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"And I beheld, and heard the voice of one eagle flying through the midst of heaven,
saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth....
[Apocalypse (Revelation) 8:13]

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi

The Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi

From the beginning of his conversion our Seraphic Father Saint Francis had a very great devotion and veneration for Christ crucified and never ceased to preach this devotion till his death. In the year 1224 as he was rapt in deep contemplation on Mt. Alverna Christ the Lord by a stupendour miracle imprinted the marks of his passion on the saint's body. Pope Benedict XI permitted the Franciscan Order to celebrate annually on this day the memory of this extraordinary event attested by reliable witnesses.

From the Legenda Minor of St. Bonaventure
(de Stigmatibus sacris, 1-4; ed. Quaracchi, 1941; pgg. 202-204)

Two years before Francis, the faithful servant of Christ, gave his soul back to God, he was alone on the top of Mt. Alverna. There he had begun a fast of forty days in honor of the archangel Michael and was immersed more deeply than usual in the delights of heavenly contemplation. His soul became aglow with the ardor of fervent longing for heaven as he experienced within himself the operations of grace.
As he was drawn aloft through ardent longing for God one morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and was praying on the mountainside, he saw what appeared as a seraph with six bright wings gleaming like a fire descending from the heights of heaven. As this figure approached in swift flight and came near the man of God it appeared not only winged but also crucified. The sight of it amazed Francis and his soul experienced joy mingled with pain. He was delighted with the sight of Christ appearing to him so graciously and intimately and yet the awe-inspiring vision of Christ nailed to the cross aroused in his soul a joy of compassionate love.
When the vision vanished after a mysterious and intimate conversation it left Francis aglow with seraphic love in his soul. Externally, however, it left marks on his body like those of the Crucified as if the impression of a seal had been left on heated wag. The figures of the nails appeared immediately on his hands and feet. The heads of the nails were inside his hands but on top of his feet with their points extending through to the opposite side. His right side too showed a blood-red wound as if it had been pierced by a lance, and blood flowed frequently from it.
Because of this new and astounding miracle unheard of in times past, Francis came down from the mountain a new man adorned with the sacred stigmata, bearing in his body the image of the Crucified not made by a craftsman in wood or stone , but fashioned in his members by the hand of the living God.
Francis and his followers travelled and preached all over Europe, gaining popularity and followers everywhere. Francis himself preached before the Pope and Cardinals at the Lateran in 1217 and met St. Dominic during that stay in Rome. Lay people were so moved by Francis' preaching that they came to him pleading to join his order, once an entire congregation implored him en masse. At this point he devised his Third Order, which he intended as a middle state for people who weren't ready or able to leave all for the cloister. Many Franciscans also went to preach to the Muslims, Francis himself preached to the sultan as he and his army were faced by crudasers from Europe. Many of the friars who went to Muslim lands were martyred.
Francis' first rule was only approved verbally by Innocent III, and in written form it was overly long and not precise. After some relaxations in the austerity he desired for his friars and imposition of rules by outside or unauthorized people, Francis retired to solitude to entrust an official version of his rule of life to paper. (After he finished a first version it was promptly lost, and Francis was forced to retire again to re-write it.) The rule was pared down from 23 to 12 chapters, and was solemnly approved by Pope Honorius III  on November 29, 1223. It was unique up to that time in that it stressed the vow of poverty, which it made absolute, and in the compromise between the secular and religious states in his Third Order.
Late in his life Francis received the Stigmata,
as told in this account from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Early in August, 1224, Francis retired with three companions to "that rugged rock 'twixt Tiber and Arno", as Dante called La Verna, there to keep a forty days fast in preparation for Michaelmas. During this retreat the sufferings of Christ became more than ever the burden of his meditations; into few souls, perhaps, had the full meaning of the Passion so deeply entered. It was on or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) while praying on the mountainside, that he beheld the marvelous vision of the seraph, as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart.

The Monastery of La Verna and the Stigmata of St. Francis
The Monastery of La Verna is perched between the Alpe di Serra and the Alpe di Catenaia, on a spur of rock ( the ”crude” rock that Dante mentioned in his  Paradiso), and can be seen far beyond the mountains of Faggeto. Pines and beech trees fill the surrounding forests, the beauty of which has been preserved over the centuries by the monks who live in the famous monastery founded by Saint Francis.

Moomastery at La Verna

As shown in the frescoes of the Legend of Saint Francis painted by Giotto in the Basilica of Assisi and according to the  Legenda Maior di San Bonaventura, it was here, in fact, that the Saint received the signs of the stigmata from the  Christ Crucified who revealed himself in the form of a seraph. The Saint himself, as he was dying,  also remembered La Verna:
 - Farewell, Mountains of God, sainted mountains,  mons coagulatus, mons pinguis, mons in quo beneplacidum est Deo abitare.  Farewell mountains of La Verna; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost bless you; be
in peace until I see you again….. Nowadays La Verna has a continuous stream of pilgrims and visitors, attracted not only by the beautiful and atmospheric monastery itself (both in the winter with the snow and in the summer with the wonderful fresh air of the woods), but also by the Sasso Spicco ( a chunk of rock that sits out on the edge of the mountain), the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (13th Century), the Basilica, the Church of the Stigmata, the terracotta’s by Della Robbia, the picturesque stone pathways...