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The Catholic Defender: Blessed Jacopone da Todi

About the year 1230 a son was born to the noble family of the Benedetti at Todi in northern Italy. He received the name of Giacomo (Jacomo) or James in baptism.

Jacomo or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna.

At the same time Blessed Jacopone of Todi was very proud, vain, and worldly-minded. His young wife Vanna, on the other hand, was humble, devout, and generous. She regretted the worldly disposition of her husband, and endeavored to make amends before God for many of his failings.

His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament.

One day in 1268, yielding to the wish of her husband, she attended a public tournament which was being held at Todi. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the stand in which she and many other noble women were seated, collapsed, and she was fatally injured. When her clothes were removed, it was seen that she wore about her waist a penitential girdle.

She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life.

James was deeply shaken at the sight. It was surely for me, he thought to himself, that she was doing such penance.On the spot Blessed Jacopone of Todi resolved to abandon the vanities of the world, to live in extreme poverty, and for Christ’s sake to become a fool.

And for a decade Jacopo performed strange public penances in the streets of Todi. Once, for example, he crawled through the center of town wearing a donkey’s harness. Children made fun of him, calling him “Jacopone,” which means “Big Jimmy,” a nickname that stuck for life.

He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Third Order. Clothed in rags, he went about the streets of the city, an object of derision to the children and horror to the adults, laughed at and mocked as a fool and despised as a penitent by many who had once admired him as a learned and prominent man. In derision he was given the name of Jacopone, that is,

Jacomo divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order. Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or “Crazy Jim,” by his former associates. The name became dear to him.

After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be received into the Order of Friars Minor. Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused.

In 1278, Jacopone became a lay brother in a Franciscan community in Umbria.

He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile, he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular.

Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis.

They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII.

At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later.

He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping “because Love is not loved.” During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, Stabat Mater.

he vigorously opposed Pope Boniface VIII, the champion of the Conventuals. Thus, when the pope suppressed the Spirituals in 1297, Jacopone landed in prison, where he stayed six years. After Pope Boniface VIII died in 1303, Jacopone was released. He lived the rest of his life quietly at a convent of Poor Clares near Todi. He died there on Christmas Day in 1306.

Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed “Sister Death” with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the “Gloria” from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.

Out of humility he declined to be ordained a priest, yet he accomplished much good by his thoughtful and tender hymns, which he wrote in the vernacular.

He was an early pioneer in Italian theatre, being one of the earliest scholars who dramatised Gospel subjects. Born in c 1230 at Todi, Italy as Jacopo Benedetti and died on 25 December 1306 at Collazzone, Italy of natural causes, as the Priest intoned the Gloria from midnight Mass.

The Stabat Mater

At the cross her station keeping,

Stood the mournful Mother weeping,

Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,

All His bitter anguish bearing,

Now at length the sword had pass'd.

Oh, how sad and sore distress'd

Was that Mother highly blest

Of the sole-begotten One!

Christ above in torment hangs;

She beneath beholds the pangs

Of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,

Whelm'd in miseries so deep

Christ's dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain

From partaking in her pain,

In that Mother's pain untold?

Bruis'd, derided, curs'd, defil'd,

She beheld her tender child

All with bloody scourges rent.

For the sins of His own nation,

Saw Him hang in desolation,

Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!

Touch my spirit from above;

Make my heart with thine accord.

Make me feel as thou hast felt;

Make my soul to glow and melt

With the love of Christ our Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through;

In my heart each wound renew

Of my Saviour crucified.

Let me share with thee His pain,

Who for all my sins was slain,

Who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,

Mourning Him who mourn'd for me,

All the days that I may live.

By the cross with thee to stay,

There with thee to weep and pray,

Is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins best,

Listen to my fond request

Let me share thy grief divine.

Let me, to my latest breath,

In my body bear the death

Of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,

Steep my soul till it hath swoon'd

In His very blood away.

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,

Lest in flames I burn and die,

In His awful Judgment day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,

Be Thy Mother my defense,

Be Thy cross my victory.

While my body here decays,

May my soul Thy goodness praise,

Safe in Paradise with Thee.


--Blessed Jacopone da Todi


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