Francis was born in 1182 to a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, Italy, who expected his son to work for him. His mother, Pica, named him Giovanni after John the Baptist, but Pietro di Bernardone called him Francesco after his beloved France, where they often traveled to buy goods used in making clothing for the wealthy citizens of Assisi.
Young Francis was a reveler and troubadour who dreamed of writing French poetry and also of knighthood. In 1202, at age 20, he joined the battle against the nearby town of Perugia, but instead of finding glory, he was captured and imprisoned for a year.
Traumatized by the isolation, illness and deprivation of prison, Francis began questioning the purpose of his life, his family and his materialistic society and compared it to the teachings of Christ. Humbled, he turned to God for solace and direction.
Soon after, Francis renounced his father and his former life. He began rebuilding churches and lived in poverty, preaching the gospel and ministering to lepers. In 1209, he received papal permission to start the Friars Minor, an order of monks who scattered across Europe to do their work. Francis even went to Egypt to meet muslim leaders.
Years later, he set up the first actual Nativity scene near the town of Greccio to celebrate Christmas. And in 1224, suffering from poor health and bad eyes, he had a vision on Mount La Verna in which he received the stigmata—the wounds of Christ—during a 40-day fast.
Francis spent the last days of his life in a little church he’d restored near Assisi. He died on Oct. 3, 1226, and was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in 1228—the quickest in history. The next day, the pope laid the cornerstone for the Basilica of Saint Francis built to venerate the beloved, gentle preacher who lived in simplicity and joy.
During his life, Francis wrote poetry, prayers and psalms, including his “Canticle of the Sun” and “Canticle of the Creatures,” which praise God for creating the world and all living things. The title of the film, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” by Franco Zeferilli, about the life of Saint Francis is taken from the canticles.