St Bernadine of Siena was a great Franciscan missionary and preacher, often called the Apostle of Italy. He was born near Siena in 1380 into a noble family, but his father died when he was only six years old. When he was 20 he volunteered to care for the victims of the plague in Siena’s main hospital. When he was 22 he gave away his inheritance and joined the Franciscans, being ordained a priest two years later in 1404.
We know little of his life for the next dozen or so years, but in 1417 he emerged as an eloquent preacher, moving from city to city and urging his listeners to repent and follow the way of Jesus. He never stayed in one place for more than a few weeks, and he always travelled on foot. The crowds were at times so great that it became necessary to erect a pulpit in the market-place.
He preached with great freedom, criticizing nobility and bankers alike, denouncing vice and vanity. Bernardino asked his listeners to abstain from blasphemy, indecent conversation, and games of hazard, and to observe feast days. “Bonfires of vanities” were held where he preached, and people threw mirrors, high-heeled shoes, perfumes, locks of false hair, cards, dice, chessmen, and other frivolities on the fire. Above all, however, he preached peace. He was accused of heresy by his enemies and his sermons were scrutinized by the Pope and his officials. After he was cleared of these accusations, he was asked to be a bishop of many cities, but he declined all such invitations.
In later life he worked assiduously for the reform of the Franciscans and for reconciliation in the Church through the Council of Florence. In 1444, while on a mission to Naples, he preached for 50 consecutive days. He died that year at L’Aquila in the Abruzzi, lying on the bare ground. He was 64 years old. According to tradition, his grave continued to leak blood until two factions of the city achieved reconciliation.
He was canonized in 1450, only six years after his death.