Sunday, 1 June 2008

Saint Francis and the wolf of Gubbio

I have recently returned from a trip to Umbria in Italy. While I was there I visited the medieval towns of Gubbio and Assisi, both of which have associations with Saint Francis, who gets a far few mentions in What is Myrrh Anyway?

Most people know about Francis’ fondness for animals and how he preached to the birds but have you heard the legend of Saint Francis and the Wolf? This is a legend which didn’t make it into What is Myrrh Anyway? so I thought I’d share it with you here.

While Francis was staying in the town of Gubbio, he learned of a wolf that was terrorising the area. This beast was so ravenous that it not only killed and ate animals, but attacked people too. People had already taken up arms against the wolf and gone after it, but any who encountered the wolf were killed. The people of Gubbio were so afraid that they dared not leave the safety of the town, and kept their doors and windows shut and bolted.

Francis took pity on the people but also the wolf as well, and set out to resolve the issue. The people warned Francis not to put himself at risk but he insisted that God would take care of him. A brave friar and several peasants decided to accompany Francis beyond the relative safety of the town gates, but the peasants soon became terrified and refused to go any further.

Francis and the friar were forced to walk on alone. Suddenly the wolf, jaws wide open, bounded out of the woods at ran at the two holy men, intent on tearing them limb from limb. Without any hesitation, Francis made the sign of the Cross before the wolf and the savage creature immediately slowed down and closed its mouth.

Francis called out to the wolf: ‘Come to me, Brother Wolf. I wish you no harm.’ At that moment the wolf lowered its head and lay down at the saint’s feet, as meek as a lamb. Francis went on: ‘Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and the people of Gubbio. They will harm you no more and you must no longer harm them. All past wrongs are to be forgiven.’

The wolf showed its assent by moving its body and nodding its head. Then to the absolute surprise of the gathering crowd, Francis asked the wolf to make a pledge. As the saint extended his hand to receive the pledge, so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into his hand. Francis invited the wolf to follow him into town to make a peace pact with the townspeople. The wolf followed willingly.

By the time the wolf and the saint reached the town square, every inhabitant of the town was there to witness the miracle. Francis offered the people of Gubbio peace on behalf of the wolf, and they in turn promised to look after the wolf.

From that day on the people kept the pact they had made. The wolf lived for two years among the townspeople, going from door to door for food. It hurt no one and no one caused the animal any harm in return; even dogs did not bark at it. When the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were greatly saddened. The wolf’s peaceful ways had been a living reminder to them of the wonders, patience, virtues and holiness of Saint Francis. It had been a living symbol of the power and providence of the living God.

This statue of Saint Francis and the wolf can be seen in the Italian town of Gubbio, in Umbria.

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