Learning a ‘Little Greek’ from Francesco

What did I learn about Francis of Assisi while researching the facts about his life?

He wanted to grow up to be a crusader and fight in the Crusades which had gone on for some one hundred years when he was born in 1081 or 1082.

Francis fought in a battle between the city-state of Assisi and its neighboring town of Perugia, which sided with the nobility and wanted to continue with the feudal system.

He rode a horse into battle and it probably saved his life because the Perugians he engaged slaughtered all the foot soldiers (infantrymen) as well as the archers. They thought Francis was a nobleman because he was on a horse.

Francis was thrown in jail, a makeshift prison made up of an old Etruscan fortification buried below the ground in Perugia. He remained in jail for nearly a year before his father learned of his whereabouts and paid a ransom to free his son.


Francis showed all the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a psychological wound suffered by many in combat.

Before going to war, he was known as the “king of the revelers” — a real “party animal,” but became a recluse on his return to Assisi. He was withdrawn from all social life and gave signs of deep depression.

Francis tried to “redeem” himself later by outfitting himself as a knight with armor, a sword, and a battle horse when leaving Assisi once again to do battle, but this time he offered himself to fight in one of the crusades being waged by one of the popes against the Saracens.

He never made it to the battlefield because of a vision he experienced which directed him to return home to “serve the master” and not a “servant.”

Francis was labeled a coward and a deserter.

He was only five-foot, two inches tall.

Francis preached to the birds, tamed a wolf, and saved a rabbit from becoming a monk’s dinner!


His real name was John (or Giovanni as he was baptized in Italian). Pietro, his Italian father, renamed him Francesco, which meant the “Little Frenchman.”

Francis mother was French. She was of noble birth and lived in an area called Provence in the southern section of what is now known as France.

Greeks from the Island of Rhodes settled the area of Provence. Rhodes is a short boat ride away from the island my father, Achilles Contoveros, was born and raised. In the year 2012, researchers conducted DNA tests on people from Provence, and the results showed there was 12 percent Greek blood in them. That would make Francis of Assisi “a little Greek,” according to this recorder of history!

Provence is the area where legend states that Mary Magadeline, one of the closest friends of Jesus Christ, had resided there before passing on some 30 years later. The legend also notes that Martha and the man Jesus raised from the dead, Lazarus, had also ended up in Provence.

Francis was born in a stable.

His father was a rich silk merchant.

Pietro disowned Francis and beat him, once chaining him inside a closet after learning Francis had sold scraps of his father’s silks to raise money to help rebuild a church. (Francis also sold the cart and the horse that carried the silks, by the way!)

Francis refused to let money “cross the palm of his hands” following the incident with his father.

He physically rebuilt many churches, believing that was his mission from Christ when he heard the voice of Jesus while praying before a crucifix to “rebuild my church.” Little did Francis know that he was being chosen at that time to rebuild the Roman church and its relations with the poor throughout the known world.


He received the stigmata, that is, the actual marks of the crucified Christ,  while on retreat during the Feast of Michaelmas — also known as the Feast of Michael the Archangel on September 29th, 1224, some two years before his death. The word stigmata means “branding” in Greek, and Francis kept secret the marks he received on his hands and his feet as well as the wound on his side.

(Inscribed by Contoveros on September 28th, the eve of St. Michael’s Feast Day, and just a week before the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4th) in the Catholic Church.)

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