St Francis of Assisi

Published in Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2007), Letters, Letters, Medieval History (pre-1500), Volume 15


—In the Jan./Feb. 2007 issue, on page 12, I noticed some remarks onSt Francis of Assisi that are not quite accurate. It is often said thathis baptismal name was Giovanni, which is correct, and his family nameBernardone. In fact he was Giovanni di Pietro (John, son of Peter), andhis paternal grandfather was Bernardoni. Francis called his fatherPietro di Bernardoni (Peter, son of big Bernard). He himself was calledFrancesco (Francis) because, it is said, his father was in France on abusiness trip when he was born, and his mother may have been French.
The text of the first short rule, which was approved orally in 1209by Pope Innocent III, does not exist on its own. But it is contained inthe extant text of the second rule of 1221, which had several authors,was long, and was not brought to Rome for approval. The third rule,also edited by several hands, which was shorter than the second andmore legally acceptable, was approved by Pope Honorius III in a papalbull in 1223.
A distinction should be made between the rule of St Francis and theconstitutions of the order, which are very detailed regulations and aredifferent in the three main branches of the order—OFM, OFM Capuchin andOFM Conventual. The rule laid down that the habit or clothing of afriar was not to be expensive. The colour was not determined, but thecloth may at first have been made of undyed wool. A distinctive mark ofa Franciscan is the wearing of a cord, not a belt. In his rule of 1221St Francis laid down that none of them were to be called priors, andall were to be called friars minor (lesser brothers). The titles usedin the rule are superiors, ministers, and custodes or custodians. Localsuperiors of friaries were later called guardians, a title later usedalso for persons in charge of Poor Houses in Ireland.
It is useful to remember that Franciscan friars are not monks, andthat they live in friaries. The Latin equivalent is conventus(convent). Strictly speaking, monasteries are for monks, abbeys haveabbots, and priories have priors. But some Franciscan friaries inIreland have been called abbeys and monasteries by writers andtourists, and these names are still used.

—Yours etc.,


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