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Tuesday, 21 May 2024
  • Saint Francis of Assisi: How his fascination has touched lives for over 800 years

Saint Francis of Assisi: How his fascination has touched lives for over 800 years
Saint Francis of Assisi: How his fascination has touched lives for over 800 years

An extraordinary exhibition which brings closer a remarkable life of a catholic saint which has touched lives like no other for centuries. An exhibition which fascinatingly unfolds Saint Francis’s 13th Century life and legacy through art.

This can be admired from the 6th of May to the 30st of July 2023, at the National Gallery in London.

The free exhibition is the first major art collection in the United Kingdom representing Saint Francis of Assisi. The exhibition is rather small with approximately 40 paintings; however, the collection is very exquisite.  World famous paintings by Botticelli, Caravaggio, Murillo, El Greco, Sassetta and Zurbaran. As well as contemporary art works by Antony Gomley, Stanley Spencer, Andrea Buettler, arte povera and Richard Long.

Saint Francis of Assis has inspired uncountable people around the world over the past 800 years. Joost Joustra, the Ahmanson Research Associate Curator in Art and Religion at the National Gallery, says: ‘From his native Umbria, Saint Francis’s image spread rapidly to become a global phenomenon. Francis’s life became both an example worthy of imitation, and to this day, a continuous source of artistic fascination.’


In medieval Italy, born in 1181/82 from a very rich family, a young man called Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, better known as Francis of Assisi. In 1205 while praying in the chapel of St. Damian in Assisi, he heard a voice speaking to him “Francis, go and repair my house”.  From that instant, he exchanged his wealthy life for a life in extreme poverty to follow and devote himself to God’s calling. Estranged from his family, he found inspiration in his deep faith and gave up pleasure and all his belongings for the Love of God.

He was an Italian mystic and a Catholic friar who founded the religious order Franciscans. Quickly his ethos spread around Europe and the whole Christian world, up to today.

St Francis of Assisi was the first person to have had the marks of the stigmata of Jesus. The five marks, which remained on his skin for his entire life, appeared after 40 days of fasting and praying on the Mount of Verna. Francis was canonised two years after his death at the age of 44, by the Pope in 1228, becoming Saint Francis.

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The director of the National Gallery,  Dr Gabriele Finaldi,  says: ‘Francis’s spiritual radicalism, his commitment to the poor and human solidarity, his love of God, nature and animals, which we might call embryonic environmentalism as well as his striving for peace between enemies and openness to dialogue with other religions, are themes that still resonate with us today and make him a figure of enormous relevance to our times. The history of the images of Saint Francis, is also the history of how Francis has been perceived over time; a variety of Francises have emerged across the centuries as different aspects of his persona have been emphasised, adopted, promoted, and inevitably also, appropriated and manipulated. This exhibition explores some aspects of this fascinating story.’

What makes this exhibition so extraordinary, is a true relic from the Saints’ humble garment which currently belongs to the Franciscans in Santa Croce, Florence. It is said that the habit is believed to have been worn by Francis himself. Another incredible piece testifying the past, is a horn with Rods. It is said to be from the 12th of 13th Century and been gifted to Saint Francis by the Egyptian Sultan. He has given it to him for keeping him safe on his return. It is a very significant relic, as it witnesses a rare encounter between two men of different path and religion.

A rare exhibition which witnesses the fascination of 800 years of history of a humble young man who had the courage to leave everything behind to follow his inner voice. An exhibition which can not be missed this summer.

An example of selfless life lived to the fullest for love. As Francis once wrote:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there’s hatred, let me sow love; where there’s injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy… “

By: Luisa Markides