SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
AREFOOTED in the snow, bareheaded in the rain, Saint Francis
wandered up and down the world
smiling for the great love that was in his
And because it grew from love the smile
of Saint Francis was a wonderful thing. It
opened the hearts of men and coaxed the
secrets of their thoughts. It led human folk
whithersoever Saint Francis willed. It drew
the beasts to his side and the birds to nestle
in his bosom. It was like a magic charm.
Great princes knew his smile and they
obeyed its command to be generous and
good. The sick and sorrowful knew his
smile. It meant healing and comfort. Then
they rose and blessed God in the name of
Saint Francis. The wretched beggars in the
streets of Assisi knew it. To them the smile
of "the Lord's own beggar" meant help and
sympathy. Like them he was poor and
homeless, often ill and hungry. They wondered
that he could smile. But he said,
 "It does not become a servant of God to
have an air of melancholy and a face full of
trouble." So they also tried to smile, poor
fellows. But how different it was!
The little lambs to whom he gave his
special protection and care knew the smile
of Saint Francis. Once he met two woolly
lambkins who were being carried to market.
He never had any money, but taking off his
cloak, which was all he had to part with, he
gave it to buy their lives. And he carried
the lambs home in his bosom.
The wilder beasts beyond the mountains,
the fierce wolves and shy foxes of Syria and
Spain whom he met in his wanderings knew
Saint Francis. Here was a brother who was
not afraid of them and whom they could trust
in return, a brother who understood and
sympathized. The birds in the trees knew
also, and his coming was the signal of peace.
Then they sang with Francis, but he was the
sweetest singer of them all.
Besides these living things the green fields
of Italy, the trees, the meadows, the brooks,
the flowers all knew the smile of Saint
Francis. It meant to them many things
 which only a poet can tell. But Francis understood,
for he was a poet.
Upon all alike his face of love beamed
tenderly. For Saint Francis of Assisi was a
little brother of the whole great world and
of all created things. Not only did his heart
warm to Brother Sheep and Sister Bees, to
his Brother Fish and his little Sisters the
Doves, but he called the Sun and Wind
his brothers and the Moon and Water his
sisters. Of all the saints about whom the
legends tell, Francis was the gentlest and
most loving. And if
"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,"
the prayers of Saint Francis must have been
very dear to Him who "made and loveth all."
There was none so poor as Francis. Not
a penny did he have, not a penny would he
touch. Let them be given to those who
could not smile, he said. His food he begged
from door to door, broken crusts for a single
poor meal; more he would not take. His
sleeping place was the floor or the haymow,
the ruined church, whatever lodging chance
 gave him. Oftenest he slept upon the bare
ground with a stone for his pillow. He
wanted to be poor because Christ was poor,
and he was trying to live like his Master.
In his coarse brown gown, tied about the
waist with a rope, without hat or shoes he
wandered singing, smiling. The love which
beamed from him like radiance from a star
shone back from every pair of eyes which
looked into his own. For all the world loved
Francis in the time of the Crusades. And
even to-day, seven hundred years since that
dear beggar passed cheerily up and down the
rough Italian roads,—even to-day there are
many who love him like a lost elder brother.
Saint Francis preached to all lessons of
charity and peace. His were simple words, for
he had not the wisdom of many books. But
he knew the book of the human heart from
cover to cover. His words were like fire,
they warmed and wakened. No one could
resist the entreaty and the love that was in
them. So thousands joined the Society of
Little Brothers of which he was the founder,
and became his helpers in works of charity
 His church was out of doors in the beautiful
world that he loved, in mountain, field,
or forest, wherever he happened to be wandering.
Sometimes he preached by the
candle-light of stars. Often the cloistering
trees along the roadside made his chapel, and
the blue sky was the only roof between him
and heaven. Often his choir was of the brother birds
in the branches and his congregation
a group of brother beasts. For he
preached to them also who, though they
spoke a different language, were yet children
of his Father. And in his little talks to them
he always showed the courtesy which one
brother owes another.
Once, on returning from a journey beyond
the sea, he was traveling through the Venetian country,
when he heard a great congregation of birds
singing among the bushes.
