He was born at
Umbria, not far from
Viterbo, then part of the
Papal States. Almost nothing is known of his childhood, other than the names of his parents, Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria di Ritella.
He entered the
Franciscan Order in 1243 and studied at the
University of Paris, possibly under
Alexander of Hales, and certainly under Alexander's successor,
John of Rochelle.
 In 1253 he held the Franciscan chair at Paris. A dispute between seculars and mendicants delayed his reception as Master until 1257, where his degree was taken in company with
 Three years earlier his fame had earned him the position of lecturer on
The Four Books of Sentences—a book of theology written by
Peter Lombard in the twelfth century—and in 1255 he received the degree of master, the medieval equivalent of doctor.
After having successfully defended his order against the reproaches of the anti-
mendicant party, he was elected Minister General of the Franciscan Order. On 24 November 1265, he was selected for the post of
Archbishop of York; however, he was never
consecrated and resigned the appointment in October 1266.
During his tenure, the General Chapter of Narbonne, held in 1260, promulgated a decree prohibiting the publication of any work out of the order without permission from the higher superiors. This prohibition has induced modern writers to pass severe judgment upon
Roger Bacon's superiors being envious of Bacon's abilities. However, the prohibition enjoined on Bacon was a general one, which extended to the whole order. Its promulgation was not directed against him, but rather against
Gerard of Borgo San Donnino. Gerard had published in 1254 without permission a heretical work, Introductorius in Evangelium æternum (An Introduction to the Eternal Gospel). Thereupon the General Chapter of Narbonne promulgated the above-mentioned decree, identical with the "constitutio gravis in contrarium" Bacon speaks of. The above-mentioned prohibition was rescinded in Roger's favour unexpectedly in 1266.
Bonaventure's coat of arms of Cardinal Bishop of Albano
Bonaventure was instrumental in procuring the election of
Pope Gregory X, who rewarded him with the title of
Cardinal Bishop of
Albano, and insisted on his presence at the great
Second Council of Lyon in 1274.
 There, after his significant contributions led to a union of the Greek and Latin churches, Bonaventure died suddenly and in suspicious circumstances. The 1913 edition of the
Catholic Encyclopedia has citations that suggest he was poisoned, but no mention is made of this in the 2003 second edition of the
New Catholic Encyclopedia. The only extant relic of the saint is the arm and hand with which he wrote his Commentary on the Sentences, which is now conserved at Bagnoregio, in the parish church of St. Nicholas.
He steered the Franciscans on a moderate and intellectual course that made them the most prominent order in the Catholic Church until the coming of the Jesuits. His theology was marked by an attempt completely to integrate faith and reason. He thought of Christ as the "one true master" who offers humans knowledge that begins in faith, is developed through rational understanding, and is perfected by mystical union with God.