Legenda Maior: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi

Alternate Titles:

Legenda Maior: Das Leben des Heiligen Franz von Assisi

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Alternate Titles

Legenda Maior: Das Leben des Heiligen Franz von Assisi

Extent / Format

148 pages / 22.0 x 16.5 cm

13th century
Artist / School

Author: Saint Bonaventure, San Bonaventura (1221-1274)
Illustrations: School of Giotto


164 miniatures

Short description

The Legenda Maoir is the only account of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi that is considered to be authentic and authoritative. The significant manuscript was first composed in the year 1263 by the influential philosopher and theologian Bonaventura and was furnished with wonderful illustrations. The pictures are clearly influenced by the scenic frescoes of the saint’s life, which were made in Assisi by the famous painter Giotto.

Facsimile editions available


Legenda Maior: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi was the founder of the Order of the Friars Minor, which was named the Franciscan Order after him. He is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The life of the saint has been the subject of countless manuscripts, books, and paintings, as well as present-day films and television shows. An impressive literary work was composed in the 13th century, which is dedicated to this important personality. It is the so-called Legenda Maoir, which was written by the philosopher and theologian Bonaventura and was furnished with 164 breath-taking miniatures. The pictures originate from the artistic circle of the world-famous painter Giotto.

An Important Author

The comprehensive biography of Saint Francis of Assisi was composed around 1263 by Giovanni di Fidanza, also known as Bonaventura. Bonaventura lived from 1221 to 1274 and was one of the most significant philosophers and theologians of scholasticism, Minister General of the Franciscans, and Cardinal of Albano. He headed the Franciscan Order for 17 years until his death. He was named a saint by Pope Sixtus IV on April 14th, 1482 and in 1588, he was declared a Doctor of the Church and given the accolade Doctor seraphicus by Pope Sixtus V. Bonaventura was one of the most historically influential scholastic theologians. Pope Leo XIII described him as “a prince among mystics”, and his Legenda Maior is probably the most important work of the great scholars.

An Authentic Record trove

The Legenda Maior came to be at the behest of the general chapter of the Franciscans. It was to be a description of the life of Francis of Assisi and was meant to be considered the only authentic biography of Francis. After its completion, the text was considered to be a binding set of rules for the life of the order’s brothers and the reading of every other vita about the saint was strictly prohibited. With his work, Bonaventura steered the Franciscans onto a moderate and lasting course, which would earn him the reputation as the “second founder of the order”. He reconciled the disciples’ strict poverty with their more relaxed outlook on life, between which a conflict had long endured, and which is known as the poverty controversy. The Legenda Maoir can be considered the most significant manuscript that was ever composed in the Order of the Friars Minor.

Visual Adornment of the Highest Quality

The 164 stunningly beautiful illustrations of the Legenda Maior were made in the artistic circle of the famous painter Giotto. Giotto created his first work in Assisi, where he designed frescoes for the upper church of the Basilica di San Francesco. Here he depicted the life of Saint Francis of Assisi in 28 image scenes. In his depictions, he followed the Legenda written by Bonaventura, whose texts were rendered under the frescoes. The illustrations of the important manuscript are clearly oriented on Giotto’s artwork in Assisi. The pictures are among the most outstanding creations of medieval illumination. For the first time, a dimension of depth was produced with landscapes in the background and various architectural structures. Figures were not static and flat next to one another, but rather were pictured overlapping one another through gestures, posture, and line of sight. They demonstrate individuality and were depicted softer, more human and realistic than was ever the case before.

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