patron saint of both of us.

And you know what, dearworthy readers? Many of you already love, admire, venerate, study, and honor him because something about St. Francis of Assisi appeals to you. There should be no “fighting” over St. Francis of Assisi. Your take on his life and the inspiration he provides for you is valid and valuable. Because here’s the thing, if you discover you’ve built your love of St. Francis, not on particular historically documented facts, but on legend, that works because the legendary St. Francis of Assisi is built upon the essence of a human being named Francis.

The above biography is based on the latest research which is based on the oldest historical documents, some of which are secular. My original post was based mostly on a movie, Clare and Francis, in which historic facts are distilled into one poignant scene after another creating an extremely moving and spiritually uplifting story.

Most of our saintly legends come about via this same goal. The facts didn’t matter to the pious writers of antiquity as they were not writing biographic, historical documents to last down through the ages, but spiritual guidebooks for their own contemporary audiences. Their goal was to write stories filled with miracles and “perfect” people who became Saints in Heaven to whom we can pray for intercession. To write about the humanity of the saints was at the very least disrespectful, boring, and certainly wouldn’t sell books.

But it’s their humanity that makes the life and works of a human being who becomes totally dedicated to Jesus Christ so inspiring. In other words, if it were easy to be a Saint, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes them great. (Click here for one of the most inspirational movie scenes of all time, according to me.)

So, to the best of my ability at this time, I offered the true story of the first spiritual steps of St. Francis of Assisi. I offer the recipe for homemade bread from my original post, because I continue to associate St. Francis of Assisi with the bread of life and bread as alms for the poor. Plus, this recipe contains my first steps working with yeast and my frustration at the time is still pretty funny.

There’s something about St. Francis and his love for everyone and everything that seems symbolized in the form of bread, especially bread that is shared.

Even though I’m a baker’s daughter, before preparing for this post, I’ve never made bread from scratch before. It ain’t easy. If you consider how time consuming the process can be especially when factoring in the learning curve, it’s simply easier to purchase delicious bread from your local bakery. I’m partial to Great Harvest Bread Company.

My family loves when I use our bread machine, especially in the winter. Follow the instructions on the box of bread machine ingredients, dump them in, turn it on, make sure it’s not too close to the edge of the counter or else it might knock itself off while kneading the dough, breathe in the luscious smell of baking bread and enjoy with the meal you just happened to start off in your crock pot.

Making bread from scratch is more in the category of hobby or, as I learned the hard way, a study of chemistry. Hint: Yeast is alive and very easy to kill. Once I learned the proper care and feeding of yeast, I enjoyed myself, especially the bit about the sharing and the eating.



1 package dry active yeast (NOT Quick or Rapid Rise)
1 cup water heated to 100 or 110 degrees F (check with candy thermometer)
1 TBS sugar
3 cups bread flour lightly packed leveled with knife
¼ cup bread flour to sprinkle on surface before kneading
1-1/2 TBS olive oil (1 TBS to mix into dough, 1/2 TBS spread on top of dough)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/8 cup corn meal
1 egg white

Heat water in pot on stove until temperature reaches 110 or 115 degrees F. Measure out 1 cup. Add sugar. Stir. Add yeast. Stir and wait 10 minutes to proof the yeast.

Place flour and salt in bowl and stir.

If a bubbling foam layer has developed on the yeast mixture, pour it into a large bowl.*

Stir in the olive oil and mix the flour in gradually until it’s all absorbed, either with an electric mixer, a spoon, or your clean hands.

If you used your hands, wash them again. Sprinkle flour onto a clean flat surface as well as on the sticky ball of dough. Knead (squish, mash, push, pull) it for a full 10 minutes. Set a timer, if necessary. If your hands get too sticky “wash” them in more flour.

Place dough in a large glass or oven-safe bowl coated with olive oil. Roll dough ball around until it’s also coated with olive oil.

Cover bowl with a damp towel and proof (let rise) in a warm place (about 85 degree F) until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes.**

Once the dough has risen, punch it down to remove the air. Let it rest on the counter for 10 minutes.

Form into a round shape on a cookie sheet sprinkled with corn meal on parchment paper, or spread into a loaf pan. If making a long loaf shape, flatten dough out with a rolling pin, then roll dough up. This will help the dough keep it high shape and not spread out on the cookie sheet. Coat with olive oil and proof again until it doubles in size about 45 minutes.***

Remove proofed dough from oven. Place pizza stone in oven for even cooking. Place a pan of water on bottom rack to provide moisture during baking for a crispy crust. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine 1 or 2 teaspoons of water with egg white, stir with whisk and brush over dough.

Make a few ¼ inch deep slits across the top of dough using a razor blade or very sharp knife so air can escape.

Place cookie sheet or loaf pan on pizza stone and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes or until bread is browned on the bottom.***

Cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve warm with butter or olive oil for dipping.


*If the yeast does not develop the bubbling foam layer, then the yeast is dead and the bread won’t rise. Throw it out and start over. Check the date code on your yeast package, make sure it’s not Quick or Rapid Rise yeast, and confirm that your water temperature is not above 120 degrees. If you’re still having trouble, check the internet or make a phone call to a trusted baking source. I called my dad.

**A good place is the oven. Some newer ovens have a “proof” setting. Or you can turn your oven up to “warm,” then turn it OFF and place the dough in the warmed but not too-hot oven.

*** Temperature and bake time will vary according to your climate and oven. Don’t use insulated cookie sheets as you want the bread to brown on the bottom.

Comment below if you’d like to share bread baking advice or mishap stories.

(Originally posted on 10/3/2014 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)

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