A charismatic genius who spurned wealth
Our concept of poverty has changed dramatically over the centuries. Being poor used to be almost a prerequisite for admittance to heaven, but somewhere along the line, attitudes changed.
One could suspect that the idea of poverty and sanctity being as one was promoted by the wealthy in order to persuade the poor that they were actually lucky and, if they kept working hard, their place in heaven was secure.
But then maybe I am being too cynical here.
There have been many heroes throughout history who lived exemplary lives and shunned material possessions as being distractions that were essentially evil, believing that the only man who is truly free is the man who has nothing.
On a wet Sunday morning recently I began reading Kenneth Clarke's history of civilisation and found that the way in which people viewed the world in the Middle Ages was totally different to our attitudes today.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is where Clarke described how, towards the end of the 12th century, a wealthy young Italian named Francesco Bernadini began to give away all his possessions to the poor.
His father, a rich merchant in the town of Assisi, finally disowned him whereupon Francesco gave away even his clothes. He said it was a discourtesy to be dressed in fine clothing in the presence of anyone poorer than himself.
Eventually the Bishop of Assisi gave him a cloak and he headed for the hills barefoot where he spent three years living in poverty and caring for lepers.