The Little Flowers of St. Francis

Author: Franciscans



Part One - The Little Flowers of St. Francis

Part Two - The Life of Brother Juniper

Part Three - The Life of Brother Giles

Part Four - Instructions and Sayings of Brother Giles



PART I - The Little Flowers of St. Francis

I. In the name of Jesus Christ our crucified Saviour, and Mary his Virgin Mother. In this book are contained certain Little Flowers - to wit, miracles and pious examples of the glorious servant of Christ St Francis, and of some of his holy companions; to the glory and praise of Jesus Christ. Amen.

II. Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle, the first companion of St Francis

III. How St Francis, having allowed an evil thought to arise in his mind against Brother Bernard, ordered him to place his foot three times upon his neck and his mouth.

IV. How the angel of God put a question to Brother Elias, guardian of Val di Spoleto, and how, when Brother Elias answered proudly, the angel departed from him, and took the road to San Giacomo, where he met Brother Bernard and told him what follows

V. How the holy Brother Bernard of Assisi was sent by St Francis to Bologna, and how he founded a convent there

VI. How St Francis, when about to die, blessed the holy Brother Bernard, naming him Vicar of the Order

VII. How St Francis passed the time of Lent in an island, on the lake of Perugia, where he fasted forty days and forty nights, eating no more than half of one loaf

VIII. How St Francis, walking one day with Brother Leo, explained to him what things are perfect joy

IX. How St Francis would teach Brother Leo what to answer, and how the latter could never say aught but the contrary to what St Francis wished.

X. How Brother Masseo told St Francis, as in jest, that the world was gone after him; and how St Francis answered that it was indeed so, to the confusion of the world and through the grace of God.

XI. How St Francis made Brother Masseo turn round and round like a child, and then to go to Siena.

XII. How St Francis gave to Brother Masseo the office of porter, of almoner and of cook; and how, at the request of the other brethren, he afterwards took these duties from him.

XIII. How St Francis and Brother Masseo placed the bread they had begged upon a stone near a fountain; and how St Francis praised the virtue of holy poverty, praying St Peter and St Paul to make him love holy poverty greatly. And how St Peter and St Paul appeared to him

XIV. How the Lord appeared to St Francis and to his brethren as he was speaking with them

XV. How St. Clare ate with St Francis and his companions at St Mary of the Angels

XVI. How St Francis, having been told by St Clare and the holy Brother Silvester that he should preach and convert many to the faith, founded the Third Order, preached to the birds, and reduced to silence the swallows

XVII. How a little child who had entered the Order saw St Francis in prayer one night, and saw also the Saviour, the Virgin Mary, and many other saints talk with him

XVIII.Of the wonderful chapter held by St Francis at St Mary of the Angels, at which more than five thousand friars were present

XIX. How the vine of the priest of Rieti, whose house St Francis entered to pray, was trampled under foot by the great numbers who came to see him, and how it yet produced a greater quantity of wine than usual, as St Francis had promised; and how the Lord revealed to the saints that heaven would be his portion when he left this world

XX. Of a beautiful vision which appeared to a young man who hated the habits of St Francis so greatly, that he was on the point of leaving the Order

XXI. Of the most holy miracle of St Francis in taming the fierce wolf of Gubbio

XXII. How St Francis tamed the wild doves

XXIII.How St Francis delivered the brother who, being in sin, had fallen into the power of the devil

XXIV. How St Francis converted to the faith the Sultan of Babylon

XXV. How St Francis healed miraculously a leper both in his body and in his soul, and what the soul said to him on going up to heaven

XXVI. How St Francis converted certain robbers and assassins, who became friars; and of a wonderful vision which appeared to one of them who was a most holy brother

XXVII. How at Bologna St Francis converted two scholars who became friars, and how he delivered one of them from a great temptation

XXVIII. Of an ecstasy which came to Brother Bernard, and how he remained from Matins until Noon in a state of rapture

XXIX. How the devil often appeared to Brother Ruffino in the form of a crucifix, telling him that all the good he did was of no avail, seeing he was not of the number of the elect of God; which being revealed to St Francis, he made known to Brother Ruffino the error into which he had fallen

XXX. Of the beautiful sermon which St Francis and Brother Ruffino preached at Assisi

XXXI. How St Francis was acquainted with the secrets of the consciences of all his brethren

XXXII. How Brother Masseo obtained from Christ the virtue of humility

XXXIII. How St Clare, by order of the Pope, blessed the bread which was on the table, and how on each loaf appeared the sign of the holy cross

XXXIV. How St Louis, King of France, went in person in a pilgrim's garb to visit the holy Brother Giles

XXXV. How St Clare, being ill, was miraculously carried, on Christmas night, to the church of St Francis, where she assisted at the Office

XXXVI. How St Francis explained to Brother Leo a beautiful vision that he had seen.

XXXVII. How Jesus Christ, the blessed one, at the prayer of St Francis, converted a rich nobleman who had made great offers to St Francis, and inspired him with a wish to become a religious

XXXVIII.How it was revealed to St Francis that Brother Elias was damned, and was to die out of the Order; and how at the desire of the said brother he prayed to Christ for him, and how his prayer was granted.

XXXIX. Of the wonderful discourse which St Anthony of Padua, a Friar Minor, made in the Consistory

XL. Of the miracle which God performed when St Anthony, being at Rimini, preached to the fishes of the sea

XLI. How the venerable Brother Simon delivered a brother from a great temptation, on account of which he was on the point of leaving the Order

XLII. Of several wonderful miracles which the Lord performed through the means of Brother Peter of Monticello, and Brother Conrad of Offida. How Brother Bentivoglio carried a leper fifteen miles in a very short time; how St Michael spoke to another brother, and how the Virgin Mary appeared to Brother Conrad and placed her divine Son in his arms

XLIII. How Brother Conrad of Offida converted a young brother, who was a stumbling-block to the other brothers; and how after death his soul appeared to Brother Conrad, begging him to pray for him; and how through his prayers he was delivered from the great pains of Purgatory

XLIV. How the Mother of Christ and St John the Evangelist appeared to Brother Conrad, and told him who had suffered the greatest sorrow at the Passion of Christ

XLV. Of the conversion, life, miracles, and death of the holy Brother John Della Penna

XLVI. How Brother Pacifico, being in prayer, saw the soul of Brother Umile, his brother in the flesh, go up to heaven

XLVII.Of a holy brother to whom the Mother of Christ appeared when he was ill, and brought him three vases of healing ointments

XLVIII. How Brother James Della Massa saw in a vision all the Friars Minor in the world in the form of a tree; and how the virtues, the merits and the vices of all were made known to him

XLIX. How Christ appeared to Brother John of Alvernia

L. How Brother John of Alvernia, when saying Mass on the day of All Souls, saw many souls liberated from Purgatory

LI. Of the holy Brother James of Fallerone, and how, after his death, he appeared to Brother John of Alvernia

LII. Of the vision of Brother John of Alvernia, by which he became acquainted with all the order of the Holy Trinity

LIII. How, while he was saying Mass, Brother John of Alvernia fell down, as if he had been dead

LIV. How a holy friar, having read in the legend of St Francis of the secret words spoken to him by the seraph, prayed so earnestly to God that St Francis revealed them to him

LV. How St Francis appear, after his death, to Brother John of Alvernia, while he was in prayer

LVI. Of a holy friar who saw a wonderful vision of a companion who was dead

LVII. How a noble knight who was devout to St Francis was assured of his death and of the sacred stigmata

LVIII. How Pope Gregory IX, who had doubted of the stigmata of St Francis, was assured of their truth


I. How Brother Juniper cut off the foot of a pig to give it to a sick brother

II. An instance of Brother Juniper's great power against the devil

III. How, by the contrivance of the devil, Brother Juniper was condemned to the gallows

IV. How Brother Juniper gave all that he had to the poor for the love of God

V. How Brother Juniper took certain little bells from the alter, and gave them away for the love of God

VI. How Brother Juniper kept silence for six months

VII. His remedy for temptations of the flesh

VIII. How Brother Juniper made himself contemptible for the love of God

IX. How Brother Juniper, in order to be despised, played at see-saw

X. How Brother Juniper once cooked for the brethren enough to last for a fortnight

XI. How Brother Juniper went one day to Assisi for his own confusion

XII. How Brother Juniper fell into an ecstasy during the celebration of Mass

XIV. Of the hand which Brother Juniper saw in the air

XV. How St Francis commanded Brother Leo to wash the stone


I. How Brother Giles, with three companions, was received into the Order of Friars Minor

II. How Brother Giles went to St James the Great

III. Of Brother Giles's manner of life when he went to the Holy Sepulchre

IV. How Brother Giles praised obedience more than prayer

V. How Brother Giles lived by the labour of his hands

VI. How Brother Giles was miraculously assisted in a great necessity when, by reason of a heavy fall of snow, he was hindered from going out to quest

VII. Of the day of the holy Brother Giles's death

VIII. How a holy man, being in prayer, saw the soul of Brother Giles pass to eternal life

IX. How, by the merits of Brother Giles, the soul of the friend of a Friar Preacher was delivered from the pains of Purgatory

X. How God gave special graces to Brother Giles; and of the year of his death


I. Of vices and virtues

II. Of faith

III. Of holy humility

IV. Of the holy fear of God

V. Of holy patience

VI. Of sloth

VII. Of the contempt of temporal things

VIII. Of holy chastity

IX. Of temptations

X. Of holy penance

XI. Of holy prayer

XII. Of holy spiritual prudence

XIII. Of knowledge useful and useless

XIV. Of good and evil speaking

XV. Of holy perseverance

XVI. Of true religious life

XVII. Of holy obedience

XVIII. Of the remembrance of death



The first English translation of the Fioretti di Santo Francesco d' Ascesi, that of Lady Georgina Fullerton, appeared in the year 1864; and the first American translation, that by Abby Langdon Alger, was published in the year 1887. This is a good four centuries after the princeps edition of the Fioretti (Vicenza, 1476), and a half century after the "standard" Italian edition by Antonio Cesari (Verona, 1822). The tardiness of Anglo-Saxon recognition of this, one of the raciest, most spirited, and most beloved of the Italian classics is not to be grasped out of hand. Religious considerations, obvious as they might seem could not account for the indifference of the fathers of English printing. Once published, moreover, the Fioretti made their way in their own right. The present century has witnessed numerous other translations in England and America and dozens of reprintings in America alone. I suspect, rather, that it was a strange case of editorial oversight, a nugget of gold that was there for anyone, yet was for centuries overlooked. The title may have had something to do with it. The phrase "Little Flowers" has, in English, a vague aroma of sentiment and propaganda, and by virtue of the diminutive it has acquired a similar flavor even in Italian. Suppose this collection of tales had been called the "Franciscan Anthology", a title at once more exact and more majestic in its associations? Or suppose, somewhat facetiously, but still within its spirit, it had been known as the "Selected Miracles of Saint Francis and his Brethren"? The story as regards the English-speaking would might, I believe, have been different. I have called the Fioretti "tales"; and tales they are, fixed upon Saint Francis and his earliest disciples in the way in which legend accumulates about any celebrated character in history. But, in this case, and in contrast with the situation that usually prevails in folklore, the "stories" have a certain authority as history. One hundred years of Franciscan scholarship enable us even to evaluate the authenticity of the Little Flowers. Saint Francis died in 1226. But his amanuensis, secretary, and confessor, his beloved brother Leo (who is quoted extensively in the Little Flowers), lived on till the year 1271. The Friar, Giovanni dalla Penna, one of the early missionaries of the Order in Germany, and another of the sources, did not die till 1274. In the year 1257 had come the great crisis in the Franciscan Order, whereby the Church, frowning darkly on an orgy of religious "revival" which enabled humble, ignorant and sometimes stuttering peasants to talk with God in His Three Persons sicut amicus cum amico, had given a more ecclesiastical temper to the Franciscan "Rule", and aimed at representing mystical and miracle-working activity among the friars. This debate was conducted bitterly and with some show of force. John of Parma, leader of the "zealots" and Saint Bonaventura's predecessor as General of the Order, stood, at one moment (1257), condemned to imprisonment for life. Already two conceptions of Saint Francis himself were current in the Order; and his biography was being recounted in different ways. Eventually Saint Bonaventura was to write the "official" biography, and to make it more "official" still by burning, so far as he could lay hands on them, all conflicting accounts of the Saint's life. Meantime, one thing is clear: the party "of good sense" was having many harsh things to say of those extremists who courted public ridicule for the benefit of their souls by preaching naked in the church pulpits, changing capon's drumsticks into nectarines, and doing other things disquieting to a theology which liked miracles in the principle but was inhospitable toward them in the fact. The harsh words hurt. They hurt directly men who had seen God walking in person among the hills of Umbria and believed He had rebegotten His Only Begotten in the guise of a lad of that humble countryside. That was why, perhaps as early as the year 1250, and not much later than the year 1261, a monk of the March of Ancona, friend to the missionary, Giovanni dalla Penna, and know, or rather unknown,, as Ugolino of Montegiorgio, began writing his Floretum, or "garden of flowers", the flores being simply "notabilia", or "more noteworthy things", things omitted from the formal biographies of the Saint, and the omission of which distorted and misrepresented, as old-timers knew, the spirit and the fact of those glorious days when the Saint was still on earth. The Floretum of Ugolino of Montegiorgio, in the form in which that devoted monk composed it, has been lost to the world, though a copy of it seems to have been extant as late as 1623, when Wadding, the great Franciscan annalist, was writing his history of the Order in the Convent of Saint Isidore in Rome. Just what it contained is not known with certainty. Its text has to be reconstructed by inference from the numerous re-workings of it made at later times. The direct re-workings - they are substantial enlargements - are two in number: one, the Actus beati Francisci et sociorum cius, of which the earliest surviving trace is a mention in a catalogue of a convent in Assisi, dated 1381; and the other, the Fioretti themselves, of which the earliest known manuscripts date from 1390 (Berlin) and 1396 (Florence) respectively. Though the Actus and the Fioretti, as we know them at present, stand in such close relation that they could be word for word translations one of the other, the Actus contain twenty-two chapters not appearing in the Fioretti, and the Fioretti six chapters not appearing in the Actus. It seems necessary to suppose that they derive from some previous, and undiscovered, source, more comprehensive than either of them. Of this unknown anthology of Franciscan miracles something nevertheless may be said. While the Floretum of Ugolino did not extend beyond the year 1261, the source of the Actus-Fioretti dealt with episodes occurring late in 1322; and its compiler knew Ugolino personally and probably utilized other writings of Ugolino, which the latter had not exploited in the Floretum.


As it natural with a collection of wonder-stories, that same tendency to growth which is manifest in the Actus-Fioretti as compared with the re-constructed Floretum, is just as apparent in the history of the Fioretti themselves. Two themes in particular were provocative of such developments: on the one hand the life of Saint Francis, which moved copyists of the Fioretti to supplement their deficiencies as a biography with additions from other sources; the other, the parallelism between Saint Francis and Jesus, which was always challenging the ingenuity of the devout. These similitudes in the Fioretti are, with characteristic humility, three; Bartolommeo Pisano, by the end of the fourteenth century, increased them to forty; while Pedro Astorga, a Spanish monk of the seventeenth century, who wrote with all the characteristic vim of the Decadence, raised the number to four thousand. Meantime there was a tendency to make the Fioretti an archive of all Franciscan miracles - even at an early day those of Saint Anthony of Padua began creeping in. That naive briskness, that contagious chuckle, which is hidden in every paragraph of the fresh and vigorous Tuscan original of the Fioretti was not long in producing additions in the spirit of broad humor. We are encroaching on this sphere in the familiar stories of Brother Juniper. We are surely in an outright secular world in a fioretto which I picked up in Tuscany in my own youth - the story of the Franciscan novice, who, on climbing the blistering scorciatoie to his convent after the collect of alms on a summer's day, sets his bushel of chestnuts on the ground, wipes his brow, and then reflects, with a scepticism worthy of Brother Elias, and a Tuscan crudeness worthy of Brother Ruffino: "What a sell, if there should be no heaven!" (Che fre...a se il cielo non c' e).

