Another of those sorts who abandon a life of luxury for a life of faith, Francis was born to a wealthy family in Assisi c. 1182 AD. A rambunctious youth, Francis looked to a life in the military, and in 1201 he joined a campaign against Perugia. He was captured, spent a year in prison awaiting ransom, and perhaps had his first visions therein. Supposedly Francis heard the voice of Christ directing him to live a life of poverty and to repair the Church. But he happily returned to a carefree life upon his release.
According to ecclesiastical records, in 1205 Francis set out to enlist in the army the Count of Brienne, but on the way he encountered a leper. Viewing the leper as a symbol of morality – or as Jesus incognito as Catholics would have it – Francis embraced and kissed him. He returned to Assisi, abandoned his dissolute ways, divested himself of worldly goods, spent hours meditating, preached around the city (even to animals), restored ruined chapels, and ministered to lepers. Some viewed him as touched by God … others (including his family) as just touched.
Inevitably Francis attracted others as touched as he. Inspired by a sermon concerning Matthew 10:9, in 1209 he and his followers made a pilgrimage to Rome to seek consent to form a new religious order. In time, the tonsured bunch was recognized by the papacy, with Francis ordained as their deacon – hence, the Franciscans. Besides preaching, Francis kept busy the next couple of decades: founding the Order of Poor Dames in 1211, attending the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, attempting to convert the Sultan of Egypt to Christianity in 1219, and visiting the Holy Land in 1220. Then in 1224 Francis received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ … although skeptics note that descriptions of the wounds are similar to the symptoms of leprosy.
Francis is Assisi died in October 1226 at the age of 44; the Catholic Church rushed to make him a saint in 1228.