Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the most beloved figures in history, but not everyone is sure of exactly who he was.
Francis was born about 1182 in Assisi, a walled town on the slope of Monte Subasio in central Italy. It was the High Middle Ages, when the feudal attachment to the land was giving way to a more commercial way of life in which everything had a price. Loyalties of every kind were shifting as the old political, religious, and cultural hierarchies adapted to the power of money.
Francis was born into a family made wealthy and influential because of the new way of life. He had a charming personality and a talent for commerce, but a good heart and a longing for romance. He sought happiness through carousing with his friends, dressing extravagantly, and even riding off to battle time and again, but he found nothing but an unfulfilled yearning within himself.
He began to leave the safe walls of Assisi to climb Monte Subasio, where he would tuck himself into a narrow cave and search his soul for answers. Eventually, his prayers and reflections led him to a life devoted to the poor and to extreme personal poverty. He became an itinerant preacher who begged for food and had no home. But his joy was so contagious that thousands chose to follow him.
Although there were struggles, frustrations, and disappointments in his radical way of life, Francis found renewal and strength in the natural world, for “the Creator cannot be seen but can be known through Creation.”
Francis divided his time between preaching and prayer, staying out alone all night in the forests to commune with God, urging all creatures to join him in praising their Creator.
As lifelong lovers of the natural world ourselves, Tom and I have always wondered about the companions of Saint Francis on his extraordinary journey. Who were the plants, the animals, and even the stones and the clouds that he loved as brothers and sisters?
We have come to Francis’ homeland to meet them ourselves.