And he said to his companion, "Our sisters,
the birds, are praising their Maker. Let
us then go into their midst and sing." So
they did this, and the birds did not fly away
but continued to sing so loudly that the
brothers could not hear each other. Then
Saint Francis turned to the birds and said
 politely, "Sisters, cease your song until we
have rendered our bounden praise to God."
So the birds were still until the brothers had
finished their psalm. But after that when it
was again their turn the birds went on with
At another time when he was preaching
in the town of Alvia among the hills, the
swallows flew about and twittered so loudly
that the people could not hear Saint Francis'
voice. The birds did not mean to be rude,
however. So he turned to the swallows and
saluted them courteously. "My sisters," he
said, "it is now time that I should speak.
Since you have had your say, listen now in
your turn to the word of God and be silent
till the sermon is finished." And again the
birds obeyed the smile and the voice of him
who loved them. Though whether they understood
the grown-up sermon that followed
I cannot tell.
But this is the little sermon which he made
one day for a congregation of birds who sat
around him in the bushes listening.
"Brother Birds, greatly are ye bound to
 praise the Creator who clotheth you with
feathers and giveth you wings to fly with
and a purer air to breathe; and who careth
for you who have so little care for yourselves."
It was not a long sermon, so the birds
could not have grown tired or sleepy, and I
am sure they understood every word. So
after he had given them his blessing he let
them go, and they went singing as he had
Saint Francis preached the lessons of
peace; he would not have cruelty or bloodshed
among his human friends. And he also
taught his beasts to be kind. He loved best
the gentle lambs, one of which was almost
always with him, and in his sermons he would
point to them to show men what their lives
should be. But there is a story told of the
lesson he taught a wolf that shows what power
the Saint had over the fiercer animals. There
are many stories of wolves whom the saints
made tame. But this wolf of Saint Francis
was the most terrible of them all.
This huge and savage wolf had been
caus-  ing great horror to the people of Gubbio.
For in the night he not only stole sheep and
cows from the farms, but he came and carried
off men also for his dinner. So that people
were afraid to go out of the town for fear
of being gobbled up.
Now Saint Francis came. And he said, "I
will go out and seek this wolf." But the
townsfolk begged him not to go, for the good
man was dear to them and they feared never
to see him again. However, he was resolved
and went forth from the gate.
He had gone but a little way when out
rushed the wolf to meet him, with his mouth
wide open, roaring horribly. Then Saint
Francis made the sign of the cross and said
"Come hither, Brother Wolf. I command
thee in Christ's behalf that thou do no evil to
me nor to any one." And wonderful to say!
The wolf grew tame and came like a lamb
to lie at Saint Francis' feet.
Then Francis went on to rebuke him, saying
that he deserved to be hung for his many
sins, being a robber and a wicked murderer
of men and beasts.
 "But I wish, Brother Wolf," he said, "to
make peace between thee and men; therefore
vex them no more and they will pardon thee
all thy past offenses, and neither dogs nor
men will chase thee any more."
At this the wolf wagged his tail and bowed
his head to show he understood. And putting
his right paw in the hand of Saint Francis he
promised never again to steal nor slay. Then
like a gentle dog he followed the holy man
to the market-place of the town, where great
crowds of people had gathered to see what
Saint Francis would do with the great beast,
their enemy, for they thought he was to be
punished. But Francis rose and said to
"Hearken, dear brethren: Brother Wolf
who is here before you has promised me that
he will make peace with you and will never
injure you in any way, if ye promise to give
him day by day what is needful for his dinner.
And I will be surety for him." Thereupon
with a great shout all the people promised
to give him his daily food. Again the wolf
wagged his tail, flapped his long ears, bowed
his head, and gave his paw to Saint Francis
 to show that he would keep his word. All
the people saw him do this. And then there
were shouts of wonder you may be sure, and
great rejoicing because Saint Francis had
saved them from this cruel beast, and had
made a gentle friend of their dreaded enemy.
