ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI - FEAST DAY 4TH OCTOBER

Ibar Quirke



There are eight tableaux in the Franciscan Friary in Wexford Town depicting scenes from the life and ministry of St Francis of Assisi: - Meeting the Leper, Repair My Church, Troubadours, Francis and Clare, The First Crib, Taming the Wolf, Stigmata, and Sister Death. The panel which I would like to concentrate on is a retelling of the famed taming of the Wolf of Gubbio.

During the Early Medieval period through which Sts Francis and Clare of Assisi both lived, the town of Gubbio – 54 kilometres from Assisi – was terrorised by a ferocious wolfhound which was responsible for terrorising and devouring humans and animals in the area: - even newborns, in its quest for food! When the citizenry of Gubbio could no longer feel secure going out of doors armed as if for combat, all for fear of the wolf, they retreated behind the town-walls, and some never even left their own properties: - huddling inside, petrified by their fear of the wolf!

The Mayor and his counsellors became increasingly alarmed by this situation, which escalated to the killing of some of the town’s guardsmen in an ill-fated battle against the wolf, and decided to send several brave messengers to Assisi, in the hope of obtaining the aid of St Francis to bring peace and reconciliation to both the wolf and to the citizenry of Gubbio: - to achieve this, these messengers arrived at the house of Bernard de Quintevalle, and there told St Francis of their plight. St Francis instructed the messengers to eat and sleep at the expense of his Brotherhood that night before travelling together to Gubbio the next day to make peace with the wolf.

The Mayor first sought a meeting with St Francis beforehand: - this vindictive man thought it best that the wolf should either be killed or sent to the town of Spoleto, their old enemy! At once, St Francis saw through this: - and, after exchanging pleasantries at the end of the meeting, sought to meet the wolf for himself, beyond the walls of Gubbio, on the outskirts of the local woodland.

St Francis made the Sign of the Cross before conversing with the wolf, to which St Francis himself felt a connection! St Francis instructed the wolf to explain his actions and to show remorse for these: - the wolf, for his part, explained that he was abandoned by his pack because of his injured paw, and that he couldn’t run fast enough to catch the deer and rabbits which he always wanted to eat, instead having to content himself with sheep and goats, prey which didn’t run very fast. St Francis was cross with the wolf for having targeted humans, and the wolf understood that St Francis was genuinely cross about this: - it was for this reason that St Francis ordered the wolf to show remorse to the townspeople, who would, in their turn, be also given an order: - to feed the wolf at their own communal expense for as long as it lived amongst them. The wolf concurred with what St Francis ordered of him and was glad of this reasonable compromise, and the wolf showed his commitment to upholding the peace-pact which St Francis made with him by placing his right paw – unclawed! - into St Francis’ ungloved right hand.

St Francis and the wolf then walked together into the centre of Gubbio, watched from all angles by a disbelieving crowd which was yet to learn of the negotiations which took place beyond the walls of Gubbio, on the outskirts of the local woodland. St Francis and the wolf, now in the assembled presence of the Mayor, the Bishop, the local Council, and other relevant dignitaries, renewed their pact with one another and with the townspeople. During this encounter, hardened hearts were softened, and people learned the true meaning and value of forgiveness: - let it likewise be said true of us today! Amen!

Wild beast of Gubbio, loved at last, you bring out the best in us; dare us to be totally human.