The Most Reverend Carlos Trovarelli, OFM Conv., 120th Minister General of the Franciscan Order, visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, on the morning of the 7th of December 2021. He was escorted into the “Manuscripts and Rare Books” curatorial department for a private viewing of one of the most important artifacts in Franciscan history: the “Assisi Missal,” a 12th century illuminated manuscript, also known as the “St. Francis Missal.” This is the “Gospel Book” consulted by St. Francis in 1208 at the Chapel of San Nicolò, near the main square of Assisi, as recorded in the earliest Franciscan sources, including Thomas of Celano and St. Bonaventure.
The Very Rev. James McCurry, OFM Conv., Minister Provincial of Our Lady of the Angels Province, arranged the privileged showing through the museum’s Administrator to the Executive Office – Diane White and its Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts & Curatorial Chair – Dr. Lynley Anne Herbert, and the Conservator of Manuscripts (Head of Book and Paper Conservation) – Abigail Quandt. The museum was genuinely enthusiastic to host the successor of St. Francis and his entourage, which also included the Minister Provincial of the Province of St. Anthony and Bl. James of Strepar in Kraków, Poland -the Very Reverend Fr. Marian Gołąb, OFM Conv., with Fr. Jakub Czajka, OFM Conv. and Fr. Piotr Sarnicki, OFM Conv..
Indeed, Friar Carlos was the third Minister General whom Friar James has escorted to the Walters to see the Missal, preceded by Friar Joachim Giermek, OFM Conv. in 2004, and Friar Marco Tasca, OFM Conv. in 2018.
The museum’s founder, Mr. Henry Walters, purchased the Assisi Missal in the 1920s from an antiquarian book dealer in Frankfurt, Germany. The book had found its way to Germany from the Venetian-controlled Croatia, in the wake of the dissolution of religious libraries after the 19th century unification of the Italian states. Between 2017 and 2020, the Assisi Missal underwent a thorough conservation and restoration of its beechwood cover and goatskin pages.
It should be noted that a 12th century inscription in the Missal specifically identifies the manuscript as a gift from a local nobleman to the San Nicolò chapel in Assisi. Moreover, infrared tests of the liturgical calendar at the back of the Missal indicate that another scribe subsequently added the Feast of St. Francis to the calendar on the 4th of October, at a later time in the Missal’s history.
Following the example of St. Francis, who was accompanied in 1208 by his first two followers Friars Bernard of Quintavalle and Peter of Catania, the current Minister General and his friar-companions examined the three Latin passages which Divine Providence had inspired St. Francis to read, as he practiced a sortes scriptorum opening the Missal three times in honor of the Most Holy Trinity: Mark 10:21 (“Vade…vende..da pauperibus… – Go, sell what you have and give to the poor…”); Luke 9:3 (“Nihil tuleritis in via… – Take nothing on your journey…”); Matthew 16:24 (“Si quis vult post me venire… tollat crucem suam… – If anyone wants to follow me… let him take up his cross…”).
Carefully and prayerfully, Frs. Carlos and James and the friars from Poland read aloud these Latin passages and translated them into English. They were keenly mindful that, more than 800 years earlier, these were the actual three passages on the very same goatskin pages, which inspired St. Francis to compose the Franciscan Rule of Life. The three texts would form the essential core of the oral Rule which the Poverello and his followers presented to Pope Innocent III for papal approval in 1209, a few months after their inspired experience in the Assisi Chapel of San Nicolò.
At the end of the friars’ hour-long visit to the Walters Museum, they sang the Latin anthem “O Patriarcha Pauperum,” invoking St. Francis of Assisi. Standing in front of the Assisi Missal, opened to its illuminated “Te Igitur” folio, the Seraphic Patriarch’s 120th successor, Fr. Carlos, then imparted upon all present – the four friars and the two curators – the ancient “Blessing of St. Francis.” A sacred silence pervaded.
Learn more about the two year conservation effort: Saving the Sacred: Conserving the St. Francis Missal | The Walters Art Museum
Read The Walters Ex Libris: digitized version