by Benedetta Tintillini
The novel, written by Ginevra Angeli and published by Ugo Bozzi publisher in 2000, is set in medieval times, and is about an handsome and rich young man, John of Assisi, his love for his parents Pica and Pietro Bernardone, his life-changing and how he loses his identity, name, and becomes another man… Francis. The novel about Francis goes over the historical documentation concerning the figure of the saint, and stops when he, no longer named John, left Assisi.
We talk about it with the author Ginevra Angeli.
Interview by Francesco La Rosa
Ginevra, why did you want to write this novel?
It ‘s been a spontaneous thing. I wrote it as if I was just remebering what I knew for a long time, tired of the “Franciscan rhetoric.” Stimulated and inspired by the fun and friendly conversations in the living room with a friend of mine. I wrote it as a novel because a lot of things are not supported by historical documents. In sum, this tale tells of John’s life before becoming Francis. I wrote it for my daughter, in episodes like a fairy tale.
What this man inspired in you?
I felt the charm of a man out of the ordinary since its inception …
Yes, let’s talk about his birth …
The official biographies describe his birth in a cowshed. In fact, in the Franciscan tradition this place was similar to the birth of Jesus one. This oddity made me very curious because surely his family was a wealthy one and therefore it was not eligible for that class to give birth to a baby in a cowshed! Maybe in my novel the most fascinating aspect is its conception and the origin of his life.
What was special about it?
First of all his mother, Pica, as known, had French origins, she was from Provence. Pietro Bernardone met her in one of his business trips in Provence. Pica was a charming woman, intelligent, sensitive to music and arts, and Bernardone, that was not a sophisticated man, agreed to marry her at the invitation of his father. There was a compromise …
How began John’s life?
A few months after Pica and Bernardone arrived in Assisi where the baby that would revolutionize the world was born. The child was baptized in San Rufino in Assisi (there are official documents).
But if he was baptized as Johnwhy he became Francis?
At the end of the book there is a violent clash with his father that was beating him because John had got into the habit of distributing the wealth to the poor. In a fit of rage Bernadone disclaims John as her son, and insults him calling him “con de France”. Virtually revealing the secret between him and Pica, secret that wanted the woman already pregnant. At this point, John, ragged and bare, almost as a liberation accepts the terrible revelation and from that moment comes the etymology of the name Francis.
But in the book you also tell another story, almost unbelievable, concerning John’s brother …
Yes, it’s true. In fact plausible and very curious is the story told involving Constance of Hauteville and his son Frederick II.
Constance wife of Henry VI son of Frederick Redbeard?
Well it’s getting very interesting …
It’s history, Constance of Hauteville stopped at the fortress of Assisi during her journey to reach her husband in Palermo. It ‘also known that Constance despite his nearly 40 years was pregnant by the man who would become heir to the throne of the kingdom of Sicily
How does the life of Francis cross the Constance of Hauteville one?
By accident in Assisi two pregnant women met, Constance and Pica. Pica was very present as maid of honor and was very appreciated for its culture and its refined French language …
The son of Constance unfortunately died because of the severe disabilities, while Pica’s son, born shortly after, was a beautiful child, and it appeared to be quite refined to be son of a king.
You mean that there has been an exchange of children?
In the Middle Ages they used “the rat with violence” for forced adoptions, and Bernardone, with great pain, agreed to all that.
So Francis and the son of Constance were brothers?
In fact, this assumption may be close to historical reality, we can think that Francis is the brother of Henry VI and Constance of Hauteville’s son, the one that one day would become emperor called “stupor mundi” is Frederick II the heir of Frederick Redbeard. And here is a great story of two brothers who were, each with different tasks, great protagonist of the story of humanity.
Would you be willing to deepen this story in an upcoming interview?
With pleasure, I think that the story can be very challenging, but we must not forget that this is a novel I have no claim to tell historical truths.
Last question … This novel was printed years ago, there are still copies on the market?
Unfortunately, the copies were sold out, but I can not exclude a reprint.
For those interested: Ugo Bozzi Editore – Rome tel. +339 06 84 15 702