“Bring me the delicious almond cookies
that you prepared for me when I was ill in Rome.”
Saint Francis to “Brother” Jacoba, as he lay dying
There is one story about Saint Francis that deserves more attention – his beloved Roman friend, Giacoma Frangipane de Settesoli, also known as Lady or Brother Jacoba.
Francis seems to have met this wealthy woman who provided him with a place to stay while in Rome. She provided some land that the friars used as a hospice lepers. She later helped the Franciscans obtain the property that his now the church of San Francesco a Ripa Grande.
She was a great friend of Francis and arrived at the Porziuncula as Francis was dying. As Augusting Thompson writes in Francis of Assisi: a new biography:
“No outside visitors were permitted to see Francis, with one exception, a woman whose importance to him is known only from the stories told about the days immediately before his death. She was Jacoba de’ Settesoli, a matron of means from a prominent Roman family. Perhaps this woman belonged to the circle of pious Roman women that included the recluse Sister Pressede, of whom Francis was also very fond. Jacoba had provided Francis with lodging during his visits to Rome, and he remembered her with great fondness. She was probably the only woman with whom Francis ever developed a close friendship, one so close that he even called her a “brother” and excepted her from the rules excluding women from the cloister. He asked the brothers to send her a message, informing her of his impending death. He asked that she prepare him a gray shroud for burial, modeled on the burial robe used for monks of the Cistercian Order. In a moment of nostalgia, Francis also asked her to send him some of the confection of almonds and honey that the Romans called mostacciolo that she used to make for him during his visits.
“In fact, word of Francis’s decline had already reached Jacoba. Before his message could even be sent, she arrived at the friary. Asked what to do about the arrival of a woman, Francis, as in the past, told them that the rule of cloister did not apply to her, especially since she had traveled so far to see him. As it turned out, she had already bought gray cloth for the shroud, incense and wax for the funeral rites, and all the ingredients needed to make the mostacciolo. The brothers took her offerings to make the shroud and funeral candles. She prepared the confection, but Francis was now so sick that he could hardly eat any of it.”
Francis, ascetic though he was, did not hesitate to be close friends with a rich Roman woman, nor was he loathe to ask her to bring a special almond treat that she had prepared for him when he was sick in Rome. This was the man who would spread ashes on his food so that he would not enjoy it too much!
Francis, welcoming sister death, also welcomed “Brother” Jacoba and recognized the right of a righteousness woman to be present in the cloister where he was dying.
Brother Jacoba is an example of a woman who lived in the world but as a member of the Order of Penance (the lay Franciscans) did not hesitate to serve the poor and God’s people.
She is buried in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, close to the tomb of the saint who inspired her and who loved her almond treats.
The photo of Giotto’s Death of St. Francis in the church of Santa Croce in Florence was taken in February 2013.
The image of Frate Jacopa is from the website of the church of San Francesco a Ripa Grande