The Saint and the Sultan

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-09-29
  • Publisher: Image
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Moses tells the dramatic, intriguing story of the extraordinary, and little-known, meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Islamic leader Sultan Malik al-Kamil--and its significance in today's divided world.

Author Biography

Paul Moses, former Newsday city editor and senior religion writer, is a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He was the lead writer on a Newsday team that won the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Maureen.


Part one
The Road to Damietta

Chapter One:
Outfitted to Kill

The young man who would one day be known as Saint Francis of Assisi was clad in armor and mounted on a warhorse. It is a difficult image to imagine. Artists have long shied away from putting a lance in hands better known for caressing birds. But as the extravagant son of one of his city’s wealthiest merchants, Francis would have bedecked himself for battle in the finest style of the day as Assisi prepared to war with Perugia, its hated neighbor to the west. The city’s increasingly powerful merchants had risen up against the local noblemen who often stood in their way, driving them to seek refuge in Perugia. It was now up to the merchants and their sons to defend the city against the belligerent Perugians, who were eager to use the dispute as an excuse to go to war with weaker Assisi.

On that day in November 1202 when Pietro di Bernardone’s son mounted his steed and bade farewell to the women of Assisi, there could be little trace of the poverty he would later embody. Francis would have worn the coat of chain mail known as a hauberk as well as the chain hood, gauntlets, and leggings. (The plated armor that would later symbolize the era of chivalry was not yet in use at the start of the thirteenth century.) Since Francis dealt in fine fabrics in his father’s business and was very fond of fashion and chivalry, it is sure that he was arrayed to be the very image of knighthood, wearing a striking tunic of the best fabric over his armor.

More to the point, he was outfitted to kill.

Shops were closed and bells rang out as the troops paraded through the center of Assisi and out beyond the fortified city walls. The soldiers’ procession led past their beloved Cathedral of San Rufino, where Francis and so many others in Assisi’s army had been baptized. The beautiful Romanesque facade of the cathedral was adorned with a vision of the Apocalypse in carved stone figures of a crowned God between star and moon; a Madonna on her throne; and assorted writhing dragons and hideous reptilian birds. The doorway was guarded on each side by stone lions: one was mauling a ram, and the other eating a peasant alive, starting with the head. Eight-year-old Chiara Offreduccio, the future Saint Clare, grew up in a house on the piazza in front of San Rufino but was not home that day. Her aristocratic family had fled town to be safe from the likes of Francis and other merchants who had risen up in anger against the noblemen in a civil war.

The cathedral held the remains of a martyr who was drowned in a river in 238 for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods. The cult of Rufino, the first bishop of Assisi, had long inspired Assisians in their ancient rivalry with Perugia. One story Francis and his compatriots would have known concerned the cathedral’s construction during the twelfth century. It was said that the Perugians ambushed some workers and seized a prized oak beam. When the beam proved to be so heavy that even a team of oxen couldn’t budge it, the Perugians saw that the hand of God was against them and gave up.

In the war against Perugia, oxen pulled the carroccio, a rolling altar that symbolized the wedding of war and religion in the minds of the people. It was decked not in liturgical splendor but in the city colors of red and blue. It carried Assisi’s flag and a bell used to alert residents to be ready for battle. The carroccio epitomized the “God and commune” faith Francis was raised in, one that merged Christianity with political aims often contradictory to it—such as fighting a war for economic advantage.

The colorful altar followed an army of archers and foot soldiers, troops from the various craft guilds, and finally the cavaliers. Francis rode with the Compagnia dei Cavalieri, noblemen and merchants wealthy enough to afford horse and armor. History re

Excerpted from The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace by Paul Moses
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