4: St Francis of Assisi - the early days
 
For images of the life of St Francis, head for the sequence in the Upper Church of San Francesco in Assisi. These late 13th century frescoes used to be attributed to Giotto, but this is no longer accepted. I have written about the entire sequence here.
  Let's look at a few images showing episodes from his early life, before he founded the order. In some cases, we can see the supposed locations as well.
  The scene below is described in this way by St Bonaventure (1221 - 1274), who was minister general of the order from 1265.

A certain citizen of Assisi, a simpleton as was believed, yet one taught of God, whensoever he met Francis going through the city, would doff his cloak and spread the garment before his feet, declaring that Francis was worthy of all honour, as one that should ere long do mighty deeds, and was on this account to be splendidly honoured by all the faithful.  But as yet Francis knew not the intent of God concerning him, forasmuch as he was both drawn away unto external things by his fatherís calling, and weighed down toward earthly things by the corruption inborn in our nature, and had not yet learned to contemplate heavenly things, nor accustomed himself to taste of divine.

What is fascinating about this image is its depiction of the Piazza del Commune in Assisi. Behind Francis and the citizen is the Roman Temple of Minerva, later converted into a church, the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. On the right below is the view today. An interesting detail in the image is the barred windows: in medieval times the building was used as a prison.
 
 
Francis meets a poor beggar

Another text by Bonaventure, and the matching Upper Church image.

But once on a time, when he had been busied with the cares of his trading, and, contrary unto his wont, had sent empty away a certain beggar who besought an alms for the love of God, he forthwith, returning unto his pitiful mind, ran after him, and bestowed alms in merciful wise upon him; promising unto the Lord God that thenceforward he would never, while he could, refuse any that asked of him, pleading the love of God.

Behind we can see a hilltop Umbrian town, possibly Assisi.

For a change, let's look at a different art location and a different biographer of Francis.  This fresco is truly by Giotto, and is in the Bardi Chapel in Santa Croce in Florence. A lively scene; note the children being restrained from throwing stones at Francis. This shows the scene in which Francis throws off his well-to-do clothes and gives them back to his father. The event is described here by Thomas of Celano, (c1185 - 1265) Francis's first biographer.

When he was in front of the bishop, he neither delayed nor hesitated, but immediately took off threw down all his clothes and returned them to his father. He did not even keep his breeches on, and he was completely stripped bare before everyone. The bishop, observing his frame of mind and admiring his fervour and determination, got up, and gathering him in his own arms, covered him with the mantle he was wearing.
  Standing naked in the piazza, Francis must have felt a lightness of being. By shedding his clothes, he had dropped all the burdens he had carried since he had reached the age of reason. He had been freed to follow Godís will.



Here is the place claimed to be the location of the stripping of Francis. The church is Santa Maria Maggiore: at this point in time it was the cathedral  of Assisi. The nearby gate is that of the Bishop's palace.

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