Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was the least dogmatic of saints, seeing himself as God's troubadour or fool.
His life was rich in its succession of dramas. After his debauchery as a young playboy, merchant and soldier - he fought at the Battle of Collestrada - he stripped naked in court, abandoned everything he owned and devoted his life to the poorest and the sick.
On his missions he walked over the Pyrenees barefoot, was shipwrecked, and crossed the lines during the Fifth Crusade to parley with the Sultan in Egypt.
In 1224 marks similar to Christ's wounds appeared on his hands, feet and side, the first recorded case of stigmata.
Francis's feelings for creation, epitomised in his sermon to the birds, stimulated the realism of the Italian Renaissance artists; his vernacular poems inclined Dante to write The Divine Comedy in Italian not Latin.
The first religious order he founded, for men, had a radical effect on social justice and the developing universities in Europe; his second order, the Poor Clares, for women, soon numbered hundreds, including royalty and half a dozen saints; his third, for laity sworn to peace, helped destroy the military power of feudalism.
But above all it is through his universal love that he has influenced the world for nearly eight centuries, drawing more than three million people every year to his tomb in Assisi.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 352 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 01/11/2001
- Category: Biography: historical, political & military
- ISBN: 9780712668149
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Review by zappa
House writes sympathetically of his subject, but could have done with good editor. Too often he makes sudden and rather tenuous connections between Francis' life and the lives of other historical figures, and sometimes lapses into awkward repetition of ground already covered - material on p. 274 comparing Francis' self-discipline and mortification to Zen and martial arts disciplines has been aired eleven pages earlier.All in all though it is a useful visitation of one of history's holiest humans, balanced and pleasantly measured in its assessment of the sociological and theological ingredients of a short but profoundly significant life.