Giovanni Bernardone was born in Assisi, Italy, about 1181. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francis was a lighthearted, irresponsible youth who anticipated a life of chivalry. A year as prisoner of war in Perugia, a long illness, and the wretchedness of beggars and lepers in his own town led to his radical conversion and a life of poverty and prayer.

In 1206 Francis left home to devote himself to caring for lepers and rebuilding neglected churches near Assisi. In 1209 a group of disciples went with him to Rome where they received papal approval for their rule of life. Francis organized an order for women in 1212 and a lay fraternity about 1221. His charity, total poverty, and dynamic leadership drew thousands of followers. He became a venerated religious figure and founder of the Franciscan Orders of men and women, a major religious reform movement of the early 13th century.

In 1224 Francis received the stigmata (the wounds of Jesus in hands, feet and side). He lived two more years in constant pain. Francis died October 3, 1226, at the Portiuncula at the height of his fame. Two years later he was canonized. The foundation of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was laid that same year. This is where the Florentine painter Giotto painted a series of frescoes depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis.