“Saint Francis saw above him, filling the whole heavens, some vast immemorial unthinkable power, ancient like the Ancient of Days, whose calm men had conceived under the forms of winged bulls or monstrous cherubim, and all that winged wonder was in pain like a wounded bird. This seraphic suffering, it is said, pierced his soul with a sword of grief and pity; it may be inferred that some sort of mounting agony accompanied the ecstasy. Finally after some fashion the apocalypse faded from the sky and the agony within subsided; and silence and the natural air filled the morning twilight and settled slowly in the purple chasms and cleft abysses of the Apennines. The head of the solitary sank, amid all that relaxation and quiet in which time can drift by with the sense of something ended and complete; and as he stared downwards, he saw the marks of nails in his own hands.”—G.K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi (1923)
On or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) in 1224, St. Francis of Assisi, in prayer on Mount Alverna, received the stigmata—the marks of the nails and lance wounds of Christ’s body on the Cross. Shortly after this, he began to go blind and became terminally ill. The incident remains one of the most powerful legends associated with the founder of the Franciscan order. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates this extraordinary event tomorrow.
G.K. Chesterton, the versatile and accomplished English man of letters, wrote his biographical study of the great saint within a year of his own entry into the Roman Catholic Church.