Chiara Mercuri argues a strong thesis: that the Francis that we are familiar with, the Francis of the catechism and of popular anecdote, does not even vaguely take into account the complexity of the real person. And, she argues, this has a specific cause, namely that Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, a successor of Francis in the leadership of the Franciscan Order, invented the story of "another" Francis. Mercuri condemns not so much the different direction the Order took after Francis's death, as the attempt by the "learned friars," of whom Bonaventure was the highest representative, to deny that they were transforming the Order, asserting instead their continuity with Francis's Rule of Life, at the price of literally having to rewrite Francis's biography. They undertook, then, to wipe out any trace of the testimony of Francis's companions and to impose a new, ethereal, almost disembodied image of Francis.
"The damage," she writes, "did not in fact result only from the Francis who was denied, but from the one who was affirmed. This is the one who still today continues to influence what we know about him, in such an effective manner that we are not conditioned by what we do not know about him. The image we know is that of an uncultured friar who knew no guile, an ecstatic and meek mystic, a man in dialogue with animals much more than with his fellows. Those who saw him speak and act, who remained at his side in his moments of hope and despair, the 'we who were with him'--told his story, however, in quite a different way."
From this point of departure, Mercuri guides the reader with wisdom and clear scholarship through the complexities of the social, family, religious, and economic dynamic of the Middle Ages, with a process of concentric circles that start with single events in the life of Francis and then broaden out to a wider context, giving the reader a full understanding of the events, always plunged into the reality of the time. Her clear and concise explanations reinterpret well-known concepts under a different lens.
Mercuri convinces us of her position that the unpublished character of Francis is the true one. Indeed, the devotion of the friars who were closest to him, and their desire to emulate him and to hand down an authentic written record of him against Bonaventure's orders--writings rediscovered only in the nineteenth century, have allowed us to regain a more genuine portrait of the founder of the Order of the Friars Minor.
(Credit: This book description has borrowed elements of an article by Carolina Pernigo in the online magazine CriticaLetteraria, dated April 20, 2018: https: //www.criticaletteraria.org/2018/04/mercuri-francesc-d-assisi-laterza.html)