Brother Elia of Cortona
Elias was born in Assisi around 1180, but is known as Elias of Cortona because he lived for a long time in that Tuscan town, where he died in 1253. He studied law in Assisi then Bologna and was endowed with particular organisational skills.
Having entered the Franciscan Order, he soon became the minister provincial of the East. He was greatly respected by Francis, who took him back with him to Italy after his journey to the Holy Land, and appointed him as his Vicar.
After St. Francis death, Elias distinguished himself for his direction of the vast building works for the Basilica of San Francesco, and from 1232 to 1239 he was Minister General of the Order. Elias was a lay friar (not a priest), and as Minister General he continued to encourage the entry of laymen into the order. This aroused strong opposition from many priest friars and ministers provincial whose aim was instead rapid clericalisation. Another reason for their opposition was the marked centralisation of the Order, which penalised the single provincial organisations. Elias was for a long time St. Clare’s main supporter in her struggle to remain faithful to the teaching of Francis, in which she insistently asked the Pope for recognition of the “privilege of high poverty”.
After standing down as Minister General, Elias retired to Cortona, to the hermitage of Le Celle. He took a stand in the great struggle between the papacy and the empire, substantially supporting the political programme of Frederick II of Swabia. This was the main reason that led to his excommunication. Just a few days before his death he obtained a pardon for the “political sins” he had committed.