The Versified Life of Saint Francis (after 1283) - 77 


A manuscript in the Municipal Library of Versailles written during the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century contains what seems at first glance to be The Versified Legend of Henri d'Avranches (+1262/3). Unfortunately, the manuscript has been poorly preserved: many pages are difficult, if not impossible to decipher; others are simply missing so that the work ends abruptly with the fifty-fourth verse of its ninth book. This is more lamentable when it becomes apparent that the work is, in many ways, a rewriting of Henri's masterpiece recast in light of Bonaventure's Major Legend.

The last addition to Henri's work, an incident involving Brother Raymond, a writer, that took place in Cahors, suggests that the author was a member of the Lesser Brothers of the Province of Aquitaine or close to them.1 The anonymous author may well have followed Matthew of Vendôme's Ars Versificatoria, a twelfth century work providing guidelines for putting works of prose into poetic verse.2 His attempts are evident in the reworking of the titles of each book of the Versified Legend. Instead of Henri's usual four-line verse, his follower reduces each title to two, crafting each title to reflect not the theology of Thomas of Celano but that of Bonaventure of Bagnoregio. Throughout the nine books of his work, he transposes some of Henri's passages, changes others, and omits and adds still more. While some passages reveal a clever hand, the overall set of additions and variations do not offer the brilliance of breadth of knowledge as Henri's earlier Versified Legend. They do provide, however, an insight into the influence of Bonaventure's Major Legend.

Since the Prologue to his work contains references not only to Bonaventure but to his becoming a cardinal, the work was obviously undertaken after 1273. The fact that it contains passages taken directly from Bernard of Besse's Book of Praises places the work after 1283, a date confirmed by the age of the Versailles manuscript.


1. Cf. AF X, liv.

2. Matthew of Vendôme, Ars Versificatoria [The Art of the Versemaker], translated with an intro- duction by Roger P. Parr (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1981).




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3, p. 77