Stories About St. Francis
and the Animals
Stories abound of how
St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) could communicate with animals
and felt at one with all creation. Here are a few of the stories
that were first recorded by Thomas of Celano during the 13th century.
retold by John Feister
Preaches to the Birds
Rabbits and Fish
and the Wolf
Francis Preaches to the Birds return
Father Francis and his
companions were making a trip through the Spoleto Valley near
the town of Bevagna. Suddenly, Francis spotted a great number
of birds of all varieties. There were doves, crows and all sorts
of birds. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in
the road and ran after the birds, who patiently waited for him.
He greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off
into the air as he spoke. But they moved not.
Filled with awe, he asked
them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God.
He said to them: My brother and sister birds, you should
praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers
for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need.
It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your
home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive
Gods guidance and protection.
At this the birds began
to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis,
rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their
nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them,
turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with
Then he gave them his blessing,
making the sign of the cross over them. At that they flew off
and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way.
Later, Francis wondered
aloud to his companions why he had never preached to birds before.
And from that day on, Francis made it his habit to solicitously
invoke all birds, all animals and reptiles to praise and love
their Creator. And many times during Francis life there
were remarkable events of Francis speaking to the animals. There
was even a time when St. Francis quieted a flock of noisy birds
that were interrupting a religious ceremony! Much to the wonder
of all present, the birds remained quiet until Francis sermon
Francis, Rabbits and Fish return
One day a brother brought
a rabbit who had been caught in a trap to St. Francis. Francis
advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released
the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way.
But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francis lap, desiring
to be close to the saint.
Francis took the rabbit
a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed Francis
back to his seat and hopped on his lap again! Finally Francis
asked one of his fellow friars to take the rabbit far into the
woods and let it go. That worked. This type of thing happened
repeatedly to Franciswhich he saw as an opportunity to praise
the glory of God. If the simplest creatures could be so endowed
with Gods wonder, how much the more so we humans!
Fish were also known to
obey Francis. Whenever a fish was caught and Francis was nearby,
he would return the fish to the water, warning it not to be caught
again. On several occasions the fish would linger awhile near
the boat, listening to Francis preach, until he gave them permission
to leave. Then they would swim off. In every work of art, as St.
Francis called all creation, he would praise the artist, our loving
Francis and the Wolf return
Perhaps the most famous
story of St. Francis is when he tamed the wolf that was terrorizing
the people of Gubbio. While Francis was staying in that town he
learned of a wolf so ravenous that it was not only killing and
eating animals, but people, too. The people took up arms and went
after it, but those who encountered the wolf perished at its sharp
teeth. Villagers became afraid to leave the city walls.
Francis had pity on the
people and decided to go out and meet the wolf. He was desperately
warned by the people, but he insisted that God would take care
of him. A brave friar and several peasants accompanied Francis
outside the city gate. But soon the peasants lost heart and said
they would go no farther.
Francis and his companion
began to walk on. Suddenly the wolf, jaws agape, charged out of
the woods at the couple. Francis made the Sign of the Cross toward
it. The power of God caused the wolf to slow down and to close
Then Francis called out
to the creature: Come to me, Brother Wolf. In the name of
Christ, I order you not to hurt anyone. At that moment the
wolf lowered its head and lay down at St. Francis feet,
meek as a lamb.
St. Francis explained to
the wolf that he had been terrorizing the people, killing not
only animals, but humans who are made in the image of God. Brother
Wolf, said Francis, 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 crimes 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 St. Francis extended his hand to receive the pledge,
so the wolf extended its front paw and placed it into the saints
hand. Then Francis commanded the wolf to follow him into town
to make a peace pact with the townspeople. The wolf meekly followed
By the time they got to
the town square, everyone was there to witness the miracle. With
the wolf at his side, Francis gave the town a sermon on the wondrous
and fearful love of God, calling them to repent from all their
sins. Then he offered the townspeople peace, on behalf of the
wolf. The townspeople promised in a loud voice to feed the wolf.
Then Francis asked the wolf if he would live in peace under those
terms. He bowed his head and twisted his body in a way that convinced
everyone he accepted the pact. Then once again the wolf placed
its paw in Francis hand as a sign of the pact.
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 hurt it. Even the dogs did not bark at it. When
the wolf finally died of old age, the people of Gubbio were sad.
The wolfs peaceful ways had been a living reminder to them
of the wonders, patience, virtues and holiness of St. Francis.
It had been a living symbol of the power and providence of the
is editor of AmericanCatholic.org,
managing editor of Catholic
Update and an assistant editor of St.