Francis of Assisi -manuscript BNF 2015 TM 686 ff 79v-80

Newly found life of St. Francis published

A small notebook of obvious Franciscan origin was recently shown to contain a hitherto unknown Vita, written by Thomas di Celano. It has now been edited.

Around Christmas 2014 a very precious manuscript was to be auctioned off by Les Enluminures in Paris. A small notebook of obvious Franciscan origin, it appeared upon closer perusal by Jaques Dalarun, to contain a hitherto unknown Vita, written by Thomas di Celano.

In short order the Bibliothèque national de France acquired the book and registered it as NAL 3245. It was almost a century since such a discovery in the field of Franciscan studies was made and the find naturally raised the expectations of scholars world-wide. In December 2014 the find was presented at a meeting at the Académie française. Now, the first scholarly presentation of the small book and an edition of the new-found Vita has been published in the Analecta Bollandiana.

The Manuscript

The manuscript measures no more than 120 x 82 mm and holds 122 sheets of low quality parchment made from the skin of goats. The notebook has no cover, which has caused some deterioration of the first and last folios as well as on notes in the margins. It contains texts copied by a number of different scribes, but all written in a Gothic script from the 13th century with clear Italian characteristics. The handwriting is very small and economic. Apart from literary bits and pieces spread through the whole manuscript the content is listed as follows:

  • A collection of sermons
  • Bull of Pope Honorius III (1223)
  • Admonitions by Francis of Assisi
  • Glossed Pater Noster
  • An alphabetised collection of minor rulings
  • Extract from Historia Scholastica by Petrus Comestor
  • Vita beati patris nostri Francisci
  • Explicit Legenda sancti Francisci. Incipiunt miracula
  • The books of Job and Zechariah
  • A selection from Acts with commentaries
  • The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius
  • Extracts from Alcuin’s De Virtutibus et Vitiis
  • Another collection of Sermons
  • The Gospel of Matthew

The Vita of St. Francis

Of these texts, the Vita is obviously the main pièce de résistance.

According to Dalarun, it is obvious that the vita was written some time after the sanctification of Anthony of Padua in 1232 but before the Minister General Brother Elias was hit by damnatio memorie in 1239. Presumably it was copied in the 1230’s, probably in a friary of the Ordo Fratrum Minorum near Assisi and for one of the brothers. Thus the very small volume is one of the earliest manuscripts of Franciscan origin.

The vitae itself is an abridged, but also updated version of the Vita Prima, which Brother Thomas di Celano wrote at the instigation of Pope Gregory IX in 1228 in connection with his call for the construction of a new burial church in Assisi. Until now only some excerpts edited in 2007 under the title Légende ombrienne were known.

This is the first critical edition of the Vita brevior. The text is of course in Latin, but this critical edition will be followed by translations into French, English and Italian in the coming months.

Of special importance, though, will be the complete edition of the small handbook, which presents us with a unique view of the practicalities of combining the life of an itinerant preacher with the growing challenge of delivering an intellectually satisfying performance in the course of the 13th century, when literacy became steadily more widespread amongst the general population in cities all over Europe. It is well known that the dilemma between the early anti-intellectual stance of the Saint and the need to perform on par with the Dominicans made the franciscans up the ante. The tiny notebook may very well be one of the solutions created by the intellectuals, who came to dominate the Franciscan order soon after the death of St. Francis.


Thome Celanensis Vita beati patris nostri Francisci (Vita brevior). Présentation et édition critique
By Jacques Dalarun
In: Analecta Bollandiana, 133 / I (2015)

Read also about the public stir the discovery of the new Vita caused



Vers une resolution de la question franciscaine coverVers une resolution de la question franciscaine
By Jaques Dalarun
Fayrad 2007
ISBN-10: 2213633541
ISBN-13: 978-2213633541




François d'Assise  Ecrits  vies coverFrançois d’Assise. Ecrits, vies, témoignages’ par François d’Assise, édition du VIIIe centenaire (2 volumes)
By Jacques Dalarun (Ed)
Cerf-Editions franciscaines 2010
ISBN-10: 2204090514
ISBN-13: 978-2204090513




The poor and the Perfect coverThe Poor and the Perfect. The Rise of Learning in the Franciscan Order, 1209–1310
By Neslihan Ṣenocak
Cornell University Press 2012
ISBN-10 0-8014-5057-8
ISBN-13 978-0-8014-5057-0


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