Elias of Cortona

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Elias of Cortona[1] was born, it is said, at Bevilia near Assisi, ca. 1180; he died at Cortona, 22 April 1253. He was among the first to join St. Francis of Assisi in his newly founded Order of Friars Minor.

Chosen by St. Francis of Assisi to administer the Order in his name, he was elected Vicar General of the Order at the Chapter of Pentecost in 1221. He was chosen by Francis despite the fact that he was a lay member of the Order (lay Brother). It fell to him to announce the death of St. Francis in 1226 to the worldwide Order. Elias served in this position until the Chapter of 1227, the first after the founder's death, when he was replaced by Friar John Parenti, Minister Provincial of Spain, who was elected the first Minister General. A great patron of the Franciscans and their official Protector, Cardinal Ugolino had shortly before been elected as Pope, and taken the name of Gregory IX. The new Pope immediately declared his intention to build a splendid church to house the body of the Little Poor Man he had known and venerated. The task for this was entrusted to Brother Elias.

Though Elias had tried for the office of Minister General at the General Chapter of 1230, it was only at the Chapter of 1232 that he was elected. Thus he became, after the founder, the second Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor. Almost immediately, his succession was a point of controversy and created a split within the Order. Some of his fiercest critics were the first companions of Saint Francis, such as the simple Brother Giles, brother Masseus, and Brother Leo, St. Francis' secretary and companion. All of these earlier followers opposed what they saw as an abandonment of St. Francis' beloved commitment to corporate poverty under Elias' initiative. An example of this was the magnificence of the new Basilica of St. Francis and Sacro Convento Elias was designing as the holy founder's resting place. Initially Elias sought the support of St. Clare of Assisi, the first and most loved female follower of St. Francis together with whom he had founded the female 'branch' of the Franciscan Order. She, however, would not receive Elias as she lived in solitude at San Damiano and did not want to be distracted from her contemplative life.

During his administration, Elias worked strenuously to promote the growth of the Order. He dispatched friars to new lands. He authorized the building of large monastic-style residences in the cities, which were to serve as centers of study. This was a departure from the wandering tradition of the Order, with its small and scattered residences or hermitages. This development was to have two consequences. Firstly, it introduced large groups of the growing number of clergy in the Order. This became a source of friction with the local clergy of the cities, as the faithful sought the spiritual services of the friars in preference to their own parish churches. Secondly, there grew a growing distinction between the friars who lived in established communities (convents, thus termed the Conventuals) as opposed to the "Spirituals" who strove to follow Francis' original lifestyle.[2]

About 1238, Pope Gregory sent Elias as an ambassador to the excommunicated Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II; apparently, as a result, Elias became a supporter of the Emperor. A General Chapter of the Order was held in Rome in 1239. From Friar Thomas of Eccleston's account of this Chapter, it appears that one of the chief spokesmen against Elias was Friar Haymo of Faversham. Elias was deposed from the office of Minister General by the Chapter.

After the deposition of Elias, Albert of Pisa, Minister Provincial of England, was elected as Minister General, and Haymo succeeded him as the Minister of the English Province. Albert, however died during the first year of his Generalate, and Haymo was then elected to that office in 1240.

As a consequence of his behaviour, Elias himself received excommunication from Pope Gregory, declared in 1240, in consequence of which he was expelled from the Order. In that same year, Elias definitively embraced the Emperor in his strife with Rome and joined the Emperor's army, riding on a magnificent charger at the siege of Faenza and at that of Ravenna.

Attribution to him of some alchemistic manuscripts[3] is often questioned.

Shortly before his death, Elias was reconciled with both the Holy See and, through the mediation of St. Clare, with the Franciscan Order.

In April 2016, Ave Maria Press published the first-ever popular history about the life of Elias of Cortona, The Enthusiast: How the Best Friend of Francis of Assisi Almost Destroyed What He Started,[4] which America (Jesuit magazine), in its review said "accomplishes a rare feat. It is cautious even as it is bold and daring."[5]


  1. ^ Elia Coppi, Elias Cortonensis, Elias Bonusbaro/Bombarone, Brother Elias
  2. ^ "History of the Franciscan Movement (1)". www.christusrex.org. 
  3. ^ E.g. in Mellon Collection: Database of alchemical manuscripts. Related to Helias: Ms. 29 (ca. 1525); Ms. 7 - first script (ca. 1440)
  4. ^ Sweeney, Jon M. (8 April 2016). The Enthusiast: How the Best Friend of Francis of Assisi Almost Destroyed What He Started. Ave Maria Press. ASIN 1594716013. ISBN 978-1594716010. 
  5. ^ "Friend of Francis". 18 August 2016. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Giovanni Parenti
Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor
1232 – 1239
Succeeded by
Albert of Pisa