St Francis of Assisi, mystic, stigmatic and founder of the Franciscans, has come to seem uncontroversial, a saint for ecologists, socialists and animal lovers as well as Christians of all denominations. Until his rediscovery by the Victorians, Francis was firmly associated with Roman Catholic doctrine, obedience to the papacy, participation in crusades and distinctively Catholic mystical phenomena. This article argues that Faber’s, Oliphant’s and Sabatier’s nineteenth-century Lives of St Francis opened the way for his appropriation by the general British public. The resulting denominational competition over the saint stimulated a boom in St Francis’ popularity but also led to his piecemeal secularisation.
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