By Elizabeth Flynn
Wolves play a huge part in the folklore of Italy with many tales featuring these creatures being passed down the generations. One such folklore tale is the ‘Wolf of Gubbio’, the wolf that terrorized the city of Gubbio in Umbria.
Around 1200, St. Francis of Assisi was living in Gubbio. At the same time, a wolf began appearing in the city and attacking livestock. It wasn’t long before the attacks progressed to humans and the wolf would wait for its prey at the city gates. The locals became so scared that they wouldn’t go out of the city for any reason as they feared an attack by the wolf.
Francis decided that he would leave the city to try and meet with the wolf. The other locals were alarmed at this and advised him against taking this action. A small group followed Francis but hung back once he reached the wolf’s lair. At first, the wolf rushed towards Francis with its jaws wide open. However, Francis made the sign of the Cross and asked the wolf to stop attacking humans. The wolf then lay at Francis’ feet and put his head in Francis’ hand.
Francis spoke calmly to the wolf about how he should respect the locals and they would in turn respect the wolf. The wolf put himself at the mercy of Francis and made an oath with him by placing his paw in Francis’ outstretched hand.
When Francis returned to Gubbio, a crowd had gathered in the town’s marketplace to await his return. They were shocked to see him holding the wolf’s paw and the wolf behaving as though he was Francis’ pet rather than a ferocious wolf. Francis then conducted a sermon in the marketplace for the townsfolk. Francis and the wolf publicly renewed their oath in the presence of the local people.
Francis received great praise from the citizens of Gubbio and he was venerated. The wolf lived amongst the townsfolk in Gubbio for two years and the locals took it in turns to feed him and offer him a place to sleep. When the wolf dies, the locals were sad. Francis buried him and built the Church of Saint Francis of the Peace on the site of the grave