Jacopone da Todi’s Religious Poetry
By Carly Besh
Jacopone da Todi was a vast array of constant divisions; from being labeled a mystic, a poet, a saint, and a heretic or even sane or insane is all now subject to interpretation. Even questions of his veneration are disputed, through the Romantic period he was judged as a ‘poeta mancuto’ meaning he was unworthy for the title of a poet, while later in the 20th century he was named a ‘grande poeta’ by our contemporaries. Jacopone da Todi’s corpus of works left a lasting impression on Franciscan religious poetry in Italian intellectual history. (Louise, 1996)
Jacopone was born circa 1230 in the town of Todi, which is settled atop the hills in Perugia. Born into a minor noble family, he did not endure many adversities during his adolescent years and was well cultured. With his education and rank he became a lawyer and notary, and enjoyed a decently well paying job. In his mid-thirties he was ready to settle down and found the young and beautiful Lady Vanna di Bernardino di Guidone. (Vettori, 2009) After a little time of marriage, as members of high aristocratic society they were dining out and the ceilings floorboards fell onto Lady Vanna, and killed her. Upon her death, he discovered she had been wearing a penitent’s hair shirt. This shock of her death, and the discovery that she was devout to God has been thought to trigger his conversion into a religious friar. (Bruce, 1982)
Jacopone was alive during a turbulent political and religious era in Italian history. Years prior to his birth, Saint Francis of Assisi was revolutionary in his creation of a new order following the words of Matthew 10:9; words that emphasized a person to renounce one’s earthly possessions and following a path of poverty. The first and second orders follow strict adherence to poverty, celibacy and obedience whilst the third order practiced the three fold rule of simplicity, chastity and obedience. St. Francis gained official recognition of his order of eleven disciplines by Pope Innocent III in the year 1209. Following Saint Francis death in 1226, his order was split into two factions, the “Spirituals”(I zelanti) and the “Conventuals”. (Hughes, Hughes, & Zolla, 1982)
The Conventuals were attempting to change the word of St. Francis and lower the extent of poverty that he had preached. They wished for the availability to small amount of ownership of property and use of material comforts. Jacopone quickly converted into the third-fold rule of simplicity, chastity and obedience after the death of his wife, but only after a couple of years was allowed to officially become a friar. While risky, Jacopone was outspoken on the Spiritual side and was clearly opposed to the new current pope, Pope Boniface VIII and the corruption of the Church. He was opinionated and spoke freely about his accusations of the new Pope’s greed for power. The blunt criticisms of Pope Boniface VIII lead towards Jacopone da Todi’s excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1298. The pope sent him to solitary confinement and due to his excommunication he has not been canonized or beatified by the Catholic Church. He was released in 1303 and upon liberation he resided in the convent of San Lorenzo of Collazzone where he passed away. His body was moved, and taken back to his hometown in Todi, and his remains are placed in the San Fortunato church. (Bruce, 1982)
Jacopone da Todi’s religious poetry corpus is mainly in the Italian vernacular, distinctly using the Umbrian dialect. He wrote around 100 poems, that were very personal and for the use of local friars. He is one of the more famous known poets before Dante Alighieri time, who also wrote in the Italian vernacular, and was made famous by his work called the Divine Comedy. Few texts are available of Jacopone works due to the controversy and difficulties determining his authorship. His poems are written in lauda, the form of sacred songs in Italian. Characterized by unique rhyming schemes, and stanzas. Most of his poetry writings take shape as free-form worship and are characterized by devotional praise. (Vettori, 2009)
According to Giuseppe Ungaretti, a contemporary modern Italian poet, Jacopone distinctively wrote into three different categorizes. (Louise, 1996)The first category was autobiographical poetry with links to the matter of death. This was most likely due to the sad untimely death of his wife. This sadness and grievance was portrayed in his early poetry. The second category which Ungaretti puts Jacopone’s work into is that of ‘political satire and lyrical verse’. These texts were written during Jacopone’s outspoken time, and where he ultimately landed himself excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The third and final category was that of ‘poesia pura’, meaning direct expression of the soul. He wrote these poems while imprisoned by Pope Boniface the VIII. (Vettori, 2009)
Works under the first category include “Love, beloved Love, why have You left me”, “Why do you wound me, cruel charity…?” which are both carefully written in meter, and rhyme yet the pitch and tone is fairly inconsistent. His most famous piece of poetry that I believe would fit into this category would be “Lady of the Heaven” that is written in the form of a dialogue between the Virgin Mary and Jesus during his Crucifixion. This is well known since it was instrumental in the development in medieval dramas along the Italian peninsula. (Hughes, Hughes, & Zolla, 1982)
For the second category on political satire and lyrical verse, Jacopone stays on the same subject of Crucifixion and the Virgin Mary in the poem titled, “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” which is deeply moving with verses such as ,“Christ above in torment hangs, she beneath beholds the pangs of her dying glorious Son” It has been a focal point in Jacopone’s works, one of the few that has been popularly set to music by various composers. Examples of his work in the third category, classified by ‘poesia pura’, would be like the title” Lady Poverty, burning with charity, Vast is your dominion!” which focuses on the trueness of poverty and how simplicity brings your sinner soul closer to the Divine. (Louise, 1996)
Jacopone da Todi’s life works have been influential to this day, from Dante to influencing the creation of medieval dramas, to the countless friars and laymen he inspired with his rhythm and verse about the Celestial and metaphysical. Though pushed to the side by academics and intellectuals for many years, he is resurfacing and his poetry is in increasingly gaining popularity. From varying perspectives and reviews, such as ‘poeta mancuto’ and ‘grande poeta’ he remains a much disputed poet. His rhythm and rhyme will continue to leave his readers in awe, and give life to his deeply passionate personality and shed new life unto his loving dedication as a friar, and his exemplary service to God.
