Literary Sources

… Francis was walking down the valley of Spoleto and came to a place near Bevagna where a great number of birds of different kinds gathered, doves, rooks, and monk birds. The servant of God, Francis … ran eagerly toward the birds… saw that they were awaiting him, he greeted them in his usual way and humbly requested that they listen to the word of God. And among other things, he said to them, “My brother birds, you should greatly praise your Creator, because he gave you feathers to wear, wings to fly, and whatever you need… At these words, (as he and the friars who had been with him used to say) the birds rejoiced in a wonderful way according to their nature. They stretched their necks, spread their wings, opened their beaks, and looked at him… Then, he blessed them with the sign of the cross… As he was a simple man, he began to accuse himself of negligence, for not preaching to the birds before, for they listened so devoutly to the word of God; and from that day he carefully exhorted all birds, all animals, all reptiles and even the insensible creatures to praise and love the Creator…

Vita Nova of Arnaldo Fortini

Actus Beati Francisci et sociorum eius (late 13th-early 14th century) (The Deeds of Brother Francis and His Companions)
I Fioretti (second half of the 14th century) (The Little Flowers)

The first 53 chapters are the translation of the Actus, a manuscript discovered by Paul Sabatier and published in 1902. They bear precious witness and recollections of the lifetime of St. Francis consistent with the oral tradition from his first companions. The Fioretti was written around 1370-1385 and often reports facts very similar to those narrated by Celano and San Bonaventura, generally enriched with colourful anecdotes, stories, and names.

Miracle of the Swallows

The account of the Preaching to the Birds, for example, retains the essential trace written by Celano, but in the Actus-Fioretti we find the name of the place that St. Francis and his two companions meet at the beginning of his descent from Mount Subasio into the valley: it is the castle of Cannarium (Cannara). This indication will give rise to a very important historical-literary tradition throughout the centuries: the conception of the Third Order, as a result of the choice of life that the inhabitants of Cannara would like to make after the saint’s captivating words. To them, who would like to leave their families to follow him, St Francis says: Do not be in a hurry and do not leave, and I will order what you must do for the salvation of your souls (conception of the birth of the Franciscan Third Order).
The Sermon to the Birds, according to these two literary sources, takes place shortly afterward. We read from the Fioretti and the Actus (translation), in chapter XVI:

and then he thought to institute the Third Order for the universal salvation of all.
And thus, leaving them greatly comforted and with minds turned to repentance, he then departed and came to a place between Cannario and Bevagno. And as he was going along further in that same fervour, he raised his eyes and saw certain trees by the road, whereupon was an almost infinite number of birds. Saint Francis marvelled at this, and said to his companions: “You shall await me here on the road, and I will go and preach to the birds my sisters”. He entered the field and began to preach to the birds …

The ideation of the third order

Arrived at Bevagna, Approaching Bevagna, Between Cannario and Bevagno…, the ancient sources do not mention Piandarca, surely unknown at the time. Nevertheless, over the centuries, popular piety has marked the place of the Preaching placing a stone in the field, often stolen and then replaced.

The preaching to the birds

From Legenda Major, Bonaventura da Bagnoregio (1220-1274 app.)

Approaching Bevagna, “He came to a spot where a large flock of birds of various kinds had come together. When God’s Saint saw them, he quickly ran to the spot and greeted them as if they were endowed with reason….All the birds were waiting and turned towards him; and those on the branches, as he approached, bent their head to look at him…

The first biographers of St. Francis, therefore, write about a place near Bevagna, whereas scholars of Franciscan history specify that it is Piandarca. In particular, in the Franciscan Sources, 1206, note 84 reads:

The episode of the “preaching to the birds”. (cf. 1 Cel 58; 3 Cel 20), well known through the version given by the Fioretti, c. 16 (The Little Flowers Ch. 16) …, and by Giotto (Upper Basilica of Assisi) … took place between Bevagna and Cannara, in the place known as Pian dell’Arca, according to a tradition which is still alive today.