Jacopone of Todi (1278-1293) - 872 

Vernacular Poetry

Jacopone of Todi (1278-1293)

Jacopo was born into the prominent family of the Benedetti sometime between 1230 and 1236 in the Umbrian hill town of Todi.a An ambitious young man, he was settling into a prosperous career as a notary [a profession that combined elements of law and accounting], when his wife died tragically in 1268. This traumatic experience led to a profound religious conversion: totally rejecting his former life, Jacopo became an independent lay penitent (bizzocone). His "crazed," unconventional behavior, wandering about the streets as a ragged giullare di Dio ("minstrel of God"), gave rise to his popular nickname of Jacopone. In 1278 he entered the Lesser Brothers, where he soon became a vocal spokesman of the Spiritual Franciscans. Like many other Spirituals, Jacopone was distraught at the policies of Pope Boniface VIII, and was one of the signers of the Longhezza Manifesto of 1297, which challenged the validity of the Pope's election. Boniface soon routed the forces opposing him, however, and Jacopone was condemned to life imprisonment in an underground cell in Todi. Released in 1303 by Boniface's successor, Benedict XI, Jacopone spent his last years with the small brother community attached to the monastery of the Poor Clares in Collazzone, where he died in 1306.

Jacopone's fame rests on the prodigious number of devotional poems or lauds which he composed to give expression to his passionate love of God. Collected by admirers later in the century, these lauds, once dismissed by literary critics as rough-hewn, are now generally recognized as one of the greatest manifestations of medieval Italian lyric poetry. The lauda spirituale was the major form of non-liturgical religious song in medieval Italy.b Its origins probably go back to lay people who were caught up in the reform monastic movements of the late eleventh and twelfth centuries. Wishing to join in the praise of God, they gathered in private homes to sing simplified Latin hymns commemorating the major festivals of the liturgical year. In the thirteenth century, the singing of lauds became a prominent feature of the resurgent lay penitential movement. The form of the laud soon reflected this environment. Now mainly composed in the vernacular rather than in Latin, they expressed themes reflecting popular affective piety rather than more staid liturgical




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 872