St Francis – 5 October 2020

Here Francis kneels in prayer his fingers interlaced, his face turned toward God in heaven, to whom he directs his speech. The ‘little poor one’ wears a patched habit, a metaphor for a soul made and remade again by the grace and mercy of God. Between his body and clasped hands he holds a human skull, a memento mori reminding him and those who look on ‘remember you must die’. A section of the face, the eyes, is hidden. We might observe this exemplar of the Christian life, but we cannot see all that goes on in his soul as he prays. The image is an invitation to all into a life of similar devotion to God.

This painting of St Francis is by Francisco de Zurbaran (1635-9). The saint was a subject that Zurbaran returned to many times. Each painted image is an exploration of Francis’ life of prayer, his devotion to God, and his acceptance of his mortality. Zurbaran is often referred to as the ‘Spanish Caravaggio’ because of his excellent use of chiaroscuro, that is bold distinction between dark and light.


I beg you, Lord,
let the fiery, gentle power
of your love
take possession of my soul,
and snatch it away
from everything under heaven,
that I may die
for love of your love
as you saw fit to die
for love of mine

St Francis

This tunic laid out under glass—
the one they say is yours — dried flat,
patched up, like some old fox’s pelt
crushed on the road, wind-worried-over,
carrion for crows; or sacking left
smelling of rot and fizzing pulp,
where windfall apples have been chopped
and mangled through it — this same robe,
once doors are locked and candles blown,
gathers itself in threadbare joy,
shakes out its sleeves and whirls around,
a Christ-dance over holy ground.

Ann Wroe – on St Francis tunic

’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.[

Shaker song