The location is Italy in the 13th century. The theme of each individual scene is taken from Fioretti (Little Flowers) and Reflections on the Stigmata, both written by anonymous Franciscan monks in the 14th century. Seven persons appear: the Angel, St. Francis, the Leper, Brother Élie and three other brothers, Léon, Massée and Bernard, who were especially loved by Francis. The growing grace in Francis’ soul is revealed in the course of the opera.
First scene — the cross
St. Francis tells Brother Léon the one must bear with patience all contradictions and all suffering to obtain the love of Christ, which is the source of “complete bliss”.
Second scene — the laud
After the brothers recite in the morning mass, St. Francis remains behind and prays to God for a meeting with a leper and the ability to love him.
Third scene — St. Francis kisses the leper
A home for lepers. A horribly repulsive Leper covered with blood and boils complains of his suffering. St. Francis arrives, sits down next to the Leper, and speaks to him softly. An Angle appears in front of the window and calls, “Leper, your heart accuses you, but God is greater than your heart”. Thrown into a state of confusion by the Angel’s voice and the goodness of St. Francis, the Leper’s conscience is stricken because of his vehemence. St. Francis kisses the Leper. A miracle occurs: The Leper is healed! He dances with joy. Even more important is the constant flowering of grace in the soul of St. Francis and the rejoicing at his overcoming his feeling of repugnance.
Forth scene — the wandering angel
A forest path on Monte La Verna. The Angel appears on the path. His magnificent robe with the five-colored wings is visible to the public only. The other characters take him for a tramp. The Angel’s gentle knocking on the door of the monastery makes a great deal of noice, which symbolizes the entrance of grace. Brother Massée, opens the door. The Angel poses Brother Élie, the vicar of the order, a question about providence. Brother Élie refuses to answer and makes him leave. The Angel knocks again and poses another question about providence, this time to brother Bernard, who answers with great wisdom. After the Angel exists, Brother Bernard, and Brother Massée look at each other and say. “That might have been an angel …”
Fifth scene — the music-making-angel
The Angel appears to Francis and plays a fiddle so as to give him a taste of heavenly bliss. This solo is of such beauty that St. Francis loses consciousness.
Sixth scene — the sermon to the birds
We are in Assisi. A tall, evergreen oak is visible. It is springtime, and birds are singing. Francis, accompanied by Brother Massée, preaches to the birds and blesses them solemnly. The birds answer in great concert in which one can hear both the birds of Umbria — in particular the capinera, a blackcap — and birds from faraway lands and islands, especially the Isle of Pines near New Caledonia.
Seventh scene — the stigmata
Night, near La Verna. A cave under an overhanging rock. Francis is alone. A large cross appears. The voice of Christ, symbolized by the chorus, can be heard almost constantly. Five rays of light shine from the cross and gradually fall onto Francis’ hands, feet and right side, accompanied at the same time by noise made by Angel’s knocking. These five wounds, which resemble the five wounds of Christ, are the divine confirmation of Francis’ saintliness.
Eight scene — death and the lew life
Francis lays dying on the ground, all the brothers kneel around him. He takes leave of everything he once loved and sings the final verse of his Song of the Sun, the verse about “our brother, the death of the body”. The brothers recite Psalm 141. The Angel and the Leper appear to Francis to conform him. Francis speaks his last words: “Lord! Music and poetry have led me to you … dazzle me forever with your abundance of truth …” he dies. The bells toll. Everything disappears. While the chorus sings of the resurrection, a ray of light falls on the spot where Francis’ body had lain a few moments before. The ray’s intensity increases to the point that can no longer be looked at. The curtain falls.