St. Francis is a well-known Catholic saint in the Western World. Statues that represent him are in gardens throughout the Americas. The story of St. Francis is a fascinating one, a story of a child born into privilege, to a father who was a successful cloth merchant and to a French mother. Originally named Giovanni de Bernadone, his father nicknamed him Francesco, in honor of his commercial success in France. Francesco's early life was one of a care-free, rich young man, often partying with his friends, involved in street brawls and the pleasures of youth. He eventually became disillusioned with his lifestyle and joined a military expedition where he was taken prisoner for a year. His spiritual conversion was a gradual one, with many contributing factors, such as illness, emotionally moving encounters with paupers, various set-backs, forsaking all material possessions and experiencing religious visions. He not only became a beggar, he spent a good deal of time in lonely places, contemplating and praying. Part of the time he worked caring for lepers. He began to preach repentance and gained a following that became known as "The Franciscans." His life was not just one of abject poverty and withdrawal from the world, as he had many amazing adventures, including an invitation by a Sultan to preach to the Muslims in Egypt. Because of his attempted rapproachement with the Muslims, the Franciscans were allowed to remain in The Holy Land, making them the Custodians of the Holy Land.
Only after his death did stories begin to spring up about St. Francis' love of nature, birds, and animals. His writings are considered to have great literary value as well as religious value because he wrote in the Umbrian dialect, instead of the customary Latin. He is called the first poet of Italy. Undoubtedly, it was his environmental poetry, expressing the love of nature, that allowed the legends to flourish. Today, many celebrate a feast day named in his honor: October 4.