Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was the least dogmatic of saints, seeing himself as God's troubadour or fool. His life was rich in its succession of dramas. After his debauchery as a young playboy, merchant and soldier - he fought at the Battle of Collestrada - he stripped naked in court, abandoned everything he owned and devoted his life to the poorest and the sick. On his missions he walked over the Pyrenees barefoot, was shipwrecked, and crossed the lines during the Fifth Crusade to parley with the Sultan in Egypt. In 1224, marks similar to Christ's wounds appeared on his hands, feet and side, the first recorded case of stigmata. Francis' feelings for creation, epitomized in his sermon to the birds, stimulated the realism of the Italian Renaissance artists; his vernacular poems inclined Dante to write "The Divine Comedy" in Italian not Latin. The first religious order he founded, for men, had a radical effect on social justice and the developing universities in Europe; his second order, the Poor Clares, for women, soon numbered hundreds, including royalty and half a dozen saints; his third, for laity sworn to peace, helped destroy the military power of feudalism.
But above all it is through his universal love that he has influenced the world for nearly eight centuries, drawing more than three million people every year to his tomb in Assisi. This book is a comprehensive account of the saint's life,
Adrian House read Modern History at New College, Oxford, and was for many years a publisher with William Collins. He spent four years researching and writing this book, living for six months in Assisi and visiting Franciscan sites, communities and libraries in Britain, Italy, Spain, Egypt and the United States. Francis of Assisi therefore combines his own earliest sources and the work of contemporary authorities. In 1989 he helped to produce the documentary series Art, Faith and Vision for Channel 4. He is the author of a joint biography of George and Joy Adamson, who were famous for Born Free, the story of their African lioness.