Bruce, L. J. (1982). Jacopone Da Todi’s Mystical Pathology . British Medical Journal(Clinical Research Edition) , 285 (6357), 1803-1804. Retrived May 2,2014 from Jstor: http://www.jstor.org/stable/29509095?origin=JSTOR-pdf
Hughes, S., Hughes, E., & Zolla, E. (1982). Jacopone da Todi “The Lauds”. New York, New York: The Missionary Society of St. Paul and Apostle in the State of New York.
Louise, K. V. (1996, June). Jacopone da Todi, Poet and Mystic: A Review of the History of the Criticism. 22 (2), pp. 46-57. Retrieved May 2,2014 from Jstor: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20717272
Lucchi, L. d. (1922). An Anthology of Italian Poems 13th-19th Century. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Vettori, A. (2009, February 20). Jacoponde da Todi. Retrieved February 5, 2014, from The Literary Encyclopdia: http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=5551
The Works of Saint Francis of Assisi
by Brooke Tomsula
Born in 1182 A.D. St. Francis was baptized as Giovanni Di Beradone. His father a merchant who regularly travel to France maintenance Francis. He was raised in an extremely catholic home and attended Catholic school. Well in the military service he was captured by the rival and was imprisoned for a year in Perugia. When released he suffered a year of sickness. During this time he fled to God for comfort and thus the Saint began his simple life entirely devoted to God.
Throughout the second half of St. Francis his life he produced many works, which we are fortunate enough to still have. The majority of his works focus on two major themes: the love of God, and turning from the attractions of this world. The collection of his works includes: 28 Admonitions, letters, and prayers, which are in forms of poetry and hymns. Two of his handwritten works are on a small double-sided parchment, which include The letter to brother Leo and Praises of God and the blessing for brother Leo. Three of his works were written in the Umbrian dialect. They include: The Canticle of the sun, The exhortation of St. Clair and her sisters, and The prayer before the crucifix. There are also letters and six personal prayers in his collection.
The most personal and emotional of his prayers was written on the parchment, given to Brother Leo. Praises of God and the Blessing of Brother Leo. It read;
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May he show his face to you and be merciful to you.
May he turn his countenance to you and give you his peace.
May the Lord bless you, Brother Leo.
It was given to Brother Leo after he believed he had disgraced God, and was extremely depressed. In the rest on the letter it refers to honorable attributes, which mean so much more to God.
The 28 Admonitions were in a style that resemble the book of Proverbs and concentrate on issues that evolved through the growth of the Franciscan order. These I chapters cover topics such as: poverty, chastity, obedience and purity of heart. The first was completed in 1221. It was written to the Saints followers before the official formation of fryers was created. The Rule was never presented to the pope and is the longest and strictest of the 28. The last chapter of a is not the original writing that includes a goodbye message from the saint mirroring Christ’s farewell in the Gospel of John. The 22nd chapter of The Rule was written in 1219 during the time St. Francis believe it is going to die. It includes many of his Testaments. The Rule of 1223, this Admonition primarily deals with the requirements of poverty and seeking out forgiveness. This will was sent to the pope, seeing as it was written after the official establishment of the order, and was approved.
Among his many other works one of his most famous writings is the Canticle of the sun. Also known as praise of the creatures, this religious song is believed to be one of his first works and was originally written in the Umbrian dialect. Supposedly composed in late 1224 is believed that the saint was recovering from sickness in San Domiano when he compose the song. This work primarily rejects man’s worldly attractions and focuses on nature. He regularly acknowledges gods creations as his brothers and sisters, proclaiming his personal ideals of rejecting the materialistic world and affirming his love for “Lady poverty” above all. The song was sung in its entirety for the first time in 1226 A.D. by St. Francis and accompanied by his brothers Angelo and Leo, when the Saint was on his deathbed. The final verse was added just moments before it was sung welcoming “sister death”.
“Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You; through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy those who endure in peace, for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve Him with great humility.”
(St. Fransis, Canticle of the Sun)
There is a beautiful legend attached with this particular song. It is said that the Saint did not write the Canticle down himself due to an eye disease that left him blinded. This legend emphasizes that he uses his inner eye of mine to become even more aware of Gods gift of nature.
Through the writings of St. Francis we can understand his complete devotion to Christ, and the importance of the Passion of His Son. It is also very obvious how much he relied on the Holy Spirit and the enlightenment of God to help him and his order focus on eternity in a world of desire.