Friar Francis of Assisi in the spring of 1220 returns from the East. He had gone to the “Saracens”, where the Crusaders tried with arms to overcome enemy resistance and conquer the Holy Land. He had peacefully met – in dialogue – the Sultan of Egypt Malek-el-Kamel, arousing feelings of friendship and admiration. Returning with a Venetian ship, he probably comes to Torcello, an important historical center and seat of the Bishop. In Italy Francis will have to face serious problems created by the very many people who wish to follow him; therefore he seeks a quiet place to stop in silence to pray and reflect. Arrived on a small island that is owned by the Venetian nobleman Jacopo Michiel, he is greeted by the song of a multitude of birds; his biographer San Bonaventura da Bagnoregio tells it.
It can be deduced that the island was what is now called “San Francesco del Deserto” from the fact that in 1233 (5 years after the canonization of friar Francesco d’Assisi), Jacopo Michiel – of a Dogal family – gave the island to minor friars, stating that a small church dedicated to St. Francis has already been built on it. The archaeological excavations carried out in different eras, especially in the years 1961-1965, have brought to light important confirmations of what had always been handed down. From the subsoil of the island traces of a Roman presence also emerged, with finds from the first, fourth and fifth century AD .
The name of the place dates back to the ‘400, when the island of San Francesco remained abandoned for some years – deserted – due to the unhealthiness of the lagoon.