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Saint Francis of Assisi 


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This page is part of the section: Animal Rights:A History

St Francis of Assisi c 1181-1226

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.

All creatures have the same source as we have. Like us, they derive the life of thought, love, and will from the Creator. Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them; but to stop there is a complete misapprehension of the intentions of Providence. We have a higher mission. God wishes that we should succour them whenever they require it.
St Francis

There is some debate whether or not St Francis, born 1181/82  founder of the monastic order of Franciscans was a vegetarian, however because of his great compassion towards animals I would well imagine that he abstained from meat or at the least ate meat sparingly. Also it was also usual in monastic orders in those days to abstain from eating meat.

Most certainly St Francis, the patron Saint of animals, is remembered for his compassion towards animals and it was said that animals, most particularly a lamb, followed him everywhere. Animals where drawn to him and it is said that his donkey cried, when on his deathbed the dying saint thanked him for carrying him around throughout this life. 

Stories abound concerning Saint Francis' great love for animals. 

For Saint Francis all creatures were equals not as subjects to be dominated, exploited or abused. Saint Francis was a true steward, a caretaker of Gods precious creation, a brother to the animals, all animals without discrimination.

It is said that the Saint often sang and preached directly to birds and other animals praising God’s presence in each of them, one of the most famous and delightful of these instances is the account of the saint preaching to his "sister birds" in Fioretti di San Francesco, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, a collection of charming anecdotes, pious and miraculous examples, from the life of Saint Francis and his followers composed at the end of the 14th century. One day whilst wandering with his companions he stopped at a place along the road where numerous birds sat in the trees, announcing to his companions that he wished to speak to his "sister birds" .

St Francis lifted up his eyes, and saw on some trees by the wayside a great multitude of birds; and being much surprised, he said to his companions, "Wait for me here by the way, whilst I go and preach to my little sisters the birds"; and entering into the field, he began to preach to the birds which were on the ground, and suddenly all those also on the trees came round him, and all listened while St Francis preached to them, and did not fly away until he had given them his blessing. And Brother Masseo related afterwards to Brother James of Massa how St Francis went among them and even touched them with his garments, and how none of them moved. Now the substance of the sermon was this:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you... you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore... always seek to praise God.

Little Flowers of St Francis

The birds surrounded him as though they were listening and none flew away

Here are two more accounts of the saint's compassion for animals:

Wolf of Gubbi

Here the Little Flowers of Saint Francis gives account of how St Francis tames a  ferocious wolf.

During  a time when saint Francis lived in the town of Gubbio the citizens were in a state of terror because of a wolf who devoured not only animals but preyed upon men also and often approached the town. None dare venture beyond the walls of the city for if they met the wolf he would devour them.

Because of his great compassion for the people of the town Saint Francis decided to meet the wolf. Accompanied by his brethren, after making the sign of the cross, he left the city. After a while his brethren and those of the town's people who had followed went no further for fear of the wolf, and watched the miracle which was to take place from a safe distance as the saint approached the area the wolf was known to frequent.

Seeing the saint the wolf ran up to him jaws open ready to attack. As the wolf came closer the Saint making the sign of the cross cried out,

"Come hither, brother wolf; I command thee, in the name of Christ, neither to harm me nor anybody else."

No sooner after making the sign of the cross the wolf approached saint Francis and having ceased his ferocity lay down at the feet of the saint as meekly as a lamb. Saint Francis said to the wolf: "Brother wolf, thou hast done much evil in this land, destroying and killing the creatures of God ...  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 offences, and neither men nor dogs shall pursue thee any more."

After which Saint Francis led the wolf to the town and made a pact with him. Because the wolf had only “done evil out of hunger”, the townsfolk would agree to feed him if he in return would no longer prey either on them or their flocks.

 "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?"

Then the wolf, bowing his head, made a sign that he consented. Said St Francis again: "Brother wolf, wilt thou pledge thy faith that I may trust to this thy promise?" and putting out his hand he received the pledge of the wolf; for the latter lifted up his paw and placed it familiarly in the hand of St Francis, giving him thereby the only pledge which was in his power.

After which the people of Gubbio where free from the fear of the wolf. Saint Francis even made a pact with the town's dogs to leave the wolf alone.

The wolf lived two years at Gubbio; he went familiarly from door to door without harming anyone, and all the people received him courteously, feeding him with great pleasure, and no dog barked at him as he went about. At last, after two years, he died of old age, and the people of Gubbio mourned his loss greatly; for when they saw him going about so gently amongst them all, he reminded them of the virtue and sanctity of St Francis.

How Saint Francs tamed wild doves

A young man who had caught some doves with the intent to sell them met Saint Francis. Filled with compassion for the doves the Saint said to the young man:  "O good man, I entreat thee to give me those harmless birds, emblems in Scripture of humble, pure, and faithful souls, so that they may not fall into cruel hands, which would put them to death." The young man having as the story goes been inspired by God gave the doves to Saint Francis who spoke to them: "O my little sisters the doves, so simple, so innocent, and so chaste, why did you allow yourselves to be caught? I will save you from death, and make your nests, that you may increase and multiply, according to the command of God."

After which he made a nest for the birds who laid eggs and hatched them and thereafter became tame towards the saint and the friars. The young  man became a friar.

Not only does this account demonstrate the Saint's compassion for animals but also his concern should the doves be killed most probably for food.

Whether or not one takes these stories literally is of course a matter of personal belief which naturally various amongst Christians as it does in any religion.  Regardless these stories show Saint Francis' love of all creatures whether they are human or not. He preached equally to both man and other animals and considered it the duty of man as one of God's creatures ourselves to enjoy nature and to be a protector, a steward of God's creation

St Francis is the patron Saint of animals, the environment and Italy and on his feast day October 4th many Catholic churches hold ceremonies  honouring animals, such as the blessing of pets in the saint's name to celebrate the saints love of all creatures when people bring their pets to catholic churches to receive the blessing.

The prayer for the Blessing of pets will be similar to the one below

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”

Blessing of pets and the animals - St. Francis of Assisi

St Francis as already mentioned saw himself as a caretaker of all of Gods creations however lowly . For Saint Francis all creatures were sacred. Francis appreciated the sacredness in all animals.  According to the German writer-philosopher Max Scheler, “St. Francis saw even in a bug the sacredness of life.”

Saint Francis is a fine example of appreciating all beings as part of God's creation.

When he considered the primordial source of all things, he was filled will even more abundant piety, calling creatures, no matter how small, by the name of brother or sister, because he knew that they had the same source as himself
St Bonaventure Speaking of St Francis 

God Our Heavenly Father,
You created the world
to serve humanity's needs
and to lead them to You.
By our own fault
we have lost the beautiful relationship
which we once had with all your creation.
Help us to see
that by restoring our relationship with You
we will also restore it
with all Your creation.
Give us the grace
to see all animals as gifts from You
and to treat them with respect
for they are Your creation.

We pray for all animals
who are suffering as a result of our neglect.
May the order You originally established
be once again restored to the whole world
through the intercession of the Glorious Virgin Mary,
the prayers of Saint Francis
and the merits of Your Son,
Our Lord Jesus Christ
Who lives and reigns with You
now and forever. Amen.
St. Francis of Assisi, additions added later

important please note:

I am not an animal expert of any kind just your average person who loves animals, all animals, and feels deeply about the plight of many of our fellow creatures. Neither am I a writer, or any other expert. Therefore please keep in mind that the information included in this website has been researched to the best of my ability and any misinformation is quite by accident but of course possible.

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