OF THE FIRST CONSIDERATION OF THE SACRED, HOLY STIGMATA
Concerning the first consideration, be it known that in the year 1224, being in his forty-third year, St Francis went, by the inspiration of God, from the Valley of Spoleto into Romagna, taking with him Brother Leo as his companion; and on their way they passed by the Castle of Montefeltro, where was a great concourse of people, and a solemn banquet held, by reason that one of the Counts of Montefeltro was that day to receive his knighthood. And when St Francis heard of this solemnity, and that many gentlemen of various countries were gathered together there, he said to Brother Leo, “Come, let us go up unto this festival; for, by God’s help, we shall gather therefrom rich spiritual fruit.”
Now, among other men of high degree who had come together to this feast, there was a certain gentleman of Tuscany who was both rich and mighty. He was called Orlando da Chiusi di Casentino; and for the marvellous things which he had heard concerning the holiness and the miracles of St Francis he bore him great devotion, and had an exceeding desire to see him and to hear him preach.
St Francis, then, being come to this castle, entered into the courtyard where all those gentlemen were assembled; and, in fervour of spirit, he mounted on a low wall, and began to preach, choosing for the theme of his discourse these words in the valgar tongue:
So great is the joy which I expect,
That all pain is joy to me.
And upon this theme, by the direction of the Holy Ghost, he preached so profoundly and so devoutly, proving it by the divers pains and sufferings of the holy apostles and martyrs, and by the manifold tribulations and temptations of holy virgins and all other saints, that all that multitude of men hung upon his words both with their ears and hearts, hearkening to him as to an angel of God. Among whom the said Orlando, being touched in heart by God through the marvellous preaching of St Francis, was led to speak to him after sermon touching the state of his soul. So taking him aside, he said to him, “O Father, I would fain take counsel with thee concerning the salvation of my soul.” St Francis answered him, “It pleaseth me well: but go now and pay respect to thy friends, who have bidden thee to this feast, and dine with them; and after dinner we will speak together as much as it shall please thee.”
Orlando, therefore, went to dine, and after dinner returning again to St Francis, he discoursed with him at length concerning the state of his soul, and in the end he said to him, “I have a mountain in Tuscany, a devout and solitary place, called Mount Alvernia, far from all discourse of men, well fitted for one who would do penance for his sins, or who desires to lead a solitary life; if it please thee, I will freely give it to thee and thy companions for the welfare of my soul.”
When St Francis heard of this bountiful offer of a thing which he had greatly desired, he was exceeding glad, and thanking and praising God in the first place, and after him Orlando, he thus replied: “Orlando, as soon as thou shalt have returned to thy home, I will send to thee some of our brethren, to whom thou shalt show this place; and if it shall seem to them well fitted for prayer and penance, I will at once accept thy charitable offer.”
Having said thus, St Francis departed, returning to St Mary of the Angels; and Orlando likewise returned to his castle, which was called Chiusi, and was about a mile distant from Mount Alvernia. St Francis then sent two of his companions to the said Orlando, who received them with much charity and gladness; and he sent with them to Mount Alvernia fully fifty men-at-arms, to be their defence against wild beasts. And these brethren, being thus accompanied, ascended the mount, and searched diligently, until at last they came to a spot well fitted for devout contemplation; and this they chose for the habitation of St Francis, and, with the help of the men-at-arms in their company, they made some little cells with branches of trees; and thus they accepted Mount Alvernia, taking possession of it in the name of God, and forthwith returned again unto St Francis, who rejoiced greatly at what they told him, and, thanking and praising God, spoke with a joyful countenance to these friars, saying, “My children, we draw near to our Lent of St. Michael the Archangel. I firmly believe it to be the will of God that we keep this Lent upon Mount Alvernia, which, by divine dispensation, has been prepared for us, that we by penance may merit from our Lord the consolation of consecrating this blessed mount to the honour and glory of God, of his glorious Mother the Virgin Mary, and of the holy angels.”
And having said this, St Francis took with him Brother Masseo da Marignano of Assisi; and Brother Angelo Tancredi of Rieti, who, in the world, had been a noble knight, and was still noted for his gentle courtesy; and Brother Leo, who was a man of the greatest simplicity and purity, for the which cause St Francis loved him greatly.
And with these three brethren St Francis betook himself to prayer, then, having recommended himself and his companions to the prayers of the brethren who were left behind, he set forth with these three, in the name of Jesus Christ crucified, to go to Mount Alvernia. And on the way he called Brother Masseo to him, and said: “Thou, Brother Masseo, shalt be our guardian and our superior of this journey, both in the way and while we sojourn together on the mount; and we will observe our wonted custom, which is, that one while we will keep silence; and we will take no thought beforehand of eating, or drinking, or sleeping, but when the evening comes we will beg a little bread, and stay and rest ourselves in that place which God shall prepare for us.”
