The Basilica of St Bernardino all'Osservanza
Bernardino the Preacher
Bernardino, an aristocrat by birth and culture, had the gift of bridging any gap between himself and his listeners, thus enabling everyone to access his experience of faith. Through his public sermons, delivered in a simple language, he sought to spread the Truth of the Gospel and the virtue of charity. From the many pulpits erected in important cities of central and northern Italy, Bernardino drew attention to the corruption of his contemporaries by making use of the novel weapons of irony and exhortation. The strength of his words was able to arouse immediate emotional reactions, conversions and reconciliations. People flocked from miles around to hear that thin and haggard man who, notwithstanding, had a powerful voice, according to the records of the time.
The power of Bernardino’s communication skills is testified by the cycle of sermons given in Piazza del Campo in Siena from August 15th to October 5th 1427, recorded by the humble cloth shearer Benedetto di Bartolomeo, who even documented the exclamations and gestures of the preaching saint.
Aware that he could not impose upon the faithful the austere principles of the Franciscan Observance that animated his steps, he offered them the respect of the ideals of balance, order and harmony, the same values translated into painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti
almost a century before in the marvellous frescoes of the Palazzo Comunale of Siena, depicting Allegory and the Effects of Good and Bad Government. During one of his sermons, making explicit reference to that masterpiece, Bernardino admitted that it had given him the inspiration to preach the idea of peace as the basis of social welfare.
The Saint had a crucial role in the regeneration of preaching through the introduction of the exemplum technique, i.e. of “essempli grossi e palpabili” inspired by past history, but also by everyday life, by current affairs and customs that were widespread among his contemporaries.
Through these examples, the great Franciscan succeeded in combining the doctrinal soundness of his sermons to the clarity and effectiveness of their form, translating into a personal language the great truths of Faith.