20 May - Bernardin was born on 8 September 1380 in Massa Maritima to an illustrious family from Siena, the Albizeschi. He loses his mother at the age of three and his father at the age of six, and is taken in by his aunt Diana.
He began his studies in Massa, then went to Siena in 1391, to the house of his uncle, who, without children, raised him as his own son. For two years he attended classes with the master Martino di Ferro, a notary from Casole, and then with the masters Onofrio di Loro and John of Spoleto, with whom he learned the liberal arts.
In 1397, after having attended the University of Canon Law for three years, Bernardin joined the Confraternity of notre Dame, attached to the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital. Three years later, a plague epidemic struck the city of Siena. Bernardin dedicated himself to the service of the sick and, assisted by ten companions, took over the entire hospital. Despite his young age, he is up to the task, but this heroic and constant commitment makes his health fragile and he will never fully recover. Abandoning his patrimony to charity, Bernardin took the habit of the Friars Minor of Saint Francis of Siena on September 8, 1402. Shortly afterwards he moved to the Monastery of the Close Observance of Colombaio sull'Amiata, outside the city, where the Basilica of the Observance is now located.
Bernardin made his religious profession on September 8, 1403, and was ordained the following year. He studied not only the Fathers of the Church, but also the works of "forbidden" Franciscan authors, such as Jacopone da Todi, Ubertin de Casale and Pierre de Jean Olivi. Bernardin gained the trust and esteem of his superiors and began preaching at the age of twenty-five in Seggiano, near the convent, and then in the immediate vicinity of Siena. A period of preaching followed in Pavia in 1410, and in Siena in 1411 Bernardine fell ill with the plague. He faced the illness with serene firmness and a clear awareness of the purity of his life. Then he meditated intensely for three years, interrupted by a short preaching in Padua in 1413. In 1416 he preached again in Padua, then in Mantua, without much success.
Bernardin's success in promoting morality and regenerating society is remarkable. He preached with complete apostolic freedom and courageously rebuked evil in high places. Usury was one of the main objects of his attacks, and he was the main instigator of the establishment of pawnbroking companies, also known as pawn shops.
But Bernardin's watchword, like St. Francis of Assisi before him, was "peace". On foot, he crossed Italy back and forth for the restoration of peace. He persuaded Italian cities to remove the coats of arms of factions from the walls of churches and palaces, and to inscribe the initials "I-H-S" in their place. Its use gives new impetus and tangible form to devotion to the name of Christ, one of his favourite subjects, and a powerful means of rekindling popular fervour. He used to carry a panel in front of him during his sermons, bearing the monogram of Christ painted in golden Gothic letters surrounded by the sun's rays, and then expose it for veneration.
Despite his popularity, Bernardin had to endure opposition and persecution. The saint is accused of introducing a new devotion of profane character exposing the people to the danger of idolatry. He is summoned to Rome before Pope Martin V in 1427. The latter received him coldly and ordered him to stop preaching until his case was examined. His trial took place on June 8, and John of Capistran was put in charge of his defense. The malevolence and futility of the charges against Bernardine are fully demonstrated, and the Pope, not content to recommend and justify his teaching, also invites him to preach in Rome. The Pope then approved Bernardine's election to the bishopric of Siena. The saint, however, declines this honour, as well as the bishoprics of Ferrara and Urbino, which will be given to him respectively in 1431 and 1435, joyfully declaring that Italy is already his diocese. After the election of Pope Eugene IV, Bernardine's opponents renewed their attacks, but a papal bull silenced his slanderers in 1432.
In 1433, Bernardin accompanied Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg to Rome for his coronation. He retired shortly afterwards to Capriola to compose a series of sermons. He resumed his preaching in 1436, but was forced to abandon it two years later, following his election to the general vicariate of the Observers in Italy. In 1442, Bernardine persuaded the Pope to accept his resignation from the general vicariate in order to give himself entirely to preaching. In 1444, despite his poor health, Bernardin decided to evangelize the kingdom of Naples. Too weak to walk, he is forced to travel on a donkey. After crossing Umbria, he was caught by fever and forced to stop at L'Aquila in Abruzzo. He dies on the eve of the Ascension, May 20, 1444. The notables refused to move Bernardin's body to Siena, and after a funeral of unprecedented splendour, his body was buried in the convent church. Miracles multiplied after the death of the saint. He was canonised on 24 May 1450 by Pope Nicholas V, six years after his death. On May 14, 1472, Bernardin's body was solemnly transferred to the new church of the Observers in L'Aquila, built especially to receive him, and his body was enclosed in a golden silver shrine offered by King Louis XI of France.