Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If You're Going To San Francesco...

St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), founder of the Fransiscan order, is considered the first Italian poet by literary critics, antedating Dante by a generation. Francis of Assisi, along with Catherine of Siena, are patron saints of Italy. St. Francis is also the the patron saint of animals as well as of the environment.

The following selection was written about Francis of Assisi rather than by him. I Fioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of St. Francis) was originally recorded in Latin by friar Ugolino da Montegrigio a few years after the death of St. Francis.  An Italian version first appeared in the second half of the 14th Century. The exact version here is from my trusty reader Beginning Readings in Italian and though highly abridged, the simple beauty of the language still comes through after nearly eight centuries.

I Fioretti di San Francesco was made into a film by Roberto Rossellini.  I haven't seen it yet but have it queued on Netflix. Portions of it are posted on YouTube here. That particular clip contains the Lord's Prayer in Italian which made we want to go find the written version. My first impression of the film is sort of like seeing a black and white movie version of Robin Hood. Sometimes the 13th century is best left to the writers and artists of that time:

Giotto (1266-1336) St Francis Preaching To The Birds

La Predica Agli Ucclelli
Allora San Francesco si leva con grandissimo fervore e dice: «Andiamo, al nome di Dio»: e prende per compagni frate Masseo e frate Agnolo, uomini santi. E andano con fervore di spirito arrivano a un castello che si chiama Carmano e San Francesco comincia a predicare. Predica con tanto fervore che tutti gli uomini e le donne di quell castello per devozione gli vogliono andar dietro e abbandonare il castello. E passando oltre Carmano e Bevagno, alza gli occhi e vede degli alberi, sui quali è quasi infinita moltitudine di uccelli; di che San Francesco si meraviglia e dice ai compagni: «Voi mi aspettate qui nella via e io vado a predicare alle mie sirocchie uccelli. »  E entra nel campo e comincia a predicare agli uccelli che sono in terra; e subito quelli che sono sugli alberi vengono a lui, e tutti insieme stanno ferme, mentre San Francesco finisce di predicare.
La sostanza della predica di San Francesco è questa: «Sirocchie mie uccelli, voi siete molto tenute a Dio vostro creatore poichè vi ha dato libertà di volare e vi ha dato il vestimento duplicato e triplicato; egli ha anche serbato il vostro seme nell’Arca di Noè. Voi non seminate e non mietete, e Dio vi nutre e vi  dà i fiumi e le fonti per vostro bene, e vi dà monti e le valli per vostro rifugio, e gli alberi alti per fare il vostro nido; e poichè voi non sapete filare nè cucire, Dio vi veste, voi e i vostri figlioli. Il vostro Creatore vi ama molto poichè egli vi dà tante benefici, e però guardatevi, sirocchie mie, dal peccato della ingratitudine, ma sempre lodate Dio.» Dicendo San Francesco queste parole, tutti quegli uccelli cominciano ad aprire i becchi, distendere i colli, aprire le ali e riverentemente inchinare i capi fino a terra, e con atti e con canti dimostrare che le parole del padre santo danno loro grandissimo diletto. E San Francesco insieme con loro si rallegra e si diletta, e si meraviglia molto di tanta moltitudine di uccelli e della loro bellissima varietà e della loro attenzione e familiarità. Finita la predica. San Francesco fa loro il segno della Croce a dà loro licenza di partire e allora tutti quegli uccelli si levano in aria con meravigliosi canti; e poi, secondo la Croce che aveva fatta loro San Francesco, si dividono in quattro parti: e l’una parte vola verso l’oriente, e l’altra verso l’occidente, e l’altra verso il mezzogiorno, la quarta verso il steetrione, e ciascuna schiera va cantando meravigliosi canti.
A laude di Cristo. Amen.

The Sermon To The Birds

St. Francis arises with great fervor, saying, "Let us go in the name of God"; and taking with him Brother Masseo and Brother Angelo, both holy men, they go forth guided by the Spirit of God. They come to a village called Carmiano and St. Francis begins to preach. He preaches so fervently that all the men and women of the village want to leave and follow after him out of devotion. Passing a place between Carmiano and Bevagna, St. Francis looks up and sees on the trees an almost infinite variety of birds, and being much surprised he says to his companions: "You wait for me here by the way, while I go and preach to my sisters the birds." And entering the field, he begins to preach to the birds that are on the ground, and suddenly those on the trees also come to him, and all are still until St. Francis finishes preaching. The substance of the sermon of St. Francis is this:

"My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you two-fold and three-fold and He has preserved your species in Noah's Ark. Though you neither sow nor reap, God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore, beware my sister birds of the sin of ingratitude, but always seek to praise God."

As St. Francis says these words, all the birds begin to open their beaks, to stretch their necks, open their wings and reverently bow heads to the ground, and act with songs that prove that the words of the Holy Father gives them great pleasure. And St. Francis is pleased with them and is delighted, and amazed at such a multitude of beautiful birds and their variety and their attention and familiarity. After the sermon, St. Francis makes the sign of the cross to give them permission to leave and then all the birds rise into the air with wonderful songs and then, making the sign of the cross that St. Francis had made, the flock divides into four parts: one part flies to the east, the other towards the west, and the other south, the fourth to the north, and each flock singing wonderful songs.

To the praise of Christ. Amen.


  1. When I was in school we were always having to see religious movies. "The Song of Bernadette."
    "King of Kings." "The Robe." And strangely enough "The Bucaneer" a movie about the siege of New Orleans starring Charlton Heaston and Yul Brenner. I could never figure out how that was a religious movie until much later in life.

    Mother Assunta was in love with Yul Brenner.

  2. But did you ever see the "The Flowers of St. Francis"? I didn't even know it was out there until I looked.