The best collection of early documents about Francis is St. Francis of Assisi: Writings and Early Biographies: English Omnibus of Sources for the Life of St. Francis, Marion A. Habig, editor, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1983). In one, thick volume, it contains all the early material; the Omnibus is indispensable.

Of the many accounts in that volume, The Legend of the Three Companions and The Legend of Perugia probably capture the real Francis better than other early biographies. (By the way, the word legend doesn’t mean “fable.” It refers to something that was required reading when friars gathered.)

A shorter collection of writings is Francis and Clare: The Complete Works, translation and introductions by Regis Armstrong and Ignatius C. Brady (Paulist, 1982).

Modern Works

I don’t find convincing many of the conclusions in Paul Sabatier’s Life of St. Francis of Assisi (Scribner’s, 1905), but this book set modern Franciscan studies into motion. Johannes Jurgensen’s St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography (translated by T. O’Conor Sloane; Longmans, 1912) is the standard Catholic biography and reply to Protestant Sabatier.

Arnaldo Fortini, two-time mayor of Assisi, in his Francis of Assisi, (translated by Helen Moak, Crossroad, 1981), was the first to use the civil records of Assisi to cast light upon the life of Francis.

I recommend the works of an English scholar, John Moorman: St. Francis of Assisi (SPCK, 1963) and The Spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi (Our Sunday Visitor, 1977).

Erik Doyle’s St. Francis and the Song of Brotherhood (Seabury, 1981) contains excellent material on Francis and ecology. Raoul Manselli’s St. Francis of Assisi (translated by Paul Duggan; Franciscan, 1988) is a fine recent biography.

For popular reading, three books come to mind. G. K. Chesterton’s St. Francis of Assisi is an extended essay with keen insights. Dennis Stock has created a beautiful picture book in St. Francis of Assisi, text by Lawrence Cunningham (Harper & Row, 1981). Finally, The Francis Book: 800 Years with the Saint (Macmillan, 1980), compiled and edited by Roy Gasnick, contains engaging short essays (with comments from people as diverse as Lenin and Wordsworth) and some unusual art.

The Franciscan Order

The name John Moormon comes up again, this time in A History of the Franciscan Order from Its Origins to the Year 1517 (Clarendon, 1968). His chapter on the life of Francis is very good.

Cajetan Esser’s Origins of the Franciscan Order (Franciscan Herald Press, 1970) was one of several books that helped pave the way for renewal of Franciscan life.

A popular introduction is William Short, The Franciscans (Liturgical Press, 1989).

Films and Videos

The most famous film on Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, is helpful only if you take it as poetry. The movie distorts many facts in order to capture, though sometimes with great beauty, one aspect of Francis’s early life.

For a powerful and historically accurate production, see Francis: Troubadour of God’s Peace (available for rental from some religious bookstores and libraries). It is a moving, one-man play based directly upon the early account The Legend of the Three Companions.

Conrad Harkins, O.F.M., is a scholar at the Franciscan Institute at Bonaventure University in New York, and author of numerous articles on Francis of Assisi.