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St. Francis of Assisi Icon Greeting Card (CA6795)
St. Francis of Assisi Icon Holy Card (PCC509)
Saint Francis (1182-1226) is the founder of the Franciscan Order and one of the most famous and beloved saints of the Church. He renounced worldly wealth, preaching the importance of simplicity and poverty based on the ideals of the Gospel. He was known for his love of nature and animals, especially birds.
Francis was an enthusiastic, charismatic, and worldly young man, born in 1181 to a wealthy cloth merchant of Assisi. When he reached his early twenties, Francis underwent a series of experiences that caused him to reject his father’s wealth and position, become a hermit, an itinerant preacher, and the founder of three religious orders. In 1205, Francis was praying before the crucifix in the old, deteriorating church of San Damiano when he heard Christ speak to him from the cross saying, "repair My house." At first, Francis thought this meant to rebuild the buildings, but he eventually came to realize that Christ’s command was to bring the People of God back to the faith.
He began a hermit’s life of poverty, chastity, and obedience to God, but was soon joined by companions. With the blessing of Pope Innocent III, he founded a religious order called the Friars Minor, now popularly known as the Franciscans. Along with Clara Sciffi, a young woman from Assisi, he founded a sisterhood at San Damiano called the Poor Ladies, later called the Poor Clares. He added a third order for lay people in 1221. Francis preached the necessity of a poor, simple life-style based on the ideals of the Gospels, e.g. Matthew 10:5-42. Unlike older monastic orders such as Benedictines who lived in one place working to support themselves, Franciscans went out among the people, living on donations. Francis had a deep love for nature and for God’s creatures, especially birds. It is said that he could speak to birds and command their obedience. He also had a deep love for Christ. Late in his life, Francis received the Stigmata, the imprint of the wounds of Christ on his own body. He died in 1226, probably of metastatic cancer, and was canonized two years later. The familiar Prayer of St. Francis, "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace ..." expresses the spirit of Francis but probably was written by an anonymous author in 1850.
Theology and Symbolism
Francis stands before us in this three-quarter length iconographic portrait as a model of spiritual strength and compassionate love. The crown of his head is shaved, a practice called tonsure in the middle ages to provide a distinctive appearance to those who have taken religious vows. His face, following the tradition of Byzantine icons, is not intended to be a realistic portrait but a spiritual one. His forehead is broad, indicating strength of spirit. His eyes are unnaturally large and soulful, drawing the viewer into communication with God through Saint Francis. His nose is long and slender, conforming to the Byzantine ideal of nobility. His mouth is small and closed, symbolic of contemplation.
Francis is dressed in the brown robe of his famous order, hooded and with a rope belt. He holds a book in his left hand, probably the Gospels. A small bird is perched on his right hand, with two more in the background among flowers, reminders of his great love for God’s creations. The Stigmata mark his hands, note also the red slash of the lance wound. There is a cave in the mountain behind Francis recalling the period in his early religious life spent meditating in a cave as a hermit. Surrounding his head is a halo of gold. The halo has been used in Christian art for hundreds of years to indicate sanctity. Gold leaf is used to symbolize divine light because of the incorruptibility of gold and its metallic reflectiveness.