FIOR (Franciscan Institute Outreach - Malta)

9. Franciscan Saints and Mystics (1)

9.1 Preliminary Note:

The aim of these notes is not that of providing an exhaustive list of the hundreds of saints and blessed in the Franciscan Calendar. What we shall do is simply to speak about some representative figures of sanctity during the first centuries of Franciscan history. We have not included members of the Third Order, and only one member of the Second Order.

A) Companions of St. Francis & St. Clare

9.2 Bernard of Quintavalle (+c1241)

The Franciscan Sources present Bernard as the first companion of St. Francis (1 Cel 24; Letter of Greccio; 2 Cel 48; 2 Cel 109 [where Bernard is declared "Minorum Ordinis prima plantula"]; LegMaj III,3; L3S 46; LegPer 107; SpecPerf 36). He was a well-to-do young man from Assisi. His family's house still stands to this very day. His evangelical calling in the church of San Nicolò prompted him to sell all his possessions, give them to the poor and follow Christ together with Francis (1 Cel 15; L3S 27-29; AnonPer 10-11; Fior 2). Bernard was often sent on delicate missions, especially to Bologna in 1211 (Fior 5); to Florence (L3S 38-40). Francis chose Bernard to lead the first group of friars who went to Rome for the oral approval of the "Propositum vitae" in 1210. Francis also sent Bernard and Giles to Santiago de Compostela in 1208 during the second mission of the first friars. Bernard accompanied Clare to the monastery of Sant'Angelo di Panzo (Proc 12). Together with Angelo Tancredi, Leo and Rufino, Bernard remained close to Francis during the last two years of his life. To him Francis imparted a special blessing (SpecPerf 107; Fior 6), although 1 Cel 108 reserves this blessing to brother Elias. Bernard died round about 1241 and is buried close to the tomb of St. Francis.

9.3 Blessed Giles of Assisi (+1262)

Assisi is indicated as the native hometown of Giles (L3S 32). His probable date of birth is indicated round about 1190. His origins were probably humble, he came from a family of farmers. 1 Cel 25 says that friar Giles was "a simple and upright man, one fearing God". The Chronicle of the 24 Ministers General states that Giles occupied himself in manual work, and that he knew how to earn his daily bread with the sweat of his brow by humbly working the soil.

9.4 Giles was welcomed into the new fraternity by Francis on 23 April 1208. He was the third companion of St. Francis. The Franciscan Sources mention his entry into the Order: 1 Cel 25; L3S 32; LegPer 55; Spec 36). During the spring of 1208 Francis chose Giles to accompany him in a first preaching expedition in the Marches of Ancona (L3S 33-34). Later on Giles left for a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (1 Cel 30; AnonPer 18).

9.5. In 1209/1210 Giles was one of the group of friars who accompanied Francis to Rome in order to meet Pope Innocent III, who orally approved the "Propositum vitae" of the Friars Minor. On their way back, the friars passed through Orte and then stayed for some months at Rivotorto (1 Cel 32-42), until their definite stay at the Porziuncola.

9.6. The Chronicle of 24 Ministers General presents Giles as an itinerant and pilgrim friar. He went to a place called Ficarolum, between Mantova and Ferrara; in the Holy Land; in Ancona; on Mount Gargano, to the sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel; and in Bari, to the sanctuary of St. Nicholas.

9.7. The General Chapter of Pentecost of 1219 sent Giles to Tunis in North Africa. His missionary endeavour prompted the local Christians to send Giles back to Italy, fearing that his preaching might endanger their lives and their commercial dealings with the Muslim population.

9.8. In 1225 Giles went to Rieti, where he lived in the palace of the Cardinal Nicholas of Clairvaux, on the condition that he be allowed to beg for his daily food. During the autumn of 1226 Giles was again in Assisi, to stay with Francis, who was dying. After Francis' death Giles spent the rest of his life in the hermitage of Monteripido, near Perugia. He died on 23 April 1262. Pope Pius VI declared him a Blessed.

9.9. The Franciscan Sources present Giles as a man of fervent and profound prayer. He is considered to be a great mystic. According to the Mirror of Perfection, 85, Francis described the friar minor's qualities as including "the mind upraised to God, possessed in its highest perfection by Brother Giles". 1 Cel 25 says: "Brother Giles followed; he was a simple and upright man, and one fearing God. He lived a long time, leading a holy life, justly and piously, and giving us examples of perfect obedience, manual labour, solitary life, and holy contemplation". St. Bonaventure states that "third among those to join him (Francis) was Brother Giles, a man who was full of God and in every way worthy of the great name he left behind him. He was a very ordinary, uneducated person, but he distinguished himself by the practice of heroic virtue, as St. Francis had prophesied, and he was raised to sublime contemplation. For years he never ceased to raise his heart continually to God and he used to be so often rapt in ecstasy that he seemed to live a life worthy of the Angels even when he was on earth" (LegMaj III,4).

