Blessed Jacopone of Todi

Franciscan Poet (1230–1306)
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Jacopone Benedetti was a prosperous lawyer in the Umbrian town of Todi. His life took a tragic turn when his young wife was killed in an accident. His world in ruins and his ambitions laid bare, Jacopone quit his profession, gave away all his belongings, and became a public penitent—to all appearances, a kind of wandering fool. For ten years he maintained this life of aimless poverty and penance. Then, at the age of forty-eight, he knocked on the door of the Franciscans and applied for admission.  

Remarkably, in joining the Franciscans he found a new voice as a poet, indeed one of the great lyric poets of the Middle Ages. In the passionate language of love, his mystical poems described the soul’s yearning for Christ. But they retained a mournful undertone, the accent of a faith born in loss. This is evident in his most famous poem, the Stabat Mater Dolorosa, a heartbreaking meditation on the sorrows of Mary standing at the foot of the Cross.  

Jacopone was a leader of the Spirituals, a Franciscan party dedicated to the most radical form of apostolic poverty. The Spirituals ran into conflict with the worldly Pope Boniface VIII, whose legitimacy they challenged. After addressing a bitter manifesto to the pope, Jacopone was imprisoned for five years. Only after Boniface’s death was he freed to live out the rest of his life as a hermit. He died on Christmas Day in 1306. 

“Here lie the bones of Jacopone of Todi, Friar Minor, who, having gone mad with love of Christ, by a new artifice deceived the world and took heaven by violence.” —Inscription on the tomb of Blessed Jacopone of Todi 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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