St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of Pets and Animals

A brief profile of St. Francis of Assisi

Mural of St. Francis
Statues and other depictions of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of pets, often adorn pet cemeteries.. Photo © Steven Greaves/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The Catholic Church venerates more than 10,000 men and women as saints so, not surprisingly, many unexpected objects, activities and even geographic areas, among numerous other things, are associated with specific patron saints. For example, St. Drogo is the patron saint of gallstones, St. Columbanus of motorcyclists, and St. Anselm of Lucca is the patron of Mantua, Italy (but not nearby Verona, apparently).

This article offers a brief profile of another Catholic saint, St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of pets and animals.

The Life of St. Francis of Assisi

Born into a wealthy family in central Italy's town of Assisi in 1181, this future Catholic saint was originally named Giovanni, which is the Italian equivalent of the name "John." The boy's father, however, a prosperous silk merchant who successfully conducted business with France and appears to have felt a fondness for all things French (including marrying a French noblewoman), took to calling the boy Francesco, which means "Frenchman" in the Italian language.

Growing up, Francesco enjoyed a life of luxury and privilege. Despite his fortunate, envious station in life, however, Francis and his family were not members of the nobility. In a classic example of "the grass is always greener..." the ambitious youth longed for military battle so he could distinguish himself and, potentially, receive the elevation in class he desperately desired.

When in his early twenties, Francesco received two such opportunities. While these incidents would ultimately profoundly change him, his conversion to a life of Christian faith didn't happen immediately. First, his hometown of Assisi went to war with the nearby city of Perugia, during which he was captured and held for ransom for about a year.

Deprived of privilege and imprisoned in a dark, dank dungeon the entire time, the fact that his captors didn't kill him proved oddly positive because only nobles and those with enough money to pay the ransom were generally kept alive.

Once released from captivity, Francis soon resumed his former life as the son of a wealthy family and exhibited little change in his excessive demeanor and earthly desires. When he left for another battle about a year later (1204), however, he soon experienced a spiritual vision on the road that fundamentally changed him. Not only did this revelation show him the futility of his current lifestyle and ambitions, but it also instructed him to return home immediately.

Francis obeyed the vision and, eventually, he renounced all of his worldly goods and devoted his life to God, the Christian Church and the lessons of the Gospels in the Bible, in order to follow the example set by Jesus as closely as possible. After spending the rest of his life in poverty while spreading the Christian doctrine, Francis eventually grew ill and died in 1226 at the age of 45.

St. Francis' Connection to Pets and Animals

Francis viewed nature and all of its marvelous creations as a reflection of God's power and purpose and, therefore, everything on earth -- animal or plant, large or small -- shared a kinship and bond that required treating everything else in God's creation with respect and as an equal.

This viewpoint extended to animals, too, and two legends helped solidify Francis as the eventual patron saint of pets/animals. The first story relates how he stopped a man-eating wolf from terrorizing residents of a town near Assisi by preaching to it and the power of his voice. The second legend relates how Francis paused during his travels to preach to hundreds of birds perched in trees along the road and urged them to thank God for their beautiful "clothes" and that He cared for them.

For these reasons, among others, St. Francis of Assisi became the Catholic patron saint of pets/animals. Today, countless pet cemeteries worldwide often contain a statue, mural or some other image of St. Francis on their grounds, and pet owners pray to this Catholic saint to bless their pets.

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"St. Francis of Assisi." Retrieved January 23, 2016.

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