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Saint Francis

Founding of the Franciscan Order

In 1209, as he was hearing Mass, the words of Jesus in the Gospel (Mat. 10.7–10) bidding his apostles to go forth on their mission struck Francis as a call. So he set out, still a layman, to preach; when a small group had gathered about him, they went to Rome to see Pope Innocent III, who gave them oral permission to live in the manner Francis had chosen. Thus began the Franciscan order of friars, an entirely new type of order in the church. They wandered about Umbria and through Italy preaching the Gospel, working to pay for their very simple needs. The expansion of the friars was very rapid. In 1212 St. Clare began to follow St. Francis, and the Poor Clares (Second Order of St. Francis), a cloistered, contempletive order was established. Francis not only sent the brothers abroad but went himself—to Dalmatia, to France, to Spain, and in 1219–20 to the Holy Land. On his way to Palestine he stopped at Damietta and preached to the sultan.

A growing dissension in his order recalled him from Palestine, and after his return (1221) a great assembly was held at the small chapel of the Porziuncola near Assisi, with which Francis's career was closely identified. There the saint gave up active leadership of the order, for he felt it had become too unwieldy to command. He continued his preaching and the composition of his rule and sponsored the Franciscan tertiaries (Third Order of St. Francis).

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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