By Ioannis Tzortzakakis

September 17 is the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. Born, as Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, in year 1181 at Assisi, Umbria, St. Francis is the patron saint of Italy, animals and merchants, and founder of the Franciscan Order. He is the first to have been reordered to receive the stigmata. He was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on 16 July 1228.

Stigmata are bodily marks believed to resemble the wounds of Christ during the crucifixion, and appear on the hands, wrists and feet.

According to his first biographer, Tommaso da Celano (c. 1185 – 1265), in Vita Beati Francisci (“The Life of Blessed Francis”; often called the “First Life”), St. Francis received the stigmata, in the mountain of Alverna (La Verna), in Tuscany, in 1224, two years before his death.

One morning about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, while he was praying on the mountainside, Francis saw a Seraphim with six fiery wings coming down from the highest point in the heavens. The vision descended swiftly and came to rest in the air near him. Then he saw the image of a man crucified in the midst of the wings, with his hands and feet stretched out and nailed to a cross. Two of the wings were raised above his head and two were stretched out in flight, while the remaining two shielded his body.… As the vision disappeared, it left his heart ablaze with eagerness and impressed upon his body a miraculous likeness. There and then the marks of nails began to appear in his hands and feet, just as he had seen them in his vision of the Man nailed to the Cross.… His right side seemed as if it had been pierced with a lance and was marked with a livid scar. [Mary-Ann Stouck (1998) Medieval Saints: A Reader, Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, pp. 498-500.]

Artists since then have been following the above passage for their depictions of the saint.

Giotto di Bondone, Stigmatisation of St Francis (Scenes from the Life of St Francis), 1325-28, Fresco, Bardi Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence.

Pietro Lorenzetti, Stigmata of St Francis, c. 1320, Fresco, Lower Church, San Francesco, Assisi.

Fra Angelico, St Francis Receiving the Stigmata, c. 1429, Tempera on wood, Pinacoteca, Vatican.

Bartolomeo della Gatta, Stigmata of St Francis, c. 1487, Tempera on panel, Pinacoteca Comunale, Castiglion Fiorentino.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Stigmata of St Francis, 1483-85, Fresco, Santa Trinità, Florence.

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