October 4th is the feast day of the great St. Francis of Assisi!
St. Francis of Assisi is one of the Church’s best known and most beloved saints. Our current Holy Father Pope Francis took the name “Francis” after him.
But who much do most people know about his life?
Here are 12 fascinating facts you probably didn’t know about the great saint’s life:
1) He was one of seven kids
Another reason for being open to a big family?
2) He was named after the people of France
His father was a merchant who liked French culture. “Francesco” means “Frenchman.”
3) He was a POW for a year
At around the age of 19, before his conversion, he joined the military and fought in a war against a nearby city. He was taken prisoner and held for a year, but was eventually released unharmed.
4) He was inspired by Matthew 10.9
In Matthew 10.9, Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts,” when they travel around to preach the Gospel. He felt inspired to do the same, and started traveling around preaching repentance in poverty.
5) Within a year, he had already gained 11 followers
That meant there were 12 of them total – just like the 12 Apostles.
6) Pope Innocent III decided to support the Franciscans after a supernatural dream
Pope Innocent III was initially cautious about supporting Francis and his new group of followers. Then he had a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral church of the diocese of Rome, and thus possibly representative of the Church in general, but especially the papacy. He interpreted the dream as indicating that Francis and his group would help support the Church, and so gave official recognition to the group as a genuine Order in the Church.
7) He attended the Fourth Lateran Council – and met St. Dominic there
The Fourth Lateran Council was the 12th ecumenical council of the Catholic Church and affirmed transubstantiation and papal primacy, among other things. St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers or Dominicans, was also present.
8) He traveled to a Muslim Sultan, preached the Gospel, and challenged them to a trial-by-fire in order to prove the truth of Christianity
During the Fifth Crusade, Francis and a companion traveled into Muslim territory to visit the Sultan al-Kamil. He preached before the Sultan. To demonstrate his great faith in the Christian religion, he challenged those present to a “trial-by-fire” in which he and a Muslim would step into a fire, with the idea that the follower of the true religion would be spared by God. Francis offered to go first, but the Sultan turned down the challenge. Nonetheless, the Sultan was so impressed by his faith that he gave Francis permission to preach in his land.
9) The body of a dead Franciscan performed too many miracles, causing problems with crowds, so Francis prayed the miracles would stop – and they did
In 1220, Francis handed over governance of the greater Order to the Franciscan Peter Catani. However, Peter died just five months later. Visitors to his grave reported many miracles, which led to great crowds visiting his grave. The great crowds were causing problems in that area, so Francis prayed asking Peter to stop the miracles – the miracles stopped.
10) He received the stigmata during a 40-day fast in preparation for Michaelmas
Stigmata is a condition in which the wounds of Christ supernaturally appear on a person’s body. A Franciscan who was with him later recounted, “Suddenly he saw a vision of a seraph, a six-winged angel on a cross. This angel gave him the gift of the five wounds of Christ.”
This happened while he was in the midst of a 40-day fast in preparation for Michaelmas, or the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel (September 29th).
11) The foundation stone for the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was laid by the pope the day after he was canonized – less than two years after his death
Francis died on October 3, 1226. He was declared a saint by Pope Gregory IX on July 16, 1228, and the next day the Pope personally laid the foundation stone for the new Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.
12) His tomb was lost for centuries until it was rediscovered in 1818
His body was moved to his basilica in 1230, but was soon hidden by the Franciscans to protect it from Saracen invaders. The location of the body as forgotten, and it was not rediscovered until nearly six centuries later in 1818.
What is something you love about the life of St. Francis of Assisi? Let us know in the comments!
[See also: 5 Saints Who Totally Had Superpowers]