So after this the wolf lived two years at
Gubbio and went about from door to door
humbly begging his food like Saint Francis
himself. He never harmed anyone, not even
the little children who teased and pulled him
about. But all the people loved him and
gave him what he liked to eat; and not even
a dog would bark at his heels or growl at the
friend of Saint Francis. So he lived to a
good old age. And when after two years
Brother Wolf died because he was so old,
the citizens were very sorrowful. For not
only did they miss the soft pat-pat of his steps
passing through the city, but they grieved
for the sorrow of Saint Francis in losing a
kindly friend,—Saint Francis of whose saintliness
and power the humble beast had been
a daily reminder.
Francis could not bear to see a little
bro-  ther in trouble or pain, and this the beasts
knew very well. He would not willingly
tread upon an insect, but would step aside
and gently bid the Brother Worm depart in
peace. The fish which a fisherman gave him
he restored to the water, where it played
about his boat and would not leave him till
he bade it go.
Once again in the village of Gubbio a live
baby hare was brought him as a present, for
his breakfast. But when Francis saw the
frightened look of the little creature held in
the arms of one of the brothers, his heart
ached with sympathy.
"Little Brother Leveret, come to me," he
said. "Why hast thou let thyself be taken?"
And the little fellow as if understanding the
invitation jumped out of the friar's arms and
ran to Francis, hiding in the folds of his
gown. But when Francis took it out and set
it free, very politely giving it permission to
depart instead of staying to make a breakfast,
it would not go. Again and again it returned
nestling to its new-found friend, as if guessing
that here at least it would be safe forever.
But at last tenderly Saint Francis sent the
 good brother away with it into the wood,
where it was safe once more among its little
bob-tailed brothers and sisters.
Now after a life spent like Christ's in works
of poverty, charity, and love, Saint Francis
came at last to have one spot in the world
which he could call his own. It was neither
a church nor a convent, a cottage nor even a
cell. It was only a bare and lonely mountain
top where wild beasts lived and wild birds
had a home. This retreat in the wilderness
was the gift which Orlando, a rich nobleman,
chose to make Saint Francis. And it was a
precious gift indeed, sorely needed by the
Lord's weary beggar. For he was worn with
wandering; he was ill and weak, and his
gentle eyes were growing dim so that he
could not go along the winding ways. But
he was happy still.
So one warm September day he went with
some of his chosen brethren to take possession
of their new home. They left the villages,
the farms, and at last even the scattered
shepherds' huts far below and behind them,
and came into the quiet of the Italian hills.
 They climbed and climbed over the rocks
and along the ravines, till they came in sight
of the bald summit where Francis was to
dwell. And here in happy weariness he
 paused to rest under an oak-tree and look
about upon the beautiful scene.
But suddenly the air was filled with music,
a chorus of trills and quavers and carols of
the wildest joy. Then the air grew dark with
whirring wings. The birds of the mountain
were coming from everywhere to welcome
home their brother. They flew to him by
hundreds, perching on his head and shoulders;
and when every other spot was covered
they twittered into the hood of his brown
mantle. The brothers stood about, wondering greatly,
although they had seen Saint
Francis in some such plight before. But the
peasant who led the ass which had brought
Saint Francis so far stood like one turned to
stone, unable to believe his eyes. Here was
a miracle the like of which he had never
SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
But Saint Francis was filled with gladness.
"Dearest brethren," he said, "I think it must
be pleasant to our Lord that we should dwell
in this solitary place, since our brothers and
sisters the birds are so glad of our coming."
And indeed, how could they help being
glad of his coming, the dear, kind Saint?
 And how they hovered around the shelter of
branches which the brethren built for him
under a beech-tree on the very mountain top!
One can picture them at morning, noon, and
night joining in his songs of praise, or keeping
polite silence while the holy man talked with
Many wonderful things happened upon
the Monte Alverno while Saint Francis dwelt
there. But none were more wonderful than
the great love of Francis himself; his love
which was so big and so wide that it wrapped
the whole round world, binding all creatures
more closely in a common brotherhood.
So that every man and every bird and
every beast that lives ought to love the name
of that dear Saint, their childlike, simple,
happy little brother, Saint Francis of Assisi.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics