Monday, October 4, 2010

Postage Stamps Featuring St. Francis

This collection of Italian postage stamps was emailed to me by Marina.  She heard about the St. Francis Mail Art Project through Swap-Bot

With Christmas only a few months away, it's worth remembering that St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and founder of the Franciscan Order (clerics for the masses rather than for the aristocrats), is said to have been the first to depict a  Nativity Scene (creche, crèche) in Greccio, Italy, around 1223 AD — using life-size wooden figures of Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the shepherds.

The word "creche" comes from the French word for "manger," which in turn comes from the Italian word "Greccio", the name of the town having the first nativity manger scene.

St. Francis of Assisi started experiencing unexplained illnesses shortly before he turned 40 years of age. His actual death occured on October 3, 1226 when he was only 45 years of age.

Realizing he was ill as he had started coughing up blood and had other symptoms which he had concern about the brothers seeing, he retreated to the mountains for quite some time. It was in the mountains that St. Francis received the Stigmata.

The brothers were becoming worried that St. Francis would never return to them and his longtime friend and brother in the order, Leo, decided it was time to go up into the mountains and find St. Francis of Assisi and find out if he was alright. What he found was a very ill monk lying in the snows, and he had just received the stigmata and was bleeding from his hands, feet and side.

Because the Pope had actualized the order of the Franciscans years before, the local bishops and priests wished to take care of St. Francis, because by this time his saintliness was well accepted and well known. St. Francis of Assisi had even had time to reconcile with his father over the years, and at the time of his passing there were already several thousands of brothers around the world who were joining the Franciscan Order.

As he laid in a very ornate and fancy bed, St. Francis of Assisi complained that he did not wish to die in such luxury. He preferred to die outside in poverty as he had lived. His brothers understood, although they wished to give him more comfort, they acceded to his wishes and allowed him to return to the austere San Damiano Church where he would speak his last words.

As St. Francis of Assisi was now surrounded by a few brothers he chose to be nearby as he prepared for death, he asked that they read aloud to him the Gospel of John. In a moment of intensity, he asked all his brothers for forgiveness and gave his forgiveness to all those present and not present.

When he passed quietly during the reading, one of the brothers said that he saw the soul of St. Francis of Assisi rise over many waters straight to heaven. He proclaimed that it was like a star, but large like the moon, brilliant like the sun and carried up on a white cloud.

Less than two years after St. Francis' death, plans were underway for the construction of a church in his honor which is now known as the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.  A doorway in the right transept of the lower church opens into the 13th-century chapter house, which contains a 1340 Crucifixion by Puccio Capanna and a magnificent collection of relics associated with St. Francis. The relics on display include:
  • moth-eaten, patchwork grey tunic worn by St. Francis
  • white tunic worn during the last year of his life
  • hairshirt worn by St. Francis for penance
  • strip of leather chamois that wrapped the stigmata wound in his side
  • sandals made by St. Clare and worn by St. Francis when he was sick
  • linen cloths given by a noble lady in Rome and used to wipe the saint's brow on his deathbed
  • chalice used by St. Francis when he assisted in the Eucharist as a deacon
  • ivory horn given to Francis from the Sultan of Egypt, Malek el Kamel
  • the original Franciscan Rule of 1223 approved by Pope Honorius III, which marked the founding of the Franciscan order
  • Blessing to Brother Leo written in St. Francis' own hand

The town of Assisi, in the center of Italy was built on a hill that has been inhabited for about 4,000 years, and for almost as long it has been a religious center. They say that the stones that were used to build Assisi have absorbed the prayers of the millions of pilgrims that have come there over the centuries. And now, it is believed that the stones radiate a sense of peace and quiet that has a spiritual effect on visitors.

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