Yesterday, October 4, was celebrated as the Feast Day of St. Francis. If my Bubby were still alive, she’d likely now turn away from the steaming pots on her stove and utter a loud Vat? St. Francis of Assisi is, of course, the patron saint of animals. My Bubby is my family’s patron saint of kugel (a noodle and dairy casserole, sort of a tomato-less Jewish lasagna). Their paths were unlikely to cross.
Francis’ robed image is as much a part of popular culture as it is of Catholicism, although he is not the only saint associated with animals. A quick glimpse of a hagiography bring us Anthony the Great, Patron Saint of domestic animals; St. Dwyn, Patron of ill animals; St. Gall of the birds; St. Bernard of the bees; the Saints Colman, Eloy, Guy and Leonard, all Patrons of horses; St. Ferruolus, called upon when your poultry are ailing; St. Ailbe of the wolves; and, among my favorites, Saint Roch, Patron of Dog Lovers.
Francis was born in northern Italy in the late 12th century, the son of a wealthy family. On a pilgrimage to Rome, he gave up his carefree youth and the trappings of wealth, choosing instead the rough, brown tunic of his gardener: the origin of the distinctive Franciscan habit (far thinner but not entirely unlike Bubby in her mumu). He spent the remainder of his life wandering the countryside, living a life of poverty, preaching to both people and to the animals, negotiating a peace with the wolves, and eventually attracting thousands of followers. Yes, of course, I am drawn to the message and count an old pewter St. Francis medal, a gift bequeathed to me from a wonderful friend of PHS/SPCA, as almost a talisman.
Mit ein hintn zitst men nit oif tsvei ferd!, Grandma would exclaim. Translation: “You can’t sit on two horses with just one butt.” The inference is that you can’t be true to your own culture while simultaneously celebrating another. “But Bubby,” I’d answer her, “haven’t you taught me that there is much good in all people?” She’d smile, knowing that I’d caught her in a conflict of her own colorful expressions, and certain – since food is love – that anyone with a feast day can’t be all bad.