Saint Francis of Paola

San Francisco de Paula

Feast day: April 2

Patron of naval officers, navigators, maritime pilots, and anyone generally associated with the seas. Invoked for protection against flames and shipwrecks.

Essay by Paris Bowers

Saint Francis of Paola was born on March 27, 1416 in Paola Calabria. He was the eldest of three children that his parents had after praying to Saint Francis of Assisi, and in honor of the gift bestowed upon them by the saint, the couple named their first born after the saint, not long before the powers of Saint Francis of Assisi were called upon again. When Saint Francis of Paola was still very young, he underwent a severe illness. Once again, his parents prayed to his name sake, and very quickly after their son was cured. As thanks for their child’s quick recovery, they sent Saint Francis of Paola to a convent at the age of 13 for a year. While there, he took to the teachings and lifestyles of the monks that surrounded him. When the year was up, he accompanied his parents on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of his namesake.

When he returned at the age of 14, he began his life as a hermit on his father’s property. Several years later, he moved to an abandoned seaside cave. In 1435, he was joined by two companions in his life as a hermit. With the help of the surrounding community, Saint Francis of Paola and his companions built a chapel. The Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi had begun. In 1454, Francis received permission to build his own monastery, and twenty years later, he was given permission to begin writing the rules of his order, which would come to be known as the Minims. They had a devotion to the Five Wounds of Christ, as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary. In modern times, there exists only one Minim monastery outside of Italy. Saint Francis of Paola is well known for his good deeds as well as a gift of prophecy. One particular good deed he committed was preparing King Louis XI of France for his death. Francis died on April 2, 1507 in Plessis France.

His symbols tend to be the word Caritas, Caridad, or Humilitas. These words are either surrounded by flames or present on his breast. Caritas means charity in Latin, which was the motto of the Minims. Often, he is represented in a dark brown habit with a scapular with a rounded end that hits at about knee level and a Franciscan rope around his waist. He is depicted in old age with a long white beard and is either holding a Shepard’s hook or founder’s staff and is sometimes depicted with a rosary in his hands. A lamb emerging alive from a lit-up furnace is often depicted in his representations, as an identifier. Saint Francis is shown in Figure 1 with a brown Franciscan robe with a large hood that covers his head. He is depicted in old age with a white beard. In his hand, he holds a walking stick or crutch rather than his traditional staff. A burst of flame is shown over his left breast and light is emanating from behind his head. To Francis’ left, there is a lamb coming out alive of a lit fire, which is a nod to one of his miracles. Elevated to the left of his body is the word Caridad. In relation to retablo on Figure 2, little is changed composition wise. Rather than a walking stick, he is holding his traditional staff and is clutching a rosary in his right hand against a hilly landscape. The retablo Figure 3 shows compositional differences regarding the landscape, portraying only a half-length figure of the saint with his attributes of the flamed Caridad engulf in clouds on the upper right corner, the rosary, the walking stick and two flames coming out of his upper torso.

Figure 1. Saint Francis of Paola / San Francisco de Paula

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 13¾ x 10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1998.1.1.

Figure 2. Saint Francis of Paola / San Francisco de Paula

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1996.2.5.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K. Neidich.

Figure 3. Saint Francis of Paola / San Francisco de Paula

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 14¾ x 9¾”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1968.1.120.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K. Neidich.

References

Attwater, Donald. A Catholic Dictionary. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1949.

Herbermann, Charles G., Ward A. Pace, Thomas J. Shahan, Conde B. Pallen, and John J.

Wynne, eds. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Saints. New York, NY: Harpercolins Publishers Inc, 2001.

Tylenda, Joseph N. Saints of the Liturgical Year: Brief Biographies. Washington, D.C.:  

Georgetown University Press, 1989.

Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil, and Charles Muir Lovell, eds. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.