After a brief period of solitary life, the first followers gathered around Francis: Egidio and Silvestro d’Assisi, Bernardo da Quintavalle, Pietro Cattani and Agnelo Tancredi.
When the first fraternitas had formed around the Rivotorto Hovel, Francis drew up a set of written rules which has not come down to us and set out for Rome with his eleven companions to submit it to the Pope’s approval.
Pope Innocent III, persuaded by a dream in which he saw the St. John Lateran church about to collapse but held up by a young friar, granted his approval but only verbally, enjoining Francis to “preach penitence to all”. In 1212 the brotherhood had increased considerably and settled at the Porziuncola, not far from Assisi.
Francis’ example was also followed by Clare, a young woman from Assisi who, after receiving the nun’s habit, set up the community of the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, which developed into the Minor Order of the Poor Clares.
Wishing to give witness of his faith to the whole world, Francis had tried several times to travel to non-Christian countries. He was stopped by a shipwreck in 1211 off Dalmatia and by an illness in Spain in 1214, but he succeeded in reaching Egypt in 1219, where he obtained the authorisation to preach from sultan Malek-el-Kamel, thus paving the way for the great Catholic missions.
In 1220, back in Assisi in poor health, and embittered by the quarrels among the friars during his absence, Francis handed over his role as general minister of the community to his faithful companion, Pietro Cattani.