Saint Francis. Saint Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named as Francesco, was an Italian Catholic friar, deacon and preacher. He founded the men's Order of Friars Minor, the women's Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis and the Custody of the Holy Land. Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in history. Pope Gregory IX canonized Francis on 16 July 1228. Along with Saint Catherine of Siena, he was designated Patron saint of Italy. He later became associated with patronage of animals and the natural environment, and it became customary for churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on or near his feast day of 4 October. In 1219, he went to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Sultan to put an end to the conflict of the Crusades. By this point, the Franciscan Order had grown to such an extent that its primitive organizational structure was no longer sufficient. He returned to Italy to organize the Order. Once his community was authorized by the Pope, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs. Francis is also known for his love of the Eucharist. In 1223, Francis arranged for the first Christmas live nativity scene. According to Christian tradition, in 1224 he received the stigmata during the apparition of Seraphic angels in a religious ecstasy, which would make him the second person in Christian tradition after St. Paul to bear the wounds of Christ's Passion. He died during the evening hours of 3 October 1226, while listening to a reading he had requested of Psalm 142. Francis of Assisi was born in late 1181 or early 1182, one of several children of an Italian father, Pietro di Bernardone dei Moriconi, a prosperous silk merchant, and a French mother, Pica de Bourlemont, about whom little is known except that she was a noblewoman originally from Provence. Pietro was in France on business when Francis was born in Assisi, and Pica had him baptized as Giovanni. Upon his return to Assisi, Pietro took to calling his son Francesco, possibly in honor of his commercial success and enthusiasm for all things French. Since the child was renamed in infancy, the change can hardly have had anything to do with his aptitude for learning French, as some have thought. Indulged by his parents, Francis lived the high-spirited life typical of a wealthy young man. As a youth, Francesco became a devotee of troubadours and was fascinated with all things Transalpine. He was handsome, witty, gallant, and delighted in fine clothes. He spent money lavishly. Although many hagiographers remark about his bright clothing, rich friends, and love of pleasures, his displays of disillusionment toward the world that surrounded him came fairly early in his life, as is shown in the story of the beggar. In this account, he was selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace on behalf of his father when a beggar came to him and asked for alms. At the conclusion of his business deal, Francis abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, Francis gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage. Around 1202, he joined a military expedition against Perugia and was taken as a prisoner at Collestrada, spending a year as a captive. An illness caused him to re-evaluate his life. It is possible that his spiritual conversion was a gradual process rooted in this experience. Upon his return to Assisi in 1203, Francis returned to his carefree life. In 1205, Francis left for Apulia to enlist in the army of Walter III, Count of Brienne. A strange vision made him return to Assisi, having lost his taste for the worldly life. According to hagiographic accounts, thereafter he began to avoid the sports and the feasts of his former companions. In response, they asked him laughingly whether he was thinking of marrying, to which he answered, Yes, a fairer bride than any of you have ever seen, meaning his Lady Poverty. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he joined the poor in begging at St. Peter's Basilica. He spent some time in lonely places, asking God for spiritual enlightenment. He said he had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ in the forsaken country chapel of San Damiano, just outside Assisi, in which the Icon of Christ Crucified said to him, Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins. He took this to mean the ruined church in which he was presently praying, and so he sold some cloth from his father's store to assist the priest there for this purpose.