Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi was born in 1181 in Assisi, a duchy of Spoleto, Italy. Francis was the son of Pietro di Bernardrone, a wealthy cloth merchant, and lady Pica, believed to be French. During Francis’ birth, his father was in France on a business trip. His mother had the infant baptized Giovanni, but when Pietro returned, he had the baby’s name changed to Francesco — either in honor of his wife’s French roots or his unique interest in France. Since Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant, he lived a privileged life and learned to write and read Latin at a school near the church of San Grigio. He also learned about French language and literature, taking a particular interest in the troubadours’ Provençal culture. While he never spoke French fluently, he loved the language and would even sing in French. The young men of his town respected Francis for his worldliness and exuberance. His father expected him to take over the family textile business when he grew up. However, Francis was not interested in the cloth and textile trade. He dreamed of being a knight, idolizing Medieval war heroes. In 1202, Francis fought in a war between Perugia and Assisi. The enemy captured him and held him as a prisoner for a year. After his release, he fell gravely ill. Once he recovered, Francis attempted to join Count Gentile’s papal forces in 1205 against Emperor Frederick II in Apulia. During his journey, Francis had a vision that he should return home to Assisi and wait for a sign to create a new form of knighthood. He then dedicated his life to regular prayer, seeking God’s plan for him. Another life-changing experience happened when Francis encountered a leper while riding horseback in the countryside. Before the war, Francis would have avoided the leper. However, he felt the man was a symbol of moral conscience. Francis went to the leper and embraced and kissed him. Francis later described the experience of overall sweetness in his mouth, writing that it was incredibly liberating and freeing. By this point, he felt his early life of wealth had lost its appeal.