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Francis and the Wolf

If we could talk to the animals, just imagine it
Chatting to a chimp in chimpanzee
Imagine talking to a tiger, chatting to a cheetah
What a neat achievement that would be…

Lyrics from the movie Doctor Doolittle

St Francis is often remembered for his love of animals. He’s the patron saint of animals, there are stories about him preaching to birds, and…he supposedly tamed a man eating wolf.

On Saturday we arrived in the Italian hill town of Gubbio . Many of the buildings in this beloved medieval town date to the 14th and 15th centuries—predating Columbus. But the place dates back to well before that. The Roman amphitheater just to the south of is one of the best outside of Rome itself.

Francis is well remembered in Gubbio for his encounter with…a wolf. After being estranged from his parents he arrived on foot in this hill town in 1206-1207. At the time, a local wolf had graduated from killing livestock to eating humans. The town was terrorized by this monster. The residents called upon young Francis.

According to the stories he approached the lair of the wolf—with the townspeople following at a safe distance. The wolf lunged at him but stopped when he made the sign of the cross. After a conversation with the wolf involving a handshake—and pawshake , Francis announced that he had reached an agreement that if the townspeople would feed him, the wolf would no longer hunt humans, or their livestock. This agreement lasted for several years until his death. Then the townspeople buried Brother Wolf at a small church outside the walls of Gubbio, near where the agreement had been made.

Just a fun fable, right? This story and others make Francis sound like the original Doctor Doolittle. But in 1872 when the church was renovated they found under a slab—the skeleton of a wolf. Coincidence or confirmation?

The skeleton is now interred in a crypt located in the upper part of town in the church of San Francesco della Pace. Access to the small church was only two Euros.

Outside of town is a monument to Francis and the wolf—located across the street from a small church (Chiesa Della Vittorina) where the encounter with the wolf took place. Miracle or fable? Maybe we’ll know…someday.

A confession, we cheated on this day into Gubbio. On our pilgrimages we always walk every step of the way and carry our own gear. But our host the night before suggested that the last part of the trek into Gubbio was rather boring and we would be better off catching a bus and enjoying more of Gubbio. So we walked the first 19 kilometers and bussed the last six. In our defense, the saint probably rode a donkey on occasion. And we live by the mantra, “Trust the locals.”

Real Wolves in Italy. We were surprised to hear from an Italian pilgrim (peligrino) that there ARE still wolves in Italy. A 2016 showed approximately 1500 wolves living in the country. On the path on the way into Gubbio we saw some very suspicious looking scat on the trail. We don’t plan on walking in the dark.

Don Matteo fans

Gubbio is the location of the long running Italian television series, Don Matteo . Father Matteo is a Catholic priest known for talent in investigating local crimes. One of the local cafes has Don Matteo props outside and plenty of posters inside.