He was certainly not a handsome man,
the way his ears stuck out from his head, nor, with his thin, small figure
and modest education, did he cut an impressive figure — at least this is
what his contemporaries said about him. Yet no other name from the
thirteenth century is so well-known and loved. In January 1206 Francis
heard a mysterious voice commanding him to "go and repair my house, for it
is falling down". He obeyed, and, not only did he repair the physical
structure of a church, he also found himself leading a powerful movement
of religious renewal in the Church. At a time when lust for money and
power had corrupted temporal and religious life, he set the example of an
evangelical who cared nothing for possessions.
Born into a wealthy family, Francis had grown up living
the life of a pleasure-seeker and enjoyed surrounding himself in luxury.
He gave it all up so suddenly, so cheerfully and willingly, that he drew
thousands along with him, even some of the most distinguished scholars.
The "poor little man," who had experienced the Impression of the Stigmata,
the wounds of Christ, on 14 September 1224 on Mount Le Vema, lived only
forty-four years. Yet after his death, 20,000 men from all over
Europe were seeking to emulate his life, as well as thousands of women.
Caring for the urban destitute, his mendicant Order, the Franciscans, grew
by leaps and bounds. The advocate of the poor, St Francis of Assist was
the first to state publicly that work dignifies man, that its value is
intrinsic and cannot be measured by the money it earns. He also loved
animals and birds, seeing them as man's friends and his lovely "The Hymn
of the Sun" was the first great poem in the Italian language. Dante
remembered him with a ref-erence to Assisi in the XI Canto (Il
Paradiso), of The Divine Comedy: "There at the edge of the
cliff a Sun was born to the world."