St. Francis and the Wolf

Renunciation of Worldly Goods, The Bishop of Assisi Dresses St Francis. Scenes from the Life of St Francis (Scene south wall). 1452 Fresco in the basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

As a young man, Francis of Assisi gave away cloth and other goods from his merchant father’s supplies. His father sued his son in court, trying to impress on him that his behavior was unacceptable. But Francis took of all his clothes in court and laid them at his father’s feet, renouncing everything that he had from his father so as to avoid future accusations that he was giving to the poor out of someone else’s resources. The bishop of Assisi, who was the judge in the court, gave Francis something to wear and Francis stepped out into the world as a beggar. He changed Western Europe forever.

Although almost everyone knows the story of St. Francis preaching to the birds, not many people know any other stories that are told about St. Francis. One legend that is among my favorites tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and so he went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at Francis’ feet.

“Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil,” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you … But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly. In return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. In this manner Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again. Finally, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, Francis blessed the wolf.”

According to tradition, Gubbio gave the wolf an honorable burial and later built the Church of Saint Francis of the Peace at the site. During renovations in 1872, the skeleton of a large wolf, apparently several centuries old, was found under a slab near the church wall and then reburied inside.

Because of St. Francis association with the wolf of Gubbio and the birds he preached to, many churches bless animals on the Sunday nearest to St. Francis’ feast day (October 4).

Aoife and Strongbow

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Cork born historical painter Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) at the National Gallery of Ireland

The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Cork born historical painter Daniel Maclise (1806-1870) at the National Gallery of Ireland

Aoife, princess of Leinster, wed the English knight known as “Strongbow” on August 25, AD 1170. Aoife’s father, Diarmait Mac Murchada, had lost his seat as king of Leinster and sought military aid from England to reclaim it. Richard de Clare, a minor knight at the English court, responded to the Irish king’s request for aid; Diarmait promised that whichever knight helped him regain the throne would be given the his daughter Aoife as wife. Richard brought 1,200 fighting men with him and won the battle at Waterford, Ireland on August 23. He and Aoife were married on August 25 on the shore of the River Suir beneath a great oak tree that came to be known as “Strongbow’s Oak.” (The painting above shows the couple being wed in front of the stone tower that was built later alongside the oak.)

According to Irish law at that time, both the man and the woman had to consent to the marriage; it is fair to conclude that Aoife accepted her father’s arrangements. Aoife led troops in battle and is sometimes known as Red Eva (Aoife Rua).

When Diarmait died the next year, Strongbow claimed the throne by right of his marriage to Aoife and began the English occupation of Ireland which continued until the Irish Free State was established in 1922.

Aoife had two sons and a daughter with her husband Strongbow, and via their daughter, Isabel de Clare, within a few generations their descendants included much of the nobility of Europe including all the monarchs of Scotland since Robert I (1274–1329) and all those of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom since Henry IV (1367–1413); and, apart from Anne of Cleves, all the queen consorts of Henry VIII.

Later folktales also identify Strongbow’s Oak as the location of the grave of the young woman known as the dearg-due (“red blood sucker”) who rises from the dead to seduce and kill men, lapping up their blood to sustain herself. The girl who became the dearg due was herself said to have been beaten to death by her English husband and he was her first victim when she rose from the grave as the vampire woman. The dearg due is an important character in the Come Hell or High Water trilogy.

In my upcoming project Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes the princess Aoife makes a bargain with the goddess Badb to be sure that Strongbow wins the battle; the English occupation of Ireland is therefore the result of witchcraft and magic. The goddess Badb is involved in creating the dearg due in an attempt to drive at least some of the English away from Waterford itself.

Escape from Oz!

The Wizard of Oz intends to escape from the Emerald City in the same balloon that brought him from Kansas.

It was on August 17, 1978 that three Americans–Max Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman, all from Albuquerque, New Mexico–made the first transatlantic balloon trip. Starting from Maine on August 11th, they traveled in Double Eagle II over 3,000 miles in 137 hours, landing about 60 miles west of Paris.

But perhaps the most famous hot air balloon ride of all time was one that only happened in our imaginations, in Hollywood. It was the balloon ride that brought Professor Marvel from Kansas to Oz in a windstorm, a tornado not unlike the one that brought Dorothy herself to Oz later. And it was in that same hot air balloon that Professor Marvel, after having been exposed as the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” proposed to take Dorothy with him back to Kansas. Of course, we all know that did NOT work out as planned! Toto saw a beautiful Siamese cat and jumped out of Dorothy’s arms at the last moment. Dorothy scrambled out of the balloon’s basket to get Toto back and the Professor, having already released the balloon’s ballast, was unable to bring the balloon back down to earth to retrieve Dorothy. He sailed off across the Emerald City and back to Kansas. He got there just in time to welcome Dorothy back when she awoke on her own bed–having returned to black-and-white Kansas herself thanks to the aid of Glinda the good Witch of the North (who told Dorothy to simply click her heels together three times as she repeated, “There’s no place like home!”)

Using air and wind to travel was a longtime dream of mankind. It was also one of the most famous accusations against those accused of witchcraft during the great European witch hunts of the 1600-1700s. Flying on broomsticks–like the wicked Witch of the West!–was taken as a sign of the perversity of the accused by the witchcraft judges but people like Professor Marvel (who were able to use air and wind in a “scientific” way even though he himself confessed, “I don’t know how it works!”) were regarded with awe and amazement.

Double standards? For sure! The boundaries between magic and science prove again to be so porous and permeable that one’s person’s science is another person’s magic and vice-versa!