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
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. 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.
He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan
Order (once known as the Third 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
After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars
Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. 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
On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor
Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. 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.