Pietro Di Bernardone
(1155?–1220?)

Bewildered father

Pietro di Bernardone was a successful cloth merchant and considerable landowner, having orchards and farms in the plain below Assisi and on the slopes of nearby Mount Subiaso.

He was also a great enthusiast for things French; he was away in France on business, in fact, when his son Giovanni was born. Upon his return, he renamed the boy Francesco, “the little Frenchman,” and made sure his son learned to speak French.

As the boy grew, Pietro taught him the family business, and he was no doubt proud when his robust 21-year-old marched off to war with fellow Assisians to battle rival city Perugia. He was also no doubt alarmed when he heard that his son had been captured and imprisoned. He paid a handsome ransom to get him back. But his son was never the same after that. Francis went off once more to war, but his heart wasn’t in it; he returned saying he was seeking a different calling.

This new calling began to alarm Pietro when one day his son impulsively took fine fabric from the shop, rode to market, and sold it— along with the family horse he had been riding!

A month later, Pietro was informed that Francis was walking the streets of Assisi, begging for food and becoming a laughingstock. An enraged Pietro found his son and beat him. He dragged him home and locked him in a dark cellar, limiting him to bread and water, until his son came to his senses.

These then customary and legal means of enforcing parental authority did not bear fruit. As soon as Pietro was called away on business, Francis’s mother let her son go.

That’s when Pietro called in the authorities. He told the bishop that his son, divine calling or not, had no business stealing from the family. The bishop summoned ...

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