1 September 2020
Saint who loved animals
Pope Gregory IX canonised Francis on July 16, 1228. Along with Saint Catherine of Siena, he was designated patron saint of Italy. He later became associated with patronage of animals and the natural environment. It became customary for churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on or near his feast day on October 4.
In 1219, he went to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Sultan to end the conflict of the Crusades. The Franciscan Order had grown considerably by that stage and its original organisational structure was no longer adequate. So, Francis returned to Italy to reorganise the Order.
Once his community was authorised by the pope, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs. Francis is also known for his love of the Eucharist, and in 1223, he arranged for the first Christmas live nativity scene.
According to Christian tradition, in 1224 he received the stigmata during the apparition of Seraphic angels in a religious ecstasy, which would make him the second person in Christian tradition after St Paul to bear the wounds of Christ’s Passion.
The account of his stigmata goes like this: while he was praying on the mountain of Verna, during a forty day fast in preparation for Michaelmas on September 29, Francis is said to have had a vision, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and as a result he received the stigmata.
Brother Leo, who was with Francis at the time, left a simple account of what occurred, the first definite version of the phenomenon of stigmata. “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.”
Suffering from stigmata and from trachoma, Francis received medical care but nothing helped. He was brought back to a hut in the place where the Franciscan movement began, and believing the end of his life was near, his last days were spent dictating his spiritual testament.
Francis died on October 3, 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of psalm 142.
His feast day is celebrated each year on October 3.