As regards, therefore, the many texts of the Fioretti, some of very ancient authority, which circulate in the various editions, it may be necessary to remember that, whatever the relation of the original of the Actus-Fioretti to the Floretum, the Fioretti, proper, must have contained fifty-three chapters, plus the five "considerations" on the Stigmata of Saint Francis. This content, in fact, aside from internal evidence, is vouched for by twenty-six manuscripts of the fifteenth century and some of the early printed editions. Without entering into the question of the varied adjuncts that were supplied at one time or another from one source or another, we may note, simply, the derivations of those additions which were accepted, with unsurpassed discernment and for their intrinsic merits of spirit or beauty, by Father Cesari in his classic edition of the Fioretti (Verona, 1822). The "evidences" of the Stigmata presented in our chapters LIV-LVIII were derived early in the fifteenth century from the Tractatus de miraculous of Thomas of Celano, the earliest biographer and a contemporary of the Saint. The "life" of Brother Juniper comes from an early Latin manuscript (containing also a "life" of Brother Giles), independent of the Actus-Fioretti, but which had been accreted to the Fioretti also in the fifteenth century. The "instructions and notable sayings of Brother Giles" are by a known Florentine author, Feo Belcari, who died in 1484. Despite the several hands that must have tinkered with the substance of the Fioretti before they reached their more extensive forms, one would not go far amiss in recognizing in a work of such surpassing literary charm the imprint of two unusual personalities.

The one must be that unknown monk of Tuscany why translated these stories (or compiled them, as the case may be) in such a sparkling and vivacious Tuscan idiom, an idiom as simple, direct, and limpid as may be imagined, but with an unfailing instinct for the enduring elements in a still future Italian language, and an idiom, withal, that retains the full vigor and picturesqueness of a peasant intelligence, wise in its worldly wisdom but unspoiled by any involutions of culture.

The second must be that same Ugolino of Montegiorgio, who somehow managed to condense into the pages of the old Floretum such a distillation of the pure spirit of early Franciscanism as to strike a tone and establish a mood which no later re-workings of his text could vitiate. In the sphere of fact, we may say that through Ugolino, who borrowed from Jacopo dalla Massa, an "eye-witness", and from legends going back to Brother Leo, these stories arrive at the very days of Saint Francis, without, for that matter, attaining any very great amount of historical plausibility. But it is a case where the truth of art transcends the truth of fact, and creates a verity more real than science or scholarship could by themselves attain. To possess the Fioretti is to re-live the early period of Franciscanism much as it was lived by the friends and disciples of the Saint.

But, in this connection, one must raise a warning against reading the Little Flowers with that long face of piety which is so easily put on in the presence of any literature that has a sacred look. Such sentimentalism, which blinds so many devout Christians to the art of the Bible for instance, is a variance with the shrewd simplicity of this folk masterpiece of Central Italy. What we have here, let us insist on the point, is humor; and one who cannot - I will not say laugh - one who cannot smile, will have read the Little Flowers in vain. I am not so sure that this smile did not, on occasion, play about the lips of Brother Ugolino himself. The world of humility, self-denial and "love" is one thing; and the world of self-assertion and competition is another thing; and they are things so antithetical to each other, in their perfection, that the wisdom of the one is the lunacy of the other, and vice versa.

