Already in 1217 Francesco and his friends discussed expansion to other countries and during the following years friars left for France, Germany, The Holy Land, Portugal, Spain and a bit later England, Scotland, Hungary and Scandinavia. It has always been held as one of the astonishing feats, how quickly the “new” Franciscan gospel spread through the rest of Europe and beyond. Germany is a very good example. In the late summer of 1221 friars passed through Trent. By the Middle of October they had convened chapters at Augsburg. From here they went to preach at Würzburg, Mainz, Worms, Speyer, Strassbourg, Köln, Regensburg and Salzburg. And on, and on and on..
Before 1250 there were at least 73 friaries in central Germany. From there they moved on to Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Denmark and Norway. As is well known, during this period of expansion, the friars slit gradually from the original ideas of their founder. At the same time they were formally recruited into the papal missionary effort. Accordingly the friars little by little learned how to “borrow” their riches from their benefactors, thus
circumventing the original taboo of ownership of land, cattle and not least people. What was originally a radical and hence peaceful way of life devoid of feuds, litigation and micro-management, gradually turned into a more “normal” priestly business. Although there continued to exist pockets of rebellious zealots – especially amongst the poor Clares, most friars ended up with rather cosy lives. One result of this development was the accumulation of art, books and treasures celebrating the richness of their spiritual inheritance. Right now, in Paderborn, a huge exhibition showcases these riches and the traditions stemming from the many German monasteries, which were the result of the missionary effort of the Franciscans.
Although the exhibition is more than proud to be able to showcase a few spectacular loans from the central institutions in and around Assisi, this is the real merit.
As usual in Germany the catalogue is an overwhelming bonanza of beautiful illustrations and explanations of the exhibited treasures.