Francis gets under way again, accompanied by Brother Leo. Once Francis would have walked but his condition, after a rigorous life and the suffering he was now enduring from the stigmata, meant that he had to ride on a donkey, and the donkey’s owner came to look after man and beast.
Jesus had walked through Palestine for three years before he took to riding on a donkey as he came to Jerusalem for the last time. I am sure we are meant to see the parallel with Francis’ last journey to Assisi. He, too, knew that he was riding to his death.
Image from Strasbourg Cathedral.
Saint Francis departed Città di Castello, to go unto Santa Maria degli Angeli with Friar Leo, and with a good man, who lent him his little ass, whereupon Saint Francis rode.
Now, it came to pass that, by reason of the bad roads and the great cold, they journeyed all day without being able to reach any place where they might lodge; so being constrained by the darkness and by the bad weather, they took shelter beneath the brow of a hollow rock, to avoid the snow and the night which was coming on. And, being in this evil case and also badly clad, the good man, to whom the ass belonged, could not sleep by reason of the cold; wherefore he began to murmur gently within himself and to weep; and almost did he blame Saint Francis, who had brought him into such a place. Then Saint Francis, perceiving this, had compassion upon him, and, in fervour of spirit, stretched out his hand and touched him.
O marvellous thing! as soon as he had touched him with that hand of his, enkindled and pierced by the fire of the Seraph, all the cold left him; and so much heat entered into him, both within and without, that he seemed to be hard by the mouth of a burning furnace; whence being presently comforted in soul and body he fell asleep; and, according to that which he said, he slept more sweetly that night, among rocks and snow until morning, than he had ever slept in his own bed.