St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio
There is a classic tale about the original St. Francis of Assisi, who as I’m sure you know is the patron Saint of Animals, and his friendship with the Wolf of Gubbio.
It’s one of my favorite stories. But in order to tell you that story, I have to tell you this story…
Fioretti di San Francesco
The best source we have on St. Francis is from an anonymous Italian text, which history believes was written by an anonymous Tuscan writer. It’s called the “Fioretti” or “Little Flowers of St. Francis”, and it’s a florilegium (basically, lots of little stories excerpted and placed in one big story). The stories, which were composed at the end of the 14th century), were divided into 53 short chapters.
There are many interesting stories in this book. One is about how Francis and his “brothers” gave up their small home to allow a donkey to live there.
Francis wrote about this in the Canticle of the Creatures, an ode to God’s living things. He wrote, “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”
But it’s one thing to write a text. It’s another thing to live it. Here’s how St. Francis held up his end of the bargain:
The Tale of the St. Francis and the Wolf Of Gubbio
In the city of Gubbio, where Francis once lived, there was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. The townspeople wanted to hunt the wolf, but Francis had compassion for both animals and people, and he entered the forest where the wolf lived.
Once he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him. The wolf lay down at the feet of St. Francis.
Francis said, “Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God without his permission; yea, not animals only hast thou destroyed, but thou hast even dared to devour men, made after the image of God; for which thing thou art worthy of being hanged like a robber and a murderer. All men cry out against thee, the dogs pursue thee, and all the inhabitants of this city are thy enemies; but I will make peace between them and thee, O brother wolf, is so be thou no more offend them, and they shall forgive thee all thy past offenses, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee any more.”
To show the good will between the wolf and the townsfolk, Francis led the wolf back into town to make a pact. The wolf would agree not to eat any more people if they would help provide him food.
Francis told the townsfolk, “As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”
The agreement was made and the townsfolk said they would happily supply the wolf food if he agreed to stay away from their flocks and their citizens. To further solidify the agreement, Francis even made a pact on behalf on behalf of the town dogs and the canines happily agreed not to ever bother the wolf again as long as the wolf held to his agreement.
At that point, he blessed both the wolf of Gubbio and the town’s dogs, then he blessed the people of the village. This is how the town of Gubbio was freed from the terrors of the wolf.
The wolf lived another two years at Gubbio, going from home to home for sustenance and honoring the provisions of it’s agreement with Francis. When the wolf finally died, the entire city was sad for his loss.
The National Gallery in London has a polyptych by Sassetta in the Sainsbury Wing that depicts scenes from the life of Saint Francis, and it includes a scene depicting Saint Francis making a pact with the Wolf.
Pretty nice story, huh? Now if we could all just follow Francis’ example!