One need not and perhaps should not further analyse the motivation of the smile, which is the smile the sophisticated must always have for the naive. The naive is always humor because it tends to simplify the majestic and the complex, making it mechanical, but at the same time more approachable and more lovable. The smile cannot be a laugh. A tear lingers just behind it.

The artless art of Ugolino (if it be his) was pure art in the sense that it presents concepts as image, each image replete with conceptual suggestiveness. Saint Francis nibbling at his "second loaf", in order not to sin by presumption in equalling the Lord's fast of forty days; the Pope's curiosity to see Saint Clare make the Cross appear in the crust of her buns; the two dialogues of the friars with their translated brethren; the Saint's long wrestling with the Devil; Satan's revenge by causing a landslide with the swish of his tail; the astonishment of the "ladies and the cavaliers" at the holy spectacle of the first "Chapter"; Brother Bernard's founding of the Order at Bologna - the Fioretti are all scenes that could be painted (and were painted, as legend asserts, by Giotto). As the pictures multiply, the mood deepens in beauty and richness - and we must not forget to smile, meantime; for the perfection of humility and Christian love which the friars exemplify is attained by the most humble and direct of mechanical means. One can well understand the ancient quarrel in the Order. These untutored converts of Saint Francis were playing with a magic art, which evoked the Devil when it was black, and constrained the appearance of the Divinity when of brighter hue (XLIX).

There is little, if any, theology about these simple friars. Such questions belonged to those who were lettered and knew people off in the big towns, Rome, perhaps. They cared little about such things, having found in faith at all times, and now and again in "rapture", a direct access to the benign powers. One feels a sort of regional secretiveness in this technique of virtue, which also was practised in individual secretiveness, lest pride success give Satan his chance. The sweetness of this child-like literalism resides in part, I believe, in an absence of a note of spiritual "arrivism", or spiritual "climbing", which one so minded can find even offensive in a Dante or a Savonarola. These straightforward souls of the brotherhood of Saint Francis wanted to keep out of Hell because it was hot, and to get out of Purgatory because it was uncomfortable. Yet they, too, like Jesus, visioned a love so great that willingly the least of them would have accepted damnation so only the world might have been saved. If one seek the moral theme in this early Franciscanism, one finds at least a morality that is made always for oneself and not for other people. Here again on earth were men who judged not, who loved the lost even more than the virtuous, and the bandit as much as the cavalier.

It was, after all, a snug and cosy world, the world in which these early Franciscans lived, a world personally supervised by its Creator, who walked the earth as a man among men, and who loved His creatures with a parent's love, assisted in His care of them by His Son and His Son's Mother. Thus warmly had Jesus thought of the world in His time - a projection, perhaps, as Renan suggests, of a verdant Galilee blossoming in the Syrian desert. This "naturalism" of the early Franciscans, so beautifully expressed in the lauds and in the "Canticle" of the Saint himself, finds surely in the Little Flowers its most complete and beautiful expression. It has been through them that the birds who stretched their throats and bowed their heads in approval of the Saint's exhortation to praise have ever since made their chirping voices heard above the noisy history of Europe. To savor this naturalism in its full freshness one need only turn to some expression of the naturalisms of a later day, that of the Rousseauians or of our own Emerson or Thoreau. These two were efforts to being God back into the world (from which He had been exiled by Cartesian logic). But how vain the effort! How unsatisfactory a God that is only Nature, and how literary and metaphorial a Nature which we must think of as God! It is a more real and understandable thing, this Nature of the early Franciscans, the "useful", "humble", "comfortable" invention of a God who could be used, if one treated Him right, for the humble commonplace needs of common everyday people.

And we have said nothing about Frate Lupo! There are those who say he was a man, perhaps a bandit by that name. Anyone who can read the Little Flowers without understanding that Frate Lupo was a wolf, will, like those who cannot smile, have read them in vain!

Arthur Livingston


This text is in the public domain.

Provided by Kathy Sewell