San Francesco d'Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi
The patron saint of Italy is San Francesco - Saint Francis.
He was born in Assisi in 1182. Assisi is a small, ancient town in the Italian region of Umbria and the province of Perugia. It is built high up on a hill and surrounded by an old wall.
Francesco's mother was called Pica and there is a possibility that she was French. His father was called Pietro (Peter). The family's surname was Bernardone.
The family was very wealthy. Pietro was a cloth merchant, selling fine fabrics to the rich. This meant that the family was always dressed in the finest clothes. Pietro probably travelled to France or had dealings with the French in order to buy his special fabrics.
So, Francesco grew up in a wealthy household where he heard the French language. As a young child, he would sing French songs and this impressed the local people. They gave him the nickname 'Frenchy' - Francesco. His real name was Giovanni, meaning - John.
Francesco had lots of friends. Most of them were the sons of the other rich families of Assisi. They loved to go to parties - staying out all night and sleeping during the day. They had grown up as spoilt youths who didn't need to work because their parents were rich.
They spent lots of money on going out and having a good time.
Andiamo alla festa!
In those times, wealthy parents expected their sons to fight battles in order to defend the local people. They believed that it showed a sense of duty, bravery, power and that it would bring prestige and honour to the family name.
One day, Francesco's parents watched with pride as he set off on horseback to the cheers and admiration of the local people.
However, something strange and mysterious happened! The next day, Francesco returned home. He appeared to be ill and feverish. He explained nothing and just went straight to bed. His parents were embarrassed because their son seemed weak and not at all like the heroic figure of the day before.
Nobody knows what happened to Francesco. It remains a mystery. Had he been attacked by robbers? Had he fallen ill? Had God spoken to him?
Suddenly, Francesco wanted to change his lifestyle. There would be no more fighting in battles or wanting to earn lots of money.
As he lay in bed recovering from his sickness, Francesco became fascinated by animals and nature. The sound of birdsong and the beauty of nature made him feel better.