9.10. Giles wrote his spiritual experiences in his "dicta beati Aegidii", or Sayings of Blessed Giles.

(R. Brown, "Franciscan mystic. The life of blessed brother Giles of Assisi companion of St. Francis", Hanover House, New York, 1962).

9.11 Sylvester of Assisi (+1240)

Sylvester was born in Assisi in the second half of the 12th century, son of Rosone di Monaldo, brother of Favarone, father of St. Clare. He became a priest and canon of the cathedral church of San Rufino. In 1209 he joined Francis, as the first priest in the primitive fraternity (2 Cel 109; LegMaj III,5). He became eminent for his life of poverty and contemplation. Together with St. Clare he prayed for enlightenment to discern the will of God upon St. Francis (Fior 16). He often accompanied Francis during his preaching tours. Once, in Arezzo, his prayers brought peace to the city, which was falling prey to diabolic hatred and violence between its citizens. Bonaventure, in a special way, mentions the visions which Sylvester had concerning Francis. Sylvester is one of the companions buried near the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi.

9.12 Rufino of Assisi (+1249)

Rufino was born in Assisi, son of Scipione di Offreduccio. He was a relative of friar Sylvester and a cousin of St. Clare. He was already a priest when, in 1210, he followed Francis, who held him in high esteem for his purity (3 Cel 4). He was always close to Francis, especially during the last two years of his life, when he personally nursed him and saw the sacred stigmata which Francis jealously concealed from everybody (1 Cel 95). The Fioretti mention the episodes in which Francis advised Rufino how to get rid of a temptation from the devil (Fior 29), and how he sent Rufino to preach in San Rufino (Fior 30). The Mirror of Perfection, 85, describes "the virtuous and constant prayer of Brother Rufino, who prayed without ceasing, and whose mind was ever fixed on God". In 1246, together with Leo and Angelo, he was one of the three companions of the saint who wrote a letter from Greccio to the Minister General Crescentius of Jesi, who requested the brothers to send their written memories of St. Francis. Rufino is also buried close to St. Francis in the crypt of the lower basilica of Assisi.

9.13 Leo of Assisi (+1271)

Brother Leo is widely known as the most intimate companion of St. Francis. The Franciscan Sources abound in information concerning his relationship with Francis, but the historical sources referring to Leo's own life are not abundant. If we exclude the Sources which are attributed to Leo (but this would reintroduce the "Franciscan question" which we have already referred to), the documents which speak about Leo's life include the Chronicle of the 24 Generals (Analecta Franciscana III, pp. 65-74: "Vita Fratris Leonis") and Bartholomew of Pisa's Book of Conformities (Analecta Franciscana IV, pp. 188-193). Leo was a priest, and was very close to Francis, especially during the last years of the poverello's life. The Sources present Leo as the saint's confessor and secretary, as is clear in the case of the Parchment which Francis gave Leo on La Verna in September 1224, after receiving the stigmata (2 Cel 49; LegMaj XI,9; Fioretti: Considerations on the Sacred Stigmata). This Parchment with the Praises of the most high God and the Blessing to Brother Leo is conserved as a relic in St. Francis' basilica in Assisi. Another note which Francis wrote to Brother Leo is found at Spoleto. Leo was present together with Bonizo from Bologna when Francis wrote the Rule (LegPer 113, Spec 1). Leo is also famous for the episode of perfect joy (Fioretti 8). To him Francis gave a habit in his memory (2 Cel 50). Together with Brother Angelo Leo was present during Francis' last days (2 Cel 217; LegPer 100; Spec 123). The Sources which are attributed to the memoirs of Brother Leo always portray him as one of the most faithful disciples of Francis and a staunch defender of the primitive ideals of the Franciscan fraternity (LegPer 116; Spec 52; Fior 36). After Francis' death Leo remained a point of reference to Clare and the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, and he was present together with Brother Angelo when Clare died in 1253 (LegCl 45). Leo is one of the three companions of the letter sent from Greccio in 1246.

9.14 Agnes of Assisi (c.1197-1253)

Caterina di Favarone di Assisi was St. Clare's younger sister. When Clare left her parents' house on 28 March 1211, Caterina too followed suit and reached her sister at the monastery of Sant'Angelo di Panzo on 14 April 1211. Her name as a religious was Agnes. Her paternal uncle Monaldo tried to drag her back home by force, but his plans failed. Some time after Francis took the two sisters to the small convent of San Damiano where the Order of Poor Ladies was born. Agnes was later on designated as abbess of the new monastery of Monticelli, near Florence, founded in 1219. From Monticelli Agnes wrote a letter to her sister Clare, in which she expresses her sorrow at being separated from her and the Sisters of San Damiano. She returned to Assisi some time before her sister's death on 11 August 1253. Agnes died some time later, probably on 16 November 1253. She immediately was venerated for her sanctity, and Benedict XIV declared her Blessed in 1752.

© copyright FIOR-Malta
Text by Fr. Noel Muscat ofm



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