The story of Jacopone da Todi, also known as “Crazy Jim,” is a tale of profound transformation and devotion. Originally living a life of worldly excess, Jacopone’s perspective drastically changed following a tragic event involving his young wife, Vanna. During a public tournament, Vanna, who had been doing penance for Jacopone’s sins, died when the stands they were sitting on collapsed. This incident profoundly affected Jacopone, leading him to a path of radical change.

In response to this personal tragedy, Jacopone gave away his possessions to the poor and joined the Secular Franciscan Order, also known as the Third Order. Despite facing mockery and being labeled as a fool by his former peers, Jacopone embraced the derogatory name ‘Jacopone’ and continued his life of strict penance. After ten years of living in humility, he sought to join the Order of Friars Minor (First Order). Initially rejected due to his reputation, Jacopone’s eloquent poem on worldly vanities eventually secured his admission into the Order in 1278.

Jacopone’s life continued to be marked by strict penance and humility, as he declined ordination as a priest and devoted himself to writing hymns in the vernacular. His journey took a dramatic turn when he became a leading figure in the Spirituals movement within the Franciscans, which advocated for a return to the strict poverty of St. Francis. This stance put him at odds with the Church hierarchy, leading to his excommunication and imprisonment at the age of 68 under Pope Boniface VIII. It wasn’t until Pope Benedict XI’s tenure that Jacopone was released and absolved, five years later.

Accepting his imprisonment as a form of penance, Jacopone spent his remaining years in deep spirituality, lamenting that “Love is not loved.” During this period, he composed the renowned Latin hymn “Stabat Mater.” His life reached a poetic end on Christmas Eve in 1306 at a convent of the Poor Clares, where he passed away singing one of his favorite songs, just as the midnight Mass commenced. Jacopone da Todi’s legacy continues, and he has been venerated as a saint since his death.

Photo credit: Sailko via Wikimedia Commons

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