Death of 2 Saints

November 15 2020 | by

SAINT Anthony had an intense devotion to the Blessed Mother, having mentioned her in nearly every one of his sermons and having dedicated a series of sermons to her. On his death bed, on 13 June, 1231, he chose to sing to her a popular hymn composed in the 6th century: O gloriosa femina.

O Glorious Lady, throned on high
Above the star-illumined sky;
Thereto ordain’d, thy bosom lent
To thy Creator nourishment.


Five years earlier, on 3 October 1226, Francis of Assisi died. Too weak to sing himself, he requested that his friars sing him a song which he had written, The Canticle of Brother Sun.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor, and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

By today’s standards, both saints were fairly young when they died. Anthony was 36; Francis was 45. Both had lived lives of great holiness and remarkable penance, and both were ill at the end of their lives. According to Francis’ first biographer Thomas of Celano, six months before his death, Francis was suffering not only from a serious eye disease that had blinded him, but also from diseases of the liver and stomach. Beginning to vomit blood, he thought he was dying and asked to be carried from the hermitage of Cortona, where he was staying, to Assisi where he wished to die. History does not record how he got to Assisi, but he could not walk. Most likely, he was transported by cart.


Francis’ death


Anthony, who had also not been feeling well due to dropsy and general fatigue, had left Padua where he had been subject to many visitors. He had gone to Camposampiero, the nearby estate of Count Tiso, who had become a penitent living the Rule of Life which Francis had given to the laity in 1221. On this estate, Anthony asked the friars to build him a cell in a nut tree, from which he was able to preach to the crowds who flocked to hear him. On the day of his death he had descended from the tree to eat with the friars. At table, he suffered some sort of seizure, or perhaps a heart attack or stroke, so that, when he rose to walk, his fellow friars had to support him and lay him on a straw bed since all strength had left him. Knowing that he was dying, he asked his guardian Brother Roger to take him to Saint Mary’s friary at Padua, where he had been staying, so as not to burden the friars at Camposampiero. The friars laid Anthony in a cart and began the journey.

Francis was originally housed in the Bishop’s house, probably at the Bishop’s insistence, and to protect the saint from mobs who were looking for relics of their holy son. Here he grew increasingly weaker and more ill until he knew that he was dying. After blessing his fellow friars, he asked to be carried to his favorite friary, Saint Mary of the Portiuncula (Saint Mary of the Angels), on the plain below Assisi, to die there. Unlike Anthony, Francis was able to die in the location he wished.


Anthony’s death


Our Saint, on the other hand, grew ever weaker on his journey to his favorite friary, St. Mary’s. Friar Vinotus, who had come to meet him, noticed the Saint’s deteriorating condition and begged him to stop at the friars’ house in Arcella, next to a monastery of the Poor Ladies whom the friars assisted. Upon being reminded that he would cause a great commotion if he entered Padua, Anthony obeyed his superior and agreed to stop at Arcella. Here, as his condition worsened, he made his confession and received absolution. Having sung ‘O Glorious Lady’, Anthony raised his eyes heavenward and a startled look came over him and lasted for some time. “What do you see?” the friar who was supporting him asked. Anthony replied, “I see my Lord.”

Celano records no instance of Francis having a vision of Christ. However, he does record how a friar, perhaps himself, saw Francis’ soul “rise straight to heaven over many waters. It was like a star, but as big as the moon, with the brilliance of the sun, and carried up upon a small white cloud.” This happened after Francis had forgiven all his brothers and imparted to them his blessing. He then asked to hear the Gospel of John in which Christ washed the Apostles’ feet at the Last Supper, thus giving his friars a final message on service. Following this, he asked to be covered with sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes. Later accounts state that he also requested that his body be placed naked on bare ground, and remain there as long as it takes to walk a mile. Thus, Francis gave an example of humility and poverty to the friars gathered at his deathbed.


Francis’ body


The populace tried to mob the corpses of both saints. The friars tried to keep Anthony’s death a secret, but word somehow got out among the children who ran through the streets of Padua, canonizing the saint then and there, crying, “The holy father is dead. Saint Anthony is dead!” Francis’ death drew mourners from Assisi who marveled to see the stigmata which Francis, while alive, had kept hidden.

Francis’ body was entombed in a coffin hung high in the Church of Saint George until a basilica could be built as its permanent resting place. The body was under constant surveillance so that relic hunters were kept at bay and theft was impossible. On 25 May 1230, when Francis’ body was transferred to the basilica for burial, some sort of altercation occurred. The body was rushed inside, the doors barred, and the body buried in a location that remained hidden until 1818. Then, after a 52-day dig, archeologists found the undisturbed remains protected by iron bars and in a tunnel under the basilica’s main floor. Francis’ body had crumbled to dust, and so had portions of his skeleton, particularly the finger and toe bones and part of the skull. The uneven deterioration suggests to some forensic experts that Francis suffered from leprosy, which attacks and disintegrates especially those bones.


Anthony’s body


Skirmishes over Anthony’s body lasted five days until the bishop, hearing arguments from both Arcella and Padua, both of which claimed the body, decided that Anthony had died in Arcella only because he had been obedient to superiors. Since he had wished to die at St. Mary’s in Padua, his body was to be entombed there. When Anthony’s body was exhumed in 1263 to be reburied into a basilica built in his honor, his body had decomposed except for his tongue, which was reported to be as moist and soft as it was in life. This miraculous sign seemed to verify the use Anthony made of his tongue to preach to and convert thousands. His tongue, along with his jaw bone, are now enshrined in their own reliquaries.  

Saint Anthony and Saint Francis, saints in life and in death, pray for us.

Updated on November 15 2020