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.