The Sunday closest to the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, usually the first Sunday in October, is often observed with a Blessing of the Animals ceremony in Catholic and Anglican churches around the world. This year the ceremony coincides with the day Saint Francis is honored, October 4.
Francis is famous for many things: for founding the order of Franciscans; for his peace-making efforts, particularly with the Muslim world; and for creating the first Christmas crèche, with live animals posed around a manger filled with straw.
Folk legends about him often revolve around his tender treatment of animals. On one occasion, he preached to the birds, telling them they should be thankful for their clothes, their freedom, and that God cared for them – and the birds stood still to listen to him.
He once tamed a wolf that was menacing the town of Gubbio, convincing the wolf to stop killing men and animals, and convincing the dogs of the town to leave the wolf alone and the townspeople to feed him. Renaissance painters frequently pictured him surrounded by animals.
In his Canticle of the Sun, Francis addresses Brother Sun and Sister Moon, Brother Fire and Sister Water. Thus, he has become the patron saint of ecology. The current pope chose to take the name of Francis because he admired the saint’s devotion to the poor. If Francis were alive today, he would probably join the pope in preaching about climate change.
On this holiday, if you do not participate in a Blessing of the Animals ceremony, you might consider undertaking some action to protect the environment, in the spirit of Saint Francis.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”
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