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Francis of AssisiThe Friars

The extravagance of the medieval church angered many. Even while ordinary people were starving, money was poured into church construction projects and used to secure priceless treasures.

Many of those who objected were labeled heretics. But one man was different.

Born to a merchant family in Assisi, Francis grew to reject material things, citing obedience to Christ's words in the Gospels. While in his twenties, he left home dressed in the simplest of clothes to take up a nomadic life, accompanied by a few friends who thought as he did.

They begged from the rich, gave to the poor, tended to the sick, and preached to anyone who would listen. Along the way, Grey Friarthey would stop to help repair decaying chapels, shrines, or other holy places.

Eventually, the group who chose to follow Francis became recognized as a new order, known as the Franciscans.

While stories grew up around Francis of Assisi, linking him with nature, claiming that the birds and the animals would gather around to listen to his sermons, most of his time was actually spent in one city or another, preaching and caring for the poor Realizing that his followers would be tempted by riches and power after his death, his last command was:

    Let all the brothers beware of accepting churches, houses or anything else provided for them unless they conform to holy poverty.

Yet upon his death in 1226, a huge basilica was erected in his memory in Assisi.

FriarThe Franciscans were chiefly concerned with missions. Francis himself traveled to Egypt in 1219, where he surrendered to the Muslim guards, demanding an audience with the Sultan. The Muslim ruler heard him preach, but turned down his offer to walk on fire in order to prove his faith.

Franciscans made their way to Hungary, Spain, and to the East, establishing missions in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East in the 13th century; and later to Central Asia and India. In the 14th century, an Archbishop of the East was appointed.

The Franciscans led the way in the mission field. The Spanish and Portuguese conquest of the New World was quickly followed up by the friars, who immediately set about with the goal of converting the native population.

The Franciscans came to be known as Grey Friars, from the gray habit which distinguished them from the Dominicans, who were called the Black Friars.


The Dominicans, founded by Dominic de Guzman, concentrated on learning, and were involved in the establishment of new universities in Paris, Bologna, Oxford, and Cambridge.

But the Franciscans had their intellectuals too, in friars such as Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon.

The friars were a new force in the church. They were preaching monks, men who spent much of their time in the towns and cities, earning respect for their simple living and unassuming ways, a lifestyle which was in contrast to many other of the church leaders.













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