First public display in U.S.
Historic 12th and 13th century manuscripts relating to St. Francis of Assisi are going on display starting Dec. 17 at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Borough President Eric Adams announced on Wednesday.
“Friar Francis: Traces, Words and Images,” is the biggest exhibition ever to be held at Borough Hall, and organizers expect it to be a blockbuster. This is the first time these 19 artifacts have left Italy in 700 years, and the exhibit is likely the only opportunity the public will have to view them in the United States. The manuscripts have been on private display at the United Nations since mid-November.
St. Francis of Assisi is called one of the most significant figures in the history of organized religion. Pope Francis, who is scheduled to visit New York City next year, took his papal name in honor of his commitment to the poor.
Born in 1181 into a wealthy family, Friar Francis turned to a life of poverty as a young man, showing a great love of animals and the environment.
BP Adams said the messages in the texts includes “empathy for all creatures and a love for the poor and needy in our society.
“This show is not just for Catholics. St. Francis looked out for the poor and found ways to improve the lives of men and women. These values are the values of One Brooklyn,” Adams said.
The exhibit is part of Adams’ plan to emphasize Brooklyn’s role as an international city, he said. “And there’s no place more international than Borough Hall – it’s the U.N. of Brooklyn.”
Interest in viewing the exhibition has come from across the country as well as abroad, with many planning special pilgrimages to Brooklyn, Adams said.
Many people and organizations worked hard to bring the exhibit to Brooklyn, including the city, the NYPD, the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn and the Associazione Culturale Antiqua, which is organizing the display.
Playing a special role, however, was Joe Chirico of Marco Polo Ristorante, who said he was proud he helped bring the exhibit here.
“I went to Assisi, I saw the exhibition there, I saw the church where St. Francis is buried. My eyes cannot believe what I saw,” Chirico said. “The most beautiful things, the sensation they give you. You see the manuscripts of St. Francis, you see what he did and where he went, what he was thinking about. What the world will be in the future, all the miracles he did.”
“Organizing the exhibition was an emotional experience, as well as a real challenge,” said Antonella Villa of the Associazione Culturale Antiqua. “Working on original St. Francis pieces was like a dream. It’s exciting; it’s history in your hands. We thought we needed a place for the people, because Francis was the man of the people, so [there is no] better place than Brooklyn Borough Hall to let the people come here for free.”
Villa said the exhibit was not about Francis as a saint, but Francis as a friar. “Friar Francis composed the Canticle of the Creatures, the first written document in the old Italian,” she said.
“Other documents are about the Franciscans’ lives — you can find the rule of the Franciscans, donations of the land to build the Basilica of Assisi, donation of the land to bury St. Francis,” she said.
“Needless to say, we are thrilled to have this exhibit here in Brooklyn,” said Brother William Boslet, superior general of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, established in Brooklyn in 1858.
“Many of the values of St. Francis are very appropriate in this day and age,” he said. “St. Francis stood for the common good, brotherhood and peace – values we all need.”
The exhibition is scheduled to run from Wednesday, December 17th until Wednesday, January 14th, and it is free to the general public.