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Who Was St. Francis?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Saint Francis is a Roman-Catholic saint who is perhaps most noted for his love of animals. In addition to being the patron saint of animals, St. Francis is also the saint of Italy and the environment. His feast day is on October fourth, and it is often celebrated in Italian churches. Outside of Italy, many Catholic churches hold pet blessings on his feast day, in which pet owners can bring their animals to the church for a blessing from the priest.

Like other Roman-Catholic saints, St. Francis was a real man. He was born around 1182 in Assisi, Italy, to a wealthy merchant and his wife. By all accounts, Francis of Assisi was a bit of a libertine in his younger years, enjoying frivolity, colorful garments, music, and the company of his friends. In 1201, Francis of Assisi was imprisoned during a military expedition, and evidence seems to suggest that his conversion began around this period.

In 1205, Francis was allegedly praying in a church when he had a vision from Christ, in which He said that Francis should “rebuild my house.” Francis of Assisi interpreted the vision literally, selling all his possessions to rebuild the ramshackle church he was praying in, and ultimately becoming a mendicant, someone who relies on the charity of others for survival. Francis began wandering the roads of Italy teaching Christianity and poverty, and he started to collect a band of followers which eventually turned into the Franciscan Order.

St. Francis is considered a role model by many Christians, since he took a vow of poverty and pledged to live like Christ did, choosing poverty and the Bible over a life of comfort and diversions. His love for animals was said to be so strong that he even preached sermons to them, holding prayer meetings attended by birds, deer, and other creatures. Many statues and paintings of St. Francis depict him with animals, especially birds, and he was said to be fond of the natural world, perhaps because he spent so much time outdoors.

Francis of Assisi left behind several collections of writings, which have been used to construct the story of his life. His contemporaries also wrote about him, as did later historians, who undoubtedly embroidered upon the truth a bit in a quest to ensure that St. Francis would be considered a candidate for sainthood. According to some of these later accounts, the last words of St. Francis on his deathbed in 1226 concerned his donkey, whom he wished to thank for years of faithful service.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1006757 — On May 16, 2022


By anon273594 — On Jun 07, 2012

Was there any record kept of his apology?

By anon51784 — On Nov 09, 2009

The last words of St. Francis were to his brothers at his side, "I have done what was mine to do; may God show you yours." The reference to his "donkey" was actually an apology of sorts may to his own physical body which he called "Brother Ass."

Francis was notorious for his harsh treatment of his body through fasting, penance and deprivation. He came to realize at the end of his life that this abusive treatment was not something to be encouraged, thus the apology. Francis was a man of his times and physical penances were a common form of spirituality even if in error because of extremes.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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