ELIAS, of Cortona (c. 1180-1253), disciple of St Francis of Assisi, was born near Assisi, about 1180, of the working class, but became schoolmaster at Assisi and then notary at Bologna. In 1217 he was the head of the Franciscan mission to the Holy Land, and in 1219 St Francis made him first provincial minister of Syria. When St Francis was recalled from the East in 1220 he brought Elias with him. Elias played a leading part in the early history of the Franciscan order (see Franciscans); Francis made him his vicar general in 1221; and he was the practical acting superior of the order till Francis' death in 1226, and the real superior till the general chapter of 1227. This chapter did not elect him minister general, but that of 1232 did; at the chapter of 1239 he was deposed. During these years he erected the basilica and monastery at Assisi which were entirely his creation - he collected the funds and carried the work through, being himself the builder and even the architect. Elias was a man of extraordinary ability, the friend both of Gregory IX. and of his opponent Frederick II. After his deposition Elias joined the party of the emperor and so incurred excommunication. Frederick sent him as ambassador to Constantinople. He dressed and lived as a Franciscan throughout and a small number of friars adhered to him; for these he built a church and monastery at Cortona. Unavailing efforts were made to bring about his reconciliation with the order and the Church; at last on his death-bed he made his submission to the pope and died in 1253, having received the Sacraments.
The best account of Elias is that by Ed. Lempp, Frère Elie de Cortone (1901), who points out the conflict of view, as to the relations between Elias and Francis, between the Speculum perfectionis and the First Life, by Thomas of Celano; Lempp and Sabatier accept the hostile picture given by the Speculum perfectionis. But see further Francis of Assisi, Saint, "Note on Sources," and especially the articles by Goetz, there referred to, in the Hist. Vierteljahrsschrift. There is a good article on Elias, but written before the new materials had been produced, in Wetzer und Welte, Kirchenlexicon (ed. 2).
(E. C. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)