Monks & Christmas Carols: Fra' Jacopone
Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306) started life in grand Umbrian style, living a fun, sometimes debauched, materialistic existence. But when his young wife died in his arms (a floor collapsed under her), he had a spiritual crisis, and from about 1268 he wandered Umbria as an indigent monk for 10 years. At around this time the Franciscan order had become divided between those who favored an extreme ascetic life, and those who took a more lenient attitude -- Jacopone joined the former group, eventually bringing him into conflict with Pope Boniface VIII, who favored the latter. Jacopone responded by telling off, in verse form, the reprehensible pope (the written jibes got him excommunicated and 5 years in a Roman dungeon, between 1298 and 1303). He also wrote catchy late-medieval poetry, laudi, set to music that became, for all intents and purposes, the world's first Christmas carols. Jacopone died in Collazzone, a village between Perugia and Todi, but is still revered in his hometown today.