The Deeds of Blessed Francis & His Companions (1328-1337) - 429 

Introduction

The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions

The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions—and its Italian translation, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis—may well be the written response to Jerome of Ascoli's request in 1276 for information concerning the saint and his first followers. Subsequently, The Little Flowers became for many a first and perhaps major source of information concerning Francis of Assisi. Although written more than a century after the saint's death, it remains one of the most enduring classics of spiritual literature as well as one of the most problematic.

Two dates provide a framework within which The Deeds was written. A catalog of manuscripts found in the library of Assisi's Sacro Convento in 1381 identifies manuscript 102 as The Book of the Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions.1 At the other end of the spectrum, The Deeds tell of the death of John of LaVerna which, according to Giacomo Sabatelli, took place in 1322.2 With this information, it is clear that The Deeds was written within this time span. The scope can be narrowed by the repeated references to the work in the Avignon Compilation that is dated 1343,3 a reference to the closing of the friary of Soffiano which occurred in 1327, and a reference to the friary on the Island of Trasimeno established in 1328.4 From these indications, recent scholarship maintains that The Deeds was written in its present form between 1328 and 1337.5

The Book of the Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions consists of four sections. The first thirty-one chapters are taken up with the origins of the primitive fraternity centered on Francis himself. These are followed by sixteen chapters that look in a more focused way on the primary players in its history, especially in Umbria, while the next eleven concentrate on those in the Marches. The final nine chapters treat a variety of different stories that, for the most part, concern the practice of poverty among those in both Umbria and the Marches. The Deeds, in other words, is not simply a collection of information about Francis and his first companions. It does not consider those who went on mission to England and Germany, nor is it concerned with the first Brothers who went to France or Spain. Its primary concerns are limited to the histories of just two Italian Provinces, Umbria and the Marches. As such, The Deeds provides background information on the emerging attitudes of the zelanti in what were becoming hothouses nurturing the Spiritual faction of the Lesser Brothers.

Unlike earlier texts, the location of this text's composition is important for two reasons: for a better understanding of the work itself, and for insights into its author. It is obvious that The Deeds was written in the Province of the

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Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 429

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