St. Francis and Rome
Francis and Rome, understood as the Catholic Church, or the city of residence of the vicar of Christ, successor of St. Peter, are inseparable. For St. Francesco it is a reality of incalculable, rich in practical consequences, this sealing in all circumstances.
In opening and closing of the Rule, he writes: “Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to the Lord Pope Honorius and his canonically elected successors, and to the Roman Church; and the rest of the brothers are obliged to obey Francis and his successors.… I enjoin the ministers by obedience to ask the Lord Pope for a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church to serve as governor, protector and corrector of their brotherhood so that we servants and subjects at the feet of holy church, firm in faith, will always observe the poverty, humility and holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ which we firmly promised.” (FF 76 e 108).
In his Testament he reminds: “And after the Lord gave me brothers, no one showed me what I should do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel. And I had this written down simply and in a few words and the Lord Pope confirmed it for me” (FF 116).
Francis made his fundamental choices, in ascetic and in liturgy, in apostolate, in missions and prayer, in the reform of the customs and the awakening of the Gospel message, all in the Church, in the perfect obedience of the Church , under the enlightened guidance of the Church. Precisely for this reason he began his conversion with a pilgrimage to the basilica S. Peter.
Arriving there on pilgrimage, he already changed, by divine grace, once in the basilica of S. Peter, noting the stinginess of some in honoring the Prince of the Apostles and, in a fit of fervor, took his bag full of silver coins and threw it over the grate of the altar. After leaving the basilica he noticed some beggars, shared his clothes with one of them and went with them to ask for alms.
Meeting with Pope Innocent III
We are in 1209, Francis has completed his conversion and, wanting to ask for an endorsement to its new form of life, he decided to return to Rome. On the occasion of this visit, the noble and illustrious Roman matron Jacoba de 'Settesoli, attracted by the virtues and preaching of Francis, joined the new way of life by the Saint.
From Legend of the Three Companions we read that Francis saw how the Lord increased his brothers, they were already in twelve, he told them the desire to go from their mother, the holy Roman Church, to tell the pope what the Lord had begun to make through them, to continue their mission according to his will and its provisions. In Rome, Francis and his companions found hospitality most likely at the hospital of S. Biagio, not far from the seat of the Pope, S. John in Laterano. The meeting is thus described by the same source: "The next day, the man of God was presented to the Supreme Pontiff by Cardinal Giovanni. Francesco entirely exposed what was his purpose. The Pope, as he was with remarkable intelligence, assented to the wishes of the saint, according to the established forms, and added several exhortations to him and his brothers (...) before the arrival of Francis, [the Pope] he had a strange vision. It had seemed that the basilica of St. John in Laterano threatened to ruin, but a small and petty religious supported her with their shoulders. Astonished and frightened, the Pope awoke, and as he was thoughtful and insightful, focused to discover the meaning of such a dream. A few days later came Francis, showed his purpose and asked for confirmation of the Rule that had spread with a few simple words, using the expressions of the Gospel, the observance of which was very dear to her heart's perfect. The pontiff, considering the fervor of him in the service of God and comparing his vision with the symbolic story was reported to Francesco, he concluded to himself, "In truth, this is a religious man and holy by means of which the Church of God will be raised and supported." Francis, once received oral approval of his way of life, he decided to go to Rome for every major event that would involve his new institution.
Addition to the approval of the oral Propositum vitae of Francis and his companions by the Supreme Pontiff, it is relevant to the future presence of the Franciscans in Rome, the fact that the poor man of Assisi obtained by the Benedictine monks of S. Cosimato the use of premises adjacent to the hospice of St. Biagio, where ill pilgrims coming to Rome were cared for or who become ill during the journey. This will soon be the headquarters of successive trips to Rome of Francis and his companions.
Return to Rome
Francis returned to Rome in 1212 and this time he met the Pope Innocent III, and, as the annalist of the Order Luke Wadding tells, he spoke with the Pope about the great expansion of the Order, and divine designs prepared by God. He also expressed the intention to bring the light of gospel truth to the Mohammedans and the Tartars.
Another reason that prompted Francis to return to Rome was the need to make known to the Pope the "case" created by Clare of Assisi, who had decided to follow the ideal of the life of Francis.
The Fourth Lateran Council
Francis returned to Rome in 1215 for the Fourth Lateran Council. In these circumstances, the new institution was notified to the entire assembly of the Council and the Saint had the opportunity to meet personally S. Angelo Carmelita. Also He met Dominic de Guzman, probably in the convent of Santa Sabina, who had already been assigned to the friars preachers.
