From the Legenda Minor
of St. Bonaventure
(de Stigmatibus sacris, 1-4; ed. Quaracchi, 1941; pgg.
Two years before Francis, the faithful servant of Christ, gave his soul back to God, he
was alone on the top of Mt. Alverna. There he had begun a fast of forty days in honor of
the archangel Michael and was immersed more deeply than usual in the delights of heavenly
contemplation. His soul became aglow with the ardor of fervent longing for heaven as he
experienced within himself the operations of grace.
As he was drawn aloft through ardent longing for God one morning near the feast of the
Exaltation of the Cross, and was praying on the mountainside, he saw what appeared as a
seraph with six bright wings gleaming like a fire descending from the heights of heaven.
As this figure approached in swift flight and came near the man of God it appeared not
only winged but also crucified. The sight of it amazed Francis and his soul experienced
joy mingled with pain. He was delighted with the sight of Christ appearing to him so
graciously and intimately and yet the awe-inspiring vision of Christ nailed to the cross
aroused in his soul a joy of compassionate love.
When the vision vanished after a mysterious and intimate conversation it left Francis
aglow with seraphic love in his soul. Externally, however, it left marks on his body like
those of the Crucified as if the impression of a seal had been left on heated wag. The
figures of the nails appeared immediately on his hands and feet. The heads of the nails
were inside his hands but on top of his feet with their points extending through to the
opposite side. His right side too showed a blood-red wound as if it had been pierced by a
lance, and blood flowed frequently from it.
Because of this new and astounding miracle unheard of in times past, Francis came down
from the mountain a new man adorned with the sacred stigmata, bearing in his body the
image of the Crucified not made by a craftsman in wood or stone , but fashioned in his
members by the hand of the living God.
Francis and his followers travelled and preached all over Europe,
gaining popularity and followers everywhere. Francis himself preached
before the Pope and Cardinals at the Lateran in 1217 and met St. Dominic
during that stay in Rome. Lay people were so moved by Francis' preaching
that they came to him pleading to join his order, once an entire
congregation implored him en masse. At this point he devised his
Third Order, which he intended as a middle state for people who weren't
ready or able to leave all for the cloister. Many Franciscans also went
to preach to the Muslims, Francis himself preached to the sultan as he
and his army were faced by crudasers from Europe. Many of the friars who
went to Muslim lands were martyred.
Francis' first rule was only approved verbally by Innocent III, and
in written form it was overly long and not precise. After some
relaxations in the austerity he desired for his friars and imposition of
rules by outside or unauthorized people, Francis retired to solitude to
entrust an official version of his rule of life to paper. (After he
finished a first version it was promptly lost, and Francis was forced to
retire again to re-write it.) The rule was pared down from 23 to 12
chapters, and was solemnly approved by Pope Honorius III on
November 29, 1223. It was unique up to that time in that it stressed the
vow of poverty, which it made absolute, and in the compromise between
the secular and religious states in his Third Order.
Late in his life Francis received the Stigmata,
as told in this
account from the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Early in August, 1224, Francis retired with three companions to
"that rugged rock 'twixt Tiber and Arno", as Dante called La Verna,
there to keep a forty days fast in preparation for Michaelmas. During
this retreat the sufferings of Christ became more than ever the burden
of his meditations; into few souls, perhaps, had the full meaning of
the Passion so deeply entered. It was on or about the feast of the
Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) while praying on the
mountainside, that he beheld the marvelous vision of the seraph, as a
sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the
five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long
since been impressed upon his heart.
Office of Readings
The mysteries of Jesus' passion
Shone forth on Mount Alverna's height,
Where rays of merciful redemption
Diffused their gentle saving light,
As Francis, rapt in contemplation,
The Cross embraced throughout the night.
His fervent prayer in lone seclusion,
His spirit soared to God on high;
The thought of Christ's most bitter passion
Evoked from him a painful sigh;
His urge to share Christ's crucifixion
Engulfed his soul in ecstasy.
Then, lo, there came the King from heaven
In garb of Seraphim arrayed.
His form, in angel wings enfolded,
A kindly countenance displayed;
But then the Cross that bore his members
His bitter sufferings portrayed.
The servant gazed upon his Savior,
Once suffering, now glorified;
The light and splendor of the Father,
But now so lowly, gentle, tried.
He understood the mystic message
To no mere human words allied.
The mountain peak burst forth in splendor,
As neighbors wondered down below;
The heart of Francis throbbed intensely
With flames of love for Christ aglow;
And presently upon his body
Christ's passion wounds began to show.