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Fioretti di S. Francesco

(The Little Flowers of St. Francis, 14c)

Chapter 16

Come santo Francesco ricevuto il consiglio di santa Chiara e del santo frate Silvestro, che dovesse predicando convertire molta gente, e fece il terzo Ordine e predicò agli uccelli e fece stare quete le rondini.

How St. Francis received the advice of St. Chiara and of the holy brother Silvestro, that he should by preaching convert many people, and founded the third Order and preached to the birds and made the swallows keep quiet.

L'umile servo di Cristo santo Francesco, poco tempo dopo la sua conversione, avendo già radunati molti compagni e ricevuti all'Ordine, entrò in grande pensiero e in grande dubitazione di quello che dovesse fare: ovvero d'intendere solamente ad orare, ovvero alcuna volta a predicare, e sopra ciò disiderava molto di sapere la volontà di Dio. E però che la santa umiltà, ch'era in lui, non lo lasciava presumere di sé né di sue orazioni, pensò di cercarne la divina volontà con le orazioni altrui. Onde egli chiamò frate Masseo e dissegli così: «Va' a suora Chiara e dille da mia parte ch'ella con alcune delle più spirituali compagne divotamente preghino Iddio, che gli piaccia dimostrarmi qual sia il meglio; ch'io intenda a predicare o solamente all'orazione. E poi va' a frate Silvestro e digli il simigliante».

The humble servant of Christ St. Francis, shortly after his conversion, having already assembled many companions and received them into the Order, started to have many thoughts and doubts as to what he should do: either that he should seek only to pray, or sometimes to preach — and in this matter he wanted much to know the will of God. Yet the holy humility that was in him did not let him presume of himself nor of his prayers, and he thought to seek the divine will thru the prayers of others. He therefore called brother Masseo and spoke to him thus: "Go to sister Chiara and tell her from me that she and some of her most spiritually oriented companions should pray God, that he might deign to show me which is better; that I should seek to preach, or just to pray. Then go to Brother Silvestro and tell him the same."

Quello era stato nel secolo messere Silvestro, il quale avea veduto una croce d'oro procedere dalla bocca di santo Francesco, la quale era lunga insino al cielo e larga insino alla stremità del mondo; ed era questo frate Silvestro di tanta divozione e di tanta santità, che di ciò che chiedeva a Dio, e' impetrava ed era esaudito, e spesse volte parlava con Dio, e però santo Francesco avea in lui grande divozione.

The latter, in the world, had been Messer Silvestro: he had seen a golden cross proceed from the mouth of St. Francis, which in length reached the sky and in width the ends of the world; and this was Brother Silvestro whose devotion and holiness were such, that whatever he asked of God, and desired, was granted him, and many times he would speak with God, and thus St. Francis was greatly devoted to him.

Andonne frate Masseo e, secondo il comandamento di santo Francesco, fece l'ambasciata prima a santa Chiara e poi a frate Silvestro. Il quale, ricevuta che l'ebbe, immantenente si gittò in orazione e orando ebbe la divina risposta, e tornò frate Masseo e disse così: «Questo dice Iddio che tu dica a frate Francesco: che Iddio non l'ha chiamato in questo stato solamente per sé, ma acciò che faccia frutto delle anime e molti per lui sieno salvati». Avuta questa risposta, frate Masseo tornò a santa Chiara a sapere quello ch'ella avea impetrato da Dio. Ed ella rispuose ch'ella e l'altre compagne aveano avuta da Dio quella medesima risposta, la quale avea avuto frate Silvestro.

Brother Masseo left there, and, according to the command of St. Francis, undertook the embassy first to St. Chiara and then to Brother Silvestro. The latter, as soon as he had received him, threw himself immediately into prayer and while he prayed obtained the divine reply, and returned to Brother Masseo and spoke thus: "This is what God says you must say to brother Francis: that God did not call him to this state just for himself, but that he might yield a harvest of souls and that many be saved thru him." Having received this reply, Brother Masseo went back to St. Chiara to learn what she had obtained from God. And she replied that she and the other companions had had from God that very same reply, that Brother Silvestro had had.

Con questo ritorna frate Masseo a santo Francesco, e santo Francesco il riceve con grandissima carità, lavandogli li piedi e apparecchiandogli desinare. E dopo 'l mangiare, santo Francesco chiamò frate Masseo nella selva e quivi dinanzi a lui s'inginocchia e trassesi il cappuccio, facendo croce delle braccia, e domandollo: «Che comanda ch'io faccia il mio Signore Gesù Cristo?». Risponde frate Masseo: «Sì a frate Silvestro e sì a suora Chiara colle suore, che Cristo avea risposto e rivelato che la sua volontà si è che tu vada per lo mondo a predicare, però ch'egli non t'ha eletto pure per te solo ma eziandio per salute degli altri».

With this Brother Masseo went back to St. Francis, and St. Francis received him with great charity, washing his feet and setting the table for him to have dinner. And after the meal, St. Francis called Brother Masseo in the wood and knelt there in front of him and covered himself with his hood, folding his arms in the shape of a cross, and asked him "What does my Lord Jesus Christ command me to do?" Brother Masseo replies: "Both to Brother Silvestro and to Sister Chiara with the sisters, that Christ had replied and revealed that his will is that you go thru the world preaching, since he has not chosen you just for your own sake but even for the salvation of others."

E allora santo Francesco, udito ch'egli ebbe questa risposta e conosciuta per essa la volontà di Cristo, si levò su con grandissimo fervore e disse: «Andiamo al nome di Dio». E prende per compagno frate Masseo e frate Agnolo, uomini santi.

Then St. Francis, having heard that he had this reply and knowing from it the will of Christ, arose with very great fervor and said: "Let's go in the name of God." And he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Angelo, holy men.

E andando con empito di spirito, senza considerare via o semita, giunsono a uno castello che si chiamava Savurniano. E santo Francesco si puose a predicare, e comandò prima alle rondini che tenessino silenzio infino a tanto ch'egli avesse predicato. E le rondini l'ubbidirono. Ed ivi predicò in tanto fervore che tutti gli uomini e le donne di quel castello per divozione gli volsono andare dietro e abbandonare il castello; ma santo Francesco non lasciò, dicendo loro: «Non abbiate fretta e non vi partite, ed io ordinerò quello che vo' dobbiate fare per salute dell'anime vostre».

And going with full vehemence of spirit, without considering road or path, they arrived at a small fortified town which was called Savurniano.a And St. Francis set himself to preaching, and first commanded the swallows that they should keep silence until he had finished preaching. And the swallows obeyed him. And he preached there with such fervor that all the men and the women of that town by devotion wished to follow him and abandon the town; but St. Francis did not let them, telling them: "Do not be hasty and do not leave, and I will order what you should do for the salvation of your souls."

E allora pensò di fare il terzo ordine per universale salute di tutti. E così lasciandoli molto consolati bene disposti a penitenza, si partì quindi e venne tra Cannaio e Bevagno.

And then he thought to create the third order for the universal salvation of all. And thus leaving them much consoled and well disposed to penitence, he left there and arrived between Cannara and Bevagna.

E passando oltre con quello fervore, levò gli occhi e vide alquanti arbori allato alla via, in su' quali era quasi infinita moltitudine d'uccelli; di che santo Francesco si maravigliò e disse a' compagni: «Voi m'aspetterete qui nella via, e io andrò a predicare alle mie sirocchie uccelli». E entrò nel campo e cominciò a predicare alli uccelli ch'erano in terra; e subitamente quelli ch'erano in su gli arbori se ne vennono a lui insieme tutti quanti e stettono fermi, mentre che santo Francesco compiè di predicare, e poi anche non si partivano infino a tanto ch'egli diè loro la benedizione sua. E secondo che recitò poi frate Masseo a frate Jacopo da Massa, andando santo Francesco fra loro, toccandole colla cappa, nessuna perciò si movea. La sustanza della predica di santo Francesco fu questa: «Sirocchie mie uccelli, voi siete molto tenute a Dio vostro creatore, e sempre e in ogni luogo il dovete laudare, imperò che v'ha dato la libertà di volare in ogni luogo; anche v'ha dato il vestimento duplicato e triplicato; appresso, perché elli riserbò il seme di voi in nell'arca di Noè, acciò che la spezie vostra non venisse meno nel mondo; ancora gli siete tenute per lo elemento dell'aria che egli ha deputato a voi. Oltre a questo, voi non seminate e non mietete, e Iddio vi pasce e davvi li fiumi e le fonti per vostro bere, e davvi li monti e le valli per vostro refugio, e gli alberi alti per fare li vostri nidi. E con ciò sia cosa che voi non sappiate filare né cucire, Iddio vi veste, voi e' vostri figliuoli. Onde molto v'ama il vostro Creatore, poi ch'egli vi dà tanti benefici, e però guardatevi, sirocchie mie, del peccato della ingratitudine, e sempre vi studiate di lodare Iddio».

And passing beyond with that fervor, he raised his eyes and saw a few trees by the side of the road, on which there were an almost infinite multitude of birds; St. Francis marveled at that and said to his companions: "You will wait for me here in the road, and I will go preach to my little sisters the birds." And he went into the field and started to preach to the birds that were on the ground; and suddenly those that were on the trees came to him all together and stayed still, while St. Francis finished preaching, and even then they did not leave until he had given him his blessing. And according to what Brother Masseo later recounted to Brother Jacopo of Massa, while St. Francis walked amidst them, touching them with his cape, not one of them so much as moved. The gist of St. Francis' preaching was this: "My little sister birds, you are very dear to God your creator, and always and in every place you must praise him, seeing that he has given you the freedom of flying in every place; and he has given you as well a double and triple coat of clothing; and right after that, because he saved your seed in Noah's ark, that your race may not decrease in the world; and again, you are held fast to him by the element of air that he has given over to you. Furthermore, you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and springs for your drink, and gives you the mountains and the valleys for your refuge, and the high trees to make your nests. And withal, you do not know how to spin nor sew, yet God clothes you, you and your offspring. Thus your Creator loves you much, since he gives you so many benefits — so keep yourselves, my sisters, from the sin of ingratitude, and always take care to praise God."