Fourth visit to Rome
A fourth visit to Rome was in 1217, after the Chapter of Pentecost had been decided to send brothers in different parts of Europe, and the Saint had determined to go to France. As you can read in I Fioretti, while Francis was praying in the basilica S. Peter, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul appear to him, and say that Jesus Christ sends them to inform him that his prayers are accepted, and which is granted to him and his brothers the treasure of holy poverty, that anyone will follow will secure the bliss of eternal life, and that all will be blessed by God.
The Cardinal Protector
Francis returned to Rome in 1220, returning from the Holy Land, to ask the Pope Honorius III, the protector of the Order, in the person of Cardinal Ugolino, Bishop of Ostia. Ugolino, who came to know of the presence in Rome of Francis, and knowing his desire to speak to the Pope, brought him, and Francesco spoke without fear with Honorius III, with fervor and joy to the Pope and the others.
Visit in 1222
Most likely Francis was also in Rome in 1222. Bartholomew of Pisa speaks, recounting an episode in particular. Francis was invited to lunch by Mr. Matteo Rosso, father of the future Pope Nicholas III, who loved him very much. Francis accepts the invitation, but, when he arrives, Mr. Matthew is busy in his business, but Francis sees the many poor who the home owner usually give daily to eat. Hidden among the servants therefore, Francesco eats with them. When Mr. Matthew returns to his business, finding Francis decides to wait for him and, turning his look to the poor people , he finds him. He immediately goes to sit by his side, and says, "Brother Francis, since you would not eat with me, I'll eat with you."
The Later Rule
Francis was finally in Rome in 1223, on the occasion of approval of the Rule, which took place on November 29 of that year. During the period when he stayed in the city, two things happened to him, narrated in the "Mirror of Perfection."
The first episode concerns a visit of Francis to Cardinal of Ostia, which will be in the future Pope Gregory. On that occasion, Francis, before lunch went secretly to collect alms, and then bring to the table in front of the cardinal and the other guests that had gathered. All received alms with joy and devotion, despite the Cardinal, at the moment, was still a bit wrong. After lunch, however, Cardinal embraces Francis and asks him the reason why he did it and Francis replied that he had made it a great honor to his lord, remembering humility, submission and service you will always have the friars of his order, and that he himself in the first person has the duty to teach them. It received the moved approval of Cardinal.
The second episode is important to demonstrate that the hospice of S. Biagio was the habitual resting place of Francis when he was in Rome. It is said that Francis, staying in Rome to meet the Cardinal of Ostia, decided to go visit the Cardinal Leo, very devoted to him. The Cardinal of Ostia, because it was not the right season to travel on foot, convinces him to stay a few days with him, receiving food as the other beggars hosted, as you know that Francis likes. Brother Angelo Tancredi, one of the first twelve friars, who now lived with the Cardinal, invites him to go stay in a tower nearby, where Francis would like to dwell in a hermitage with his traveling companion. Francis gladly accepted his accommodation and stayed in the tower alone for a few days, without liking neither going down, nor that any goes up to visit him, only Angel could bring them food every day.
At night, while they were preparing to sleep, there were demons, and gave him a strong dose of lashes. Francis then called his partner, asking him to remain near him during the night. Speaking on the night, Francis tells his companion that demons are the “castaldi” of the Lord. As the mayor sends his castaldi to punish those who have committed an offense, so the Lord sends his agents, the demons, to chastise those who love him. The perfect religious may sin through ignorance, and so is punished by the devil when he does not know his guilt. Francis recognized that what was done to him by the Lord is a gift of mercy, punishment due to the fact he enjoyed the refreshment granted to him by the cardinal, while the other brothers in the world endure hunger and tribulations. And then, having to give them a good example, Francis came down from the tower in the morning, went to the Cardinal to tell him what happened during the night, and took leave of him.
According to the documentation, that is the last visit of Francis in Rome, but it is not unlikely some other subsequent return, as his habit was to keep the current Pope with the things of the Order.
The hospice of S. Biagio becomes the Franciscan Protoconvento in Rome
The trasteverino hospice of St. Biagio was the fixed address for the Saint and his companions and disciples that needed to stay overnight in Rome until 1229 when Pope Gregory IX in the Bull Cum deceat vos requires that the Benedictine monks had to leave the hospice and premises adjacent to friars who, in all probability, had in those places already a stable community.