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Brother Wolf

Monument to St. Francis and the Wolf in Gubbio

[image ALT: A rectangular bronze plaque, about 2 m long and 1 m high, set in a concrete frame and supported on two squat concrete feet in field in front of some trees. It represents a man embra­cing a wolf in the center, while to the left wolves flee, and to the right men stand in amazement. The plaque depicts a legend of the life of St. Francis of Assisi; the monument is in Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy).]

Just across from the chapel of S. Maria della Vittoria, without any particular sign or fanfare, the visitor comes across this bronze bas-relief, by the Bolognese sculptor Farpi Vignoli (1973). There's nothing much to it, but it commemorates an event in the life of Gubbio, of St. Francis of Assisi, and of a wolf who used to live here; which, according to tradition, happened at just about this spot — on a map of Gubbio, you'll find the church and the monument a bit S of the via di Frate Lupo (Brother Wolf Street).

Notice that it was the people of Gubbio, rather than their wolf, by and large, who needed taming: and for a while, no doubt, St. Francis succeeded.

In the days when Saint Francis dwelt in the city of Agobbio, a very large, terrible and ferocious wolf appeared in the county of Agobbio, who not only devoured animals, but even men; so that all the townspeople were in great fear, since very often it drew nigh unto the city; and all went armed when they left the city, as if they were going off to battle; yet with all that they could not defend themselves from him, if they chanced to meet him alone. And for fear of this wolf it came to pass that no one dared to leave the area. Having compassion for the people of the area, Saint Francis wished to go out to this wolf, although the townspeople advised him not to do it at all; and making the sign of the most holy cross, he left town with his companions, pla­cing all his trust in God. And doubting that the others would go any farther, Saint Francis took the opposite path to where the wolf was.

And lo, seeing many townspeople who had come to see this miracle, the said wolf came to meet Saint Francis, with his mouth open; and approaching him Saint Francis made the sign of the most holy cross, and called him to himself and spoke thus: "Come here, Brother Wolf, I command you in the name of Christ not to harm me or any other person." An astonishing thing to say!

The instant Saint Francis had made the sign of the cross, the terrible wolf closed his mouth and ceased running; and upon being commanded, came tamely like a lamb, and threw himself down to lie at the feet of Saint Francis. And Saint Francis spoke to him thus: "Brother Wolf, you're doing a lot of harm in these parts, and have committed great evils, wasting and killing God's creatures without his permission, and you have not only killed and devoured beasts, but you've dared to kill men made in the image of God; and for that you deserve to be strung up like the worst thief and murderer; and all the people clamor and murmur against you, and this entire land is your enemy. But I want, Brother Wolf, to make peace between you and them, so that you shall not offend them any more, and that they shall pardon you all your past offenses, and so that neither men nor dogs persecute you any more." And when Francis had said these words, the wolf by moving his body and his tail and his ears and by bowing his head showed that he accepted what Saint Francis said, and wished to observe it.

Then Saint Francis said: "Brother Wolf, since you have deigned to make and to hold this peace, I promise to you that I will arrange to have supplies provided to you constantly, so long as you shall live, by the men of this land, so that you might suffer hunger no more; because I know well that it's out of hunger that you've done all this evil. But since I'm granting you this grace, I want you, Brother Wolf, to promise me that you will never do any harm to man or beast: will you promise me this?" And the wolf, by bowing his head, made an evident sign that he so promised. And Saint Francis said: "Brother Wolf, I want you to shake on this promise, so that I can trust in it well". And when Saint Francis stretched forth his hand to receive the wolf's pledge, the wolf immediately raised his right paw, and tamely put it on Saint Francis's hand, giving him what sign of his pledge he could. And then Saint Francis said: "Brother Wolf, I command you in the name of Jesus Christ, to come now with me without any hesitation, and we shall go confirm this peace in the name of God". And the wolf, obeying, comes along with him like a tame lamb; seeing which, the townspeople marvel greatly. And straightaway the news became known thruout the city; so that everyone, men and women, great and small, young and old, drew nigh to the public square to see the wolf with Saint Francis.

And the entire people being met there together, Saint Francis arose and preached to them, telling, among other things, how because of sins God allows all manner of such things and pestilences, and how much more dangerous are the flames of hell, which the damned must suffer eternally, that they are not like the rage of the wolf that can only kill the body: "How much therefore is to be feared the mouth of hell, when such a multitude is afraid and affrighted by the mouth of a little animal! Turn ye therefore, my dearest, to God and repent properly of your sins, and God will free you from the wolf in the present, and in the future from the eternal fire." And having preached, Saint Francis said: "Listen, my brothers: Brother Wolf who is here before you promised me and pledged me his troth, to make peace with you and never to offend you in anything, and now promise to give him all the necessaries; and I give myself as surety to you that he will strictly observe the pact of peace."

Then the entire people with one voice promised to feed it always. And Saint Francis, before all, said to the Wolf: "And you, Brother Wolf, do you promise to observe the pact of peace with them, that you shall offend neither men nor beasts nor any other creature?" And the wolf knelt down and bowed his head and with tame movements of his head and his ears demonstrated, insofar as was possible, that he wished to observe the entire pact with them. Saint Francis said: "Brother Wolf, I want you, just as you shook on this promise with me outside the gate, to shake again with me here in pledge of your promise in front of the entire people, that you will not trick me as to my promise and being surety for you."

Then the wolf raising his right paw, placed it in the hand of Saint Francis. So for this act and the others mentioned above there was so much joy and admiration among the entire people, both for the devotion of the Saint and for the novelty of the miracle and the peace of the wolf, that all started to shout to heaven, praising and blessing God, who had sent them Saint Francis, who thru his merits had freed them from the maw of the cruel beast. And then the said wolf lived for two years in Agobbio, and would enter houses tamely from door to door, without harming anyone and himself coming to no harm, and he was courteously fed by the people, and as he went thus thru the land and in the houses, never once did a single dog bark after him. Finally after two years Brother Wolf died of old age, at which the townspeople grieved much, having seen him walking around the city so tame, and they remembered better the virtue and holiness of Saint Francis. In praise of Jesus Christ and of little poor Francis. Amen.

Chapter XXI of the Fioretti, in its entirety,
as quoted on the Vatican website;
my translation.

[image ALT: A close-up of the bronze plaque seen previously on this page: a haloed man embra­cing a wolf. It is a monument in Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy), to a legend of the life of St. Francis of Assisi.]

Historically inaccurate, but then the late 20th century was rather more touchy-feely than the 13th. Wolves, however, are much nicer than many people think, and I wouldn't mind hugging one either, provided he was well fed.

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Site updated: 10 Jan 11