The founder of the English Franciscan province, Blessed Agnello, was admitted into the Order by St. Francis himself on the occasion of his sojourn in Pisa. He was sent to the Friary in Paris, of which he became the guardian, and in 1224, St. Francis appointed him to found an English province; at the time he was only a deacon. Eight others were selected to accompany him. True to the precepts of St. Francis, they had no money, and the monks of Fecamp paid their passage over to Dover. They made Canterbury their first stopping place, while Richard of Ingworth, Richard of Devon and two of the Italians went on to London to see where they could settle. It was the winter of 1224, and they must have suffered great discomfort, especially as their ordinary fare was bread and a little beer, which was so thick that it had to be diluted before they could swallow it. Nothing, however, dampened their spirits, and their simple piety, cheerfulness and enthusiasm soon won them many friends. They were able to produce a commendatory letter from Pope Honorius III, so that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Steven Langton, in announcing their arrival, said, "Some religious have come to me calling themselves penitents of the Order of Assisi, but I called them of the Order of the Apostles." In the meantime, Richard of Ingworth and his party had been well received in London and hired a dwelling on Cornhill. They were now ready to push on to Oxford, and Agnello came from Canterbury to take charge of the London settlement. Everywhere the Friars were received with enthusiasm, and Matthew Paris himself attests that Blessed Agnello was on familiar terms with King Henry III. Agnello is thought to have died at the age of forty-one, only eleven years after he landed at Dover, but his reputation for sanctity and prudence stood high amongst his fellows. It is stated that his zeal for poverty was so great that "he would never permit any ground to be enlarged or any house to be built except as inevitable necessity required." He was stern in resisting relaxations in the Rule, but his gentleness and tact led him to be chosen in 1233 to negotiate with the rebellious Earl Marshal. His health is said to have been undermined by his efforts in this cause and by a last painful journey to Italy. Opon his return he was seized with dysentery at Oxford and died there, after crying out for three days, "Come, Sweetest Jesus." The cult of Blessed Agnello was confirmed in 1892; his feast is observed in the Archdiocese of Birmingham today and by the Friars Minor on the eleventh.
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By Justin Soutar
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