The Marian Antiphon of Francis Bernardone

by Sr Ruth Agnes Evans, Tau Publishing, £14

First, what a wonderful title. This might be a novel, a collection of poems, a work of history or even musicology. In reality, The Marian Antiphon of Francis Bernardone is a meditation on a work of devotional literature composed by St Francis.

In the late 1980s, Sr Ruth Agnes Evans was a Poor Clare novice struggling to live out her loss of access to the world, while also trying to make personal connections with the founder and foundress of her order, St Francis and St Clare. More specifically, she was finding it hard to relate to Francesco Bernardone, the son of a rich merchant who abandoned his prospects of worldly success and embraced poverty so extreme that it shocked his contemporaries and damaged his health. He embraced “the experience of derision; of hunger, cold, rejection”. Sr Ruth “badly needed a way into the man’s mind”.

The way was opened when she came across The Office of the Passion, composed by St Francis by rearranging psalm phrases from the Latin Vulgate. In doing so, he created the “impression that we are hearing Jesus speak as he moves through the most critical events of his life”.

Sr Ruth found herself mesmerised by the Office, so “unassuming and slow to divulge its meaning”. Francis “repeated his own created psalms to himself over and over again in the course of his travels”.

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