Francis, Frederick and the Rocca Maggiore in Assisi

In 1198, when the people of Assisi revolted against the Emperor who had ruled over them since 1173 and plundered the city’s fortress, Saint Francis was sixteen years old and Frederick II was only four.

At that moment, the future emperor – who would be crowned in Rome by Pope Honorius III in 1220 – lived in Assisi with his mother Constance, Queen of Sicily and empress by marriage to Henry VI. She had baptized him Frederick-Roger (after his grandparents) in the Cathedral of San Rufino, at the presence of his father. Obviously, once people sided with Innocent III’s Guelphs, the little Stupor Mundi had to quickly leave Assisi with the Imperial legate protecting him.

We don’t know much about Francis’s childhood. At the time when the fortress was attacked, he was probably starting to get involved in his father’s business – Pietro of Bernardone was a silk merchant – and spent his free time with the young aristocrats of Assisi. His conversion is traditionally dated back to 1205, when he heard Jesus speak to him from the cross in the little church of San Damiano, telling him, “Francis, go and repair my church which, as you see, is all in ruins!”

Some say the holy man and the emperor not only both lived in the shadow of Assisi’s Rocca Maggiore for a few years, but even met – at the Norman-Swabian castle of Bari, one unspecified year.

The Rocca Maggiore was rebuilt in 1356, following the original 12th-century designs. In 1972, parts of Franco Zeffirelli’s “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” – a movie about Saint Francis of Assisi – were shot here.


Francis, Frederick and the Rocca Maggiore in Assisi


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