Then these three comrades bowed their heads, and making the sign of the cross went on their way; and the first evening they came to a house of the brethren, and there abode. The second evening, because the weather was bad and they were weary, they could not reach any house of friars, neither any town nor castle; wherefore, when night came on, they took shelter in a ruined and deserted church, and there laid them down to rest. Now, while his companions slept, St Francis betook himself to prayer; and, behold, in the first watch of the night there came to him a multitude of most fierce demons who, with great noise and frenzy, began to attack him on all sides, in order to disturb him in his prayer; but this they could not do, because God was with him. When, therefore, St Francis had endured that conflict a long time, he began to cry aloud: “O accursed spirits, you can do nothing save by the divine permission; wherefore I bid you, on the behalf of the omnipotent God, to do with my body whatsoever he shall permit you to do, and most willingly will I endure it; because I have no greater enemy than my body, and therefore if you will avenge me upon it you shall do me good service.” Then did the devils begin to torment him worse than ever. But he cried out, and said: “O my Lord Jesus Christ, I thank thee for this thy love when the Lord punisheth his servant well in this life, that so he may not be punished in the other. And I am ready gladly to endure every pain and suffering which thou, my God, art pleased to send me for my sins.” Then the devils dispersed and left him, being vanquished and confounded by his penance and constancy. And St Francis is great fervour of spirit left the church and went into the wood hard by, and there, beating his breast with sighs and tears, sought after Jesus, the beloved of his soul. And having found him at last, in the secret of his heart, now he spoke to him reverently as his Lord, now he made answer to him as his judge, now he besought him as his father, now he conversed with him as his friend. On that night and in that wood, his companions, being awake and listening to him, heard him with many tears and cries implore the divine mercy on behalf of sinners. He was heard to weep aloud for the Passion of Christ as if he had beheld it with his bodily eyes. On that same night also he was seen praying with arms outstretched in the form of a cross, and thus was he lifted up and suspended for a long time in the air, surrounded with a dazzling glory. And so, in these holy exercises, he passed all that night without sleeping.
And the next morning, his companions, knowing that he was too weak to walk, went to a poor labouring man of the country, and prayed him, for the love of God, to lend his ass to Brother Francis their father, for he was not able to travel on foot. When the poor man heard them speak of Brother Francis, he asked them: “Are you, then, of the brethren of that friar of Assisi of whom men speak so much good?” Then the friars made answer that it was even he for whom they would borrow the ass. Then that good man made ready the ass with great care and devotion, and brought it to St Francis, and with great reverence caused him to mount thereon. So the brethren set forth again, the poor man following behind his ass.
Now when they had gone forward a little, the peasant said to St Francis: “Tell me, art thou Brother Francis of Assisi?” And St Francis answered, “Yes.” “Take heed, then,” said the peasant, “that thou be in truth as good as all men account thee; for many have great faith in thee, and therefore I admonish thee to be no other than what the people take thee for.”
When St Francis heard these words, he was not angry at being thus admonished by a peasant, neither did he say within himself, as many a proud friar who in our days wears his habit would say: “What right has such a creature as this to admonish me?” But instantly dismounting from the ass, he knelt down upon the ground before that poor man; and kissing his feet, humbly thanked him for that his charitable admonition. Then the peasant, together with the companions of St Francis, with great devotion raised him from the ground, and placed him again upon the ass, and so went on their way.
And then they were come to about the midst of the ascent of the mount, because the way was toilsome, and the heat exceeding great, the peasant was overcome with thirst, insomuch that he began to cry after St Francis saying: “Alas! alas! I am dying of thirst; unless I have something to drink, I shall presently faint.”
Then St Francis dismounted from the ass, and betook himself to prayer, remaining upon his knees, with hands uplifted up to heaven, until he knew by revelation that his prayer was heard. Then said he to the peasant: “Run quickly to yonder rock, and there thou shalt find a stream of living water, which Jesus Christ of his mercy has caused to flow out from the stone.” Then went he to the place which St Francis had shown to him, and found a beautiful fountain, issuing by virtue of the prayer of St Francis, from that hard rock; and he drank of it plentifully, and was refreshed. And certain it is that this spring of water flowed forth miraculously at the prayer of St Francis, for neither before nor after was a spring to be found at that spot, nor any running water save at a great distance therefrom. This done, St Francis, with his companions and the peasant, returned thanks to God for the miracle thus vouchsafed, and went on their way; and when they drew near to the rock of Alvernia, it pleased St Francis to rest awhile under an oak, which grew by the way, and is still to be seen there, and from thence he began to consider the position of the place and the country. And while he was thus considering, behold there came a great multitude of birds from divers regions, which, by singing and clapping their wings, testified great joy and gladness, and surrounded St Francis in such wise, that some perched upon his shoulders, some on his arms, some on his bosom, and others at his feet, which when his companions and the peasant saw, they marvelled greatly; but St Francis, being joyful at heart, said to them: “I believe, dearest brethren, that our Lord Jesus Christ is pleased that we should dwell on this solitary mount, inasmuch as our little brothers and sisters, the birds, show such joy at our coming.” And having said these words, he arose and proceeded to the place which had been fixed upon by his companions; and so did St Francis come to the holy mount of Alvernia.