Did St. Francis of Assisi have a passionate love for St. Clare? Or, perhaps someone else? Who was the "secret friend" that he spent time with in the caves during his meditation times?
These and other questions are brought up in author Wendy Murray's book, "A Mended and Broken Heart - The life and Love of Francis of Assisi." As one of Western civilization's most popular saints, Murray provides a nicely written detail of the complicated background of Italy at the time of St. Francis. Born in 1182 and initially named Giovanni after John the Baptist, it was his father who preferred the name Francesco, translated means, "little Frenchman," or "the French one."
As a merchant Francis' father enjoyed his travels to France and is where he met his wife Pica and biographer's speculate that this is why he called his son, "Francis."
Francis Bernadone after leading a very party-loving life and seeking chivalry and glory, left the world and became the penitent, barefoot poor man wondering the countryside rebuilding abandoned churches and founding one of Catholicism's most influential religious orders ever known.
Most of the story of the basic story of St. Francis is familiar to most church-goers both Catholic and Protestant. Some are acquainted with the saint through movies like "Brother Sun and Sister Moon," directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Yet what is not well known are some of the factual details. Ah, the details!
Murray in her thoughtful and easy-to-read biographical thesis points out that in her extensive investigation of the saint's life, there are many missing pieces to the story. She notes that because the Roman Catholic Church during the Medieval period was eager to quickly canonize Bernadone, it required a cohesive and uniform "official" account of the man's life.
Murray who has written many books on Christian subjects, found the real Francis Bernadone a complicated man. There are many discrepancies in the basic story line and wouldn't you know it, there are more than one account out there about the storied saint. In fact, she mentions that the Church ordered other accounts and details that did not agree with what the Church wanted were to be destroyed.
Fortunately, for Murray in her daunting task she was able to find some of those accounts. Some had been hidden away or cleverly disguised within other texts of the Medieval era.
This reporter had become very acquainted with the story of St. Francis in high school and in college. And, mostly through "official" and approved sources. Oh how naive young minds in high school and college can be!
Yet what Murray's work revealed, what this reporter did not know was that the Church actually tampered with the facts to suit their canonization efforts.
And, Murray also notes that while Assisi and Perugia were engaged in a war of two city-states, it is likely that Bernadone participated in a civil battle within Assisi, a sort of class war, fought between nobles and merchants.
Did Bernadone actually meet St. Clare during this conflict? This is not clear. Yet, Murray explains that much of the details of Bernadone's life, especially as a young man before the age of 25 were varied. And, even the conversion aspect of his life is clouded. No simple conversion story here. And, what of his conversion?
This reporter has always, even in more previously pious moods, held the speculative notion that St. Francis actually suffered from some form of "battle fatigue" or "Post Traumatic Stress" as it is known today.
Murray does note that Bernadone after the first battle with Perugia was definitely damaged. And, that it took some time before he recovered. Yet, back to this mystery of the "secret friend."
Murray insists it was Clare. Perhaps. But this reporter wonders in what context is the word "friend" used in the old manuscripts Murray examined. Usually, in languages like Latin or Italian, there is the "feminine form" or the "masculine form" of a noun. Which form was the word "friend" written in?
And, even if it was Clare why didn't St. Francis just get married to Clare and continue on with his ministry? For at one point he sanctioned a "third" branch of the Franciscan order which allowed for married couples to join.
But, maybe once the "movement" of his order got larger and more stylized, perhaps he was "a prisoner" of his own invention, not able to change his course or adjust the aura of holiness that soon set him apart from contemporaries.
Which leads this reporter to ask yet another question, are people today and perhaps even people back in Medieval times, drawn to St. Francis for the "mystic" or the image of holiness? Or, is it really because he was the charismatic person "official accounts" claim him to be?
Hmm! Who really knows?