Originally named Giovanni Francesco Bernardone at his birth in Umbria, Italy, St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) led a youth filled with money and festivities. He grew up in high medieval Italy, during the "time of the Crusades, provincial revolts, class divisions, famine, beggars and lepers". He received little academic education, yet since his father was a rich cloth merchant, perhaps Francis one day would take over the business. Francis' father attempted to teach him to be a great businessman, in hopes that he would one day take over the cloth business. However, Francis as a wealthy gentleman centered his life on giving away money and merrymaking. Despite this, St. Francis of Assisi carried himself as a very thoughtful and polite young man.
When Francis was twenty years old, Assisi declared war on its longtime enemy, the neighboring city of Perugia. Most of the troops from Assisi were butchered during combat. Francis volunteered to aid Assisi, however was taken captive and imprisoned for one year in a dark and cold dungeon after the first major battle. Despite this, he
remained very optimistic and cheerful. However, upon his liberation he became extremely and dangerously ill. During his recovery he dreamed of becoming a knight.
When Francis regained good health he bought very expensive equipment as well as an outfit after a call for knights for the Fourth Crusade. He was determined to join sides and fight with Walter de Brienne, who was fighting in southern Italy. One day he was riding around in his new apparel when he met a sick and poor old man. Francis felt pity toward the man, therefore he switched clothes with him. That very night, Francis had a dream about a great palace that was filled with war weapons, all marked with the sign of the cross. One of the arms apparently told him that all of the arms belonged to him and his soldiers. The next day he set out to fight, but he never made it. Once again he became very ill. As Francis lay in bed, recuperating, an angelic voice told him to turn back "to serve the master rather than the man". He did as told and returned to Assisi.
Francis returned to his old lifestyle; however he was much quieter and not interested in festivities like he was before. He began to pray frequently as well as develop interest in the Christian scriptures. One day, Francis was riding in the plain of Assisi when he cane upon a leper filled with ghastly open sores. Francis stopped and got off of his horse. As the man reached for him for charity, Francis kissed him. From this point forward, Francis began to visit hospitals and help those who were suffering. He often gave to the poor, even his own clothes and money.
On one occasion, Francis was praying in the church of St. Damiano, located on the outskirts of Assisi. Suddenly he heard a voice which seemed to be coming from the crucifix. Repeating itself three times, it said "Francis, go and repair my house, which you
see is falling down." Since the church was old and collapsing, Francis believed that the Lord had commanded him to repair the church. He acted immediately, selling fabric...