Saint Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco Bernardone; born 1181/1182 - October 3, 1226) was a Catholic deacon and the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans. He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment and Italy, and it is customary for Catholic churches to hold ceremonies honoring animals around his feast day of 4 October.
In 1201, he joined a military expedition against Perugia, he was taken as a prisoner at Collestrada, and spent a year as a captive. It is probable that his conversion to more serious thoughts was a gradual process relating to this experience. Upon his return to Assisi in 1203, Francis returned to his carefree life and in 1204, a serious illness led to a spiritual crisis. In 1205 Francis left for Puglia to enlist in the army of the Count of Brienne. In Spoleto, a strange vision made him return to Assisi, deepening his ecclesiastical awakening.
St Francis of Assisi celebrated Christmas by setting up the first known three-dimensional presepio or crèche (Nativity scene) in the town of Greccio near Assisi, around 1220. He used real animals to create a living scene so that the worshipers could contemplate the birth of the child Jesus in a direct way, making use of the senses, especially sight. Thomas of Celano, a biographer of Francis and Saint Bonaventure both tell how he only used a straw-filled manger (feeding trough) set between a real ox and donkey. According to Thomas, it was beautiful in its simplicity with the manger acting as the altar for the Christmas Mass.
Saint Francis is considered the first Italian poet by literary critics. He believed commoners should be able to pray to God in their own language, and he wrote always in the dialect of Umbria instead of Latin. His writings are considered to have great literary value, as well as religious.