Dicendo loro santo Francesco queste parole, tutti quanti quelli uccelli cominciarono ad aprire i becchi e distendere i colli e aprire l'alie e riverentemente inchinare li capi infino in terra, e con atti e con canti dimostrare che 'l padre santo dava loro grandissimo diletto. E santo Francesco con loro insieme si rallegrava e dilettava, e maravigliavasi molto di tanta moltitudine d'uccelli e della loro bellissima varietà e della loro attenzione e famigliarità; per la qual cosa egli in loro divotamente lodava il Creatore. Finalmente compiuta la predicazione, santo Francesco fece loro il segno della Croce e diè loro licenza di partirsi; e allora tutti quelli uccelli si levarono in aria con maravigliosi canti, e poi secondo la Croce ch'avea fatta loro santo Francesco si divisono in quattro partì; e l'una parte volò inverso l'oriente e l'altra parte verso occidente, e l'altra parte verso lo meriggio, e la quarta parte verso l'aquilone, e ciascuna schiera n'andava cantando maravigliosi canti; in questo significando che come da santo Francesco gonfaloniere della Croce di Cristo era stato a loro predicato e sopra loro fatto il segno della Croce, secondo il quale egli si divisono in quattro partì del mondo; così la predicazione della Croce di Cristo rinnovata per santo Francesco si dovea per lui e per li suoi frati portare per tutto il mondo; li quali frati, a modo che gli uccelli, non possedendo nessuna cosa propria in questo mondo, alla sola provvidenza di Dio commettono la lor vita.

As St. Francis was thus speaking these words, all those birds started to open their beaks and stretch out their necks and reverently incline their heads all the way to the ground, and with acts and songs demonstrate that the holy father was pleasing them immensely. And with them St. Francis rejoiced and was delighted, and marveled much at such a multitude of birds and their very beautiful variety and their attention and their relationship with him; and for that reason in them he devoutly praised the Creator. When his preaching was finally ended, St. Francis made the sign of the Cross over them and gave them permission to leave; and then all those birds flew up into the air with marvelous songs, and according to the Cross that St. Francis had made over them they divided into four parts; and one part flew toward the east and the other toward the west, and another toward the south, and the fourth toward the north, and each squadron went away singing marvellous songs; thus signifying how St. Francis as the standard-bearer of the Cross of Christ had preached to them and had made the sign of the Cross over them, according to which they divided into the four parts of the world; thus was the preaching of the Cross of Christ renewed by St. Francis to be carried by him and by his brethren thruout the world; and so those brethren, in the manner of birds, not possessing anything of their own in this world, should commit their life to God's providence alone.

A laude di Gesù Cristo e del poverello Francesco. Amen.

In praise of Jesus Christ and of the little poor Francis. Amen.

(my translation)


Thayer's Note:

a Savurniano has resisted all identification. There is no place of any size by this name anywhere in Umbria, and certainly none that is or was fortified. The nearest Savorgnano (which would be the modern spelling) is in the comune of Subbiano, N of Arezzo: at about 85 km as the crow flies from Cannara and Bevagna, it's not within a day's walk, even for people fired up with great enthusiasm; my own personal best for one day is 91 km road distance, and I don't wish it on anyone, especially on poor medieval roads and wearing sandals.

Commentators have therefore chosen to ignore Savurniano, usually in favor of Alviano, given as the birthplace of the Third Order by Bonaventure (Legenda maior XII.4) or the site of the attentive and obedient birds by Tommaso da Celano (Trattato dei Miracoli, 21). For my part, I'll concede the possibility of some kind of garble in the text of the Fioretti, but not so great as to turn Savurniano into Alviano. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Third Ordersq.v., claims a certain consensus for Florence: if, however, Francis walked from Assisi to Florence, Savorgnano di Subbiano is right on the way; you get an idea in one place, and talk it up in the big city where people get wind of it and write it down — in this case the obscure Mariano Florentino, a native of Florence: remember folks, you heard it first in my home town.

Our text, however, suggests Francis was walking the other way: from Florence maybe, to Savorgnano, to Assisi and the Cannara area. It is thus possible that he got the first germ of the idea in Florence, preached it out at Savorgnano, and formalized it where Cannarese tradition says he did, in the church of Cannara now called the Chiesa della Buona Morte; as for the Miracle of the Birds, in 1931 a small roadside shrine was built to commemorate it at Pian d'Arca, midway between Bevagna and Cannara, but the town of Alviano also claims it, as does, with almost no justification at all, a very old tree at the Eremo delle Carceri, St. Francis's retreat on Mt. Subasio just above Assisi.

If you wish to look into all this, you will find that many writers have preceded you. The case for Cannara is laid out by Giovanni Battista Cofanelli, archpriest of that town, in Cannara ed il Terz' Ordine Francescano (Foligno, 1895).


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Page updated: 19 Jul 05