The 4th October is St Francis of Assisi Feast Day.

St Francis hailed from the beautiful little town of Assisi, in Umbria, the region called “the green heart of Italy” for its abundant vegetation and its central position in the country. It is the only region of peninsular Italy which is landlocked.

In Assisi and elsewhere there have been celebrations for “San Francesco Patrono d’Italia 2020”, with the participation of Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who attended the Mass in Assisi’s Upper Church of the Basilica di San Francesco.

Saint Francis was proclaimed, together with Saint Catherine of Siena, the main patron saint of Italy on 18 June 1939 by Pope Pius XII.

He is also one of the most loved and best known saints the world over.

St Francis of Assisi was made patron saint of animals and the environment.

“Assisi’s poverello”, as he’s called for having renounced his family’s wealth and taken a vow of poverty (see above the picture of Giotto’s fresco “St Francis Renunciation of Wordly Goods”), is celebrated for his love of animals, and, while environmental concerns and animal rights were not à la page in his days (he was born in 1181 or 1182 and died in 1226), he manifested a great closeness to nature and all creatures.

Two episodes are particularly well remembered.

In the first, while on a road, he saw trees by the road with a multitude of birds. He greeted the creatures, then went into the field and began to preach to the birds that were on the ground. Suddenly those who were on the trees all came to him together and stood still, while the saint completed his preaching. At the end, when he gave them license to leave, all those birds rose up in the air with marvellous songs.

The second narrative concerns the “lupo di Gubbio”, a very big wolf (at that time wolves still existed in Italy, and not only in the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo National Park) described as “terrible and ferocious, who not only devoured animals, but also men” and who was roaming in the countryside around the town of Gubbio in Umbria, near Assisi.

The wolf was getting too close to Gubbio and its inhabitants were terrified, so much so that they asked St Francis to help them. He went into the woods to meet the wolf; the villagers accompanied him only up to a point but watched the scene. What they saw was the wolf coming towards the friar, who crossed himself, called the creature and spoke to him. The encounter resulted in the agreement that the wolf would stop terrorizing the inhabitants of Gubbio, as long as they committed themselves to feeding the animal daily.

When, years later, the wolf died of old age, the villagers were deeply sorry, partly because he reminded them of the great saint of Assisi.

There are many glorious virtues possessed by the “poverello”, miracles and acts of love of God, devotion, beauty and evangelization accomplished by St Francis of Assisi. I’ll need to come back to these in other articles.

I can mention here that St Francis created the first living Nativity scene, in 1223, engaging real people in it inside a grotto set amid 700-metre-tall rocks in the village of Greccio, not far from Rome.

There are several complete cycles of paintings depicting the events and stages of the life of Saint Francis. The most important one is by Giotto, 28 frescoes of scenes in the Upper Church of the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi.