If you ever find yourself in the piazza, or town square of the medieval village of Gubbio, you will find a beautiful statue of Saint Francis and the Wolf.
Also, just across from the chapel of S. Maria della Vittoria, without any particular sign or fanfare, the visitor comes across a bronze bas-relief which commemorates an event in Gubbio, by St. Francis of Assisi, and of a wolf who used to live here; which, according to tradition, happened at just about this spot.
Ask the locals about this inspiring statue near the Paloma Cascada Fountain and this is the story you might hear:
A long time ago the town of Gubbio was being harassed a vicious wolf. It all started when a few sheep began to disappear late at night. Then the wolf grew bolder and started stealing sheep in broad daylight. The wolf grew fearless. Hounds and hunters were useless.
The wolf grew so bold it began to creep into the village late at night. Some say it devoured a few small children who did not come home when their mothers called them, but maybe that is just something mothers told their unruly children. This much I know to be true: People were afraid to leave the city walls at night, others were afraid to leave their children playing in the fields at dusk.Saint Francis was already well known; most folks knew about St. Francis and the doves, his sermon to the forest creatures, and his love for all things wild and free.
Someone heard he was near Gubbio, so messengers were sent to see if he could help.“ I’ll make no promises,” he said, “but I will see what I can do.” When Saint Francis arrived in the piazza, a crowd soon gathered. Francis asked, “Who has seen the wolf?” Several nodded. “Who knows where he lives?” At first, no one responded. One timid hand went up in the back of the crowd.
A young woman said, “While tending my sheep, I thought I saw a cave were the wolf took my lamb…” Her voice trailed off.“Please, take me to this cave,” St .Francis asked.“ Y – Y- you w-want me to t-take you t-to the cave?” stammered the young woman.“ Yes, please,” he pleaded, “You seem to be the only one who knows.”
Because St. Francis had faith in her, she took a deep breath and seemed to find the courage in herself. She led the way. Francis followed. The rest of the village followed the two of them… at a safe distance. She paused and said, “Over there, that larger cave,” pointing to the foot of the mountain. Saint Francis led the way, she followed, and the rest of the village, well, they could see just fine from where they were.
Suddenly, the wolf rushed out of the cave growling, howling and foaming at the mouth. Francis crossed himself, thinking he might die, but with the sign of the cross the wolf stopped short, growling and bearing his teeth. Saint Francis plucked up his courage and began to scold the wolf, “How dare you scare me like that!” The wolf cowered, tucked his tail between his legs and whimpered. Francis immediately had a change of heart.
“OH, brother wolf,” he apologized, “Who am I to scold you, one of God’s creatures. You are only doing as you were made to do. When you are hungry you must eat. You live by the laws of God, the laws of nature.” Divine inspiration intercede .Saint Francis’ face lit up. He said to the wolf, “I will make a deal with you! The people of Gubbio will feed you so you will never be hungry again, therefore you shall not harm the people of this village.”
He added, “And in exchange, you shall protect these kind people, watching over their village at night.”
Though at first they were not sure of this bargain Francis was making for them, when they saw the wolf wag his tail like a puppy and place his paw into the hand of Saint Francis, as if he wanted to shake on it, everyone heartily agreed.
Now this event caused great joy in all the people, and a great devotion towards St Francis, both because of the novelty of the miracle, and because of the peace which had been concluded with the wolf; and they lifted up their voices to heaven, praising and blessing God, who had sent them St Francis, through whose merits they had been delivered from such a savage beast.
From that day forward the people of Gubbio fed their scraps to the wolf and the wolf patrolled the village at night. Not only did Francis save the village and save the wolf, but still to this day, in the piazza of Gubbio is a statue of Saint Francis and the Wolf, there to remind us of this small miracle, proof of God’s promise that there is room for redemption in every heart!