Francis was born amidst a blissful atmosphere at Umbria
in the year 1181. His fortunate father was Peter Bernadone and his happy mother was Pica. His mother called him John, after
the beloved disciple, but his father renamed him Francesco, which means a little frenchman.
From his boyhood, Francis loved poetry, music and merriment.
Belonging to the upper class, with considerable wealth because of his father's business, Francis spent money extravagantly
among his friends. Early in youth, his heart and mind had already been captivated by the fascinating adventures of the knights
and by the roaming troubadors.
Thomas de Celano gives us the following description of
"His figure was beyond the middle height, and well set,
but thin and of a very delicate constitution. He had an oval face, dark complexion, black hair, expressive countenance, black
brilliant eyes full of mildness and modesty. The peace and innocence of his soul were reflected upon his countenance. To this
exterior advantages he joined those qualities which render a young man amiable: a playful wit, a lively imagination, a gentle
and generous heart."
When he was 20 years of age, Francis took part in the
battle of the Assisians against the Perugians. The Assisians lost and Francis was taken prisoner and stayed for a year in
Perugia. Even in prison Francis continued to be as gay and jovial as ever. He told his fellow prisoners that one day the whole
world would come to worship him. He was referring to his dreams of future military exploits and victories. When he returned
to Assisi, he fell ill and for a while resolve to turn to a better life. But as soon as he recovered, he resumed his former
Pursuing his military ambitions, Francis volunteered
to go to Apulia as a cavalier. But when he reached Spoleto he fell ill again. Then the remorse of conscience tormented him
and seem to remind him of his resolutions. His soul underwent a real conflict: Was he to follow the worldly amusements of
his youth or should he heed the call of a higher and more sublime life? Then he heard a mysterious voice telling him about
the vanity of all worldly pursuits. The voice left Francis a new man. Resolved to live as a real child of God, he abandoned
his military career and returned to Assisi. For the last time he gave a banquet to his friends. It was on that occasion that
Francis announced to them to marry a woman so rich, so noble, so beautiful that no one like her could be found in the world.
This woman whom Francis decided to marry was none other
than Lady Poverty. He was enamoured by the beauty of renouncing everything in order to reproduce in himself the perfect image
of the poor Jesus. Of this Lady Poverty Francis remained a romantic lover. In the basilica of the Church of Saint Francis
in Assisi, one of the frescoes artistically depicts the "holy nuptials of Francis with Lady Poverty." Out of this wedlock
were born many children who introduce reforms in society and even within the church.
Francis now began to spend his time in solitude, prayers,
and meditations. He began also to conquer himself by making his body which he called "brother ass", subservient to God's directives
in serving men. One day, while Francis was riding down Assisi, he saw a leper and was instantly filled with horror. He immediately
rode away at full speed, but he had not gone far when he felt some kind of remorse, so he went back to the place where he
had seen the leper. He alighted from his horse, leave all his money to the leper and kissed the leper's hands. With that heroic
act he wanted to prove to God how true he was in his conversion.
Later, Francis would go about the city in dirty rags,
helping the sick and the poor with all the money he could get from his father but Peter Bernadone, seeing the extravagance
of his son and afraid that his property would soon be squandered, took Francis to the bishop to stop him from such a folly.
His anger drove him to the extent of demanding restitution for all the money that Francis had spent for alms. When the bishop
told Francis to return his father's property, he took off his clothes saying that he was returning all that he had, including
his clothes, the only thing he possessed, for he was poor. Then Francis declared:
"Hear ye all and understand. Until now I had told Peter
Bernadone my father; henceforth I can boldly say 'Our Father Who art in Heaven', in Whom I have placed all my treasures and
all my hopes."
Bishop Guido gave his cloak to the naked Francis and
Francis wore it. After having broken all ties with his earthly father and family, he went out to Subasio, with jubilant heart.
Now, Francis was a homeless wanderer, given to prayer,
penance, meditation, and service of the poor. He suffered humiliation from his friends and cruelty from brigands. On one occasion,
some robbers who took him for a madman, threw him into a ditch. After the robbers had gone, Francis pulled himself up from
the knee-deep mud and went about singing God's love songs.