An Umbrian Choir Legend - 471 


Among the least known and the more puzzling early texts about Francis of Assisi is a brief two-part piece entitled quite simply: An Umbrian Choir Legend.1 Designated a liturgical piece, it is unique in the way it treats the events of the last two years of Francis's life, death and burial, canonization, and the transferal of his body to the newly built basilica in his honor; and, in the second section, in the way it presents twenty-three miraculous events in such a haphazard way.

The author of the work is unknown, as is his audience. Although there are two manuscript collections of the fourteenth century in which it can be found, only the manuscript found in the Biblioteca Communale in Terni, in the Province of Umbria, Italy, contains the entire work. Since that manuscript also contains statutes for the Province of Friars Minor in Umbria, as well as a list of its hermitages, the work became identified as "An Umbrian Choir Legend."

The presence in the text of the Thomas of Celano "Trilogy," that is, the The Life of Saint Francis, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, and The Treatise on the Miracles of Saint Francis, means that the work must have been written after 1253 or May 31, 1254 when the friars at the Chapter of Metz approved The Treatise of the Miracles of Saint Francis. It would have been completed before the Chapter of Narbonne in 1260 when the friars asked Bonaventure to compile a new, definitive legend. Placing An Umbrian Choir Legend in this span prompts questions about the motivation behind it. Two major themes suggest possible reasons.

A careful examination of the first two paragraphs of An Umbrian Choir Legend reveals the presence of earlier descriptions of the events on LaVerna, those of Thomas of Celano and Julian of Speyer. Most striking is the emphasis placed on the description of the stigmata and, despite Francis's attempts to keep them hidden, the identification of those who actually saw or touched the wound in his side, Elias and Rufino. This emphasis might not seem significant were it not for the hesitation of many within the Order to believe in the miracle, a hesitation that became more pronounced as the direct witnesses began to die.2 A thirteenth century Assisi manuscript contains a list, drawn up in 1237, of those who saw the stigmata during and after the death of the saint.3 In The Treatise on the Miracles of Saint Francis, 10, Thomas of Celano mentions a brother beset by doubts about the stigmata, and shortly thereafter Thomas of Eccleston tells of Brother Bonizio at the Chapter of Genoa in 1254 telling the brothers of the stigmata.4 By 1259, six papal documents had been promulgated denouncing those who denied the stigmata, all of whom were outside the Order.5 An Umbrian Choir Legend may have been written against the background of this skepticism and, while presenting in a succinct way the




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, p. 471