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St. Francis of Paola (San Francesco di Paola)




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his basilica in Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples is named for Saint Francis of Paola (1416-1507), a mendicant friar and the founder of the Roman Catholic Order of Minims. Francis was born in the town of Paola, not far from Cosenza in the region of Calabria. Unlike most founders of men's religious orders, Francis was never a priest; in that respect he followed in the path of his own patron saint, the one for whom he was named, Francis of Assisi. As a boy he entered a friary of the Franciscan Order to fulfill a vow made by his parents.


After a pilgrimage to Assisi, he and two companions became recluses and founded a religious community in Paola known as the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, marked by the traditional Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Francis added the additional austere vow of year-round Lenten abstinence from meat and other animal products. (Indeed, Roman Catholic hagiographies, which often list the purported miracles of saints, tell of Francis' extreme devotion to the welfare of animals, even to the extent of raising beasts from the dead that had been slaughtered to be eaten!) On a less austere note, I was pleased to learn that as the order spread to other parts of Europe, the Munich friary of the Minims started to brew beer in 1634 as a means to support themselves. I don't know whether the friars drank their own beer. I hope so. (It's just fermented hops! No animals, eggs or cheeses were harmed or devoured in the brewing of this beer, and, besides this austerity stuff can take its toll after a while.) An independent brewery still continues to brew the beer, called Paulaner (image of logo, left). It takes its name from the town of Paola.

(photo: Luigini)  
In 1454 Francis built a large monastery and church in Paola (photo, right) and, shortly thereafter, several new monasteries in Calabria and Sicily. He also established convents of nuns, and a third order for people living in the world, after the example of Francis of Assisi. The name of the order was changed to the Minim friars ("the least ones") by Pope Alexander VI. Francis of Paola is the patron saint of Calabria as well as a patron saint of mariners; he was canonized in 1519. The Order of Minims was never very large, but it is still in existence, primarily in Italy, with the general curia and an international college in Rome. Outside of Europe, there are Minim friaries or convents in Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, and the USA; outside of Italy in Europe, the order is also present in Spain and the Czech Republic. Outside of Rome in Italy, the order is present in Paola, Genoa, Perugia, Cosenza and in Naples at the basilica that bears his name and at the church of S.Maria della Stella. (In France, there were prominent sites dedicated to Francis of Paola since, at the insistence of Pope Sixtus IV, Francis went to the spiritual aid of the dying king, Louis XI; Francis then spent 20 years of his life in France in service to that monarch's successors, Charles VIII and then Louis XII.)


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here are countless painting and statues of Francesco. Well-known paintings are by Gandolfini, de Ribera, Tintoretto and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. In 1957, to mark the 450th anniversary of his death, the Italian state issued a stamp of this "patron of mariners" (image). It depicts the saint in a miraculous crossing of the straits of Messina. The stamp shows him rescuing a sailor whose ship is seen sinking in the background; Francis, standing on water, spreads his cloak on the water, ties one end to his staff and uses this "sail" to get the mariner ashore. It is a depiction of one of the miracles traditionally attributed to Francis in hagiographic literature. In 1861 Franz Liszt dedicated a piano piece to this event in the life of the saint (Liszt's own namesake), and then later a choral work: An den heiligen Franziskus von Paula (Searle catalog #28). The libretto is by Martha von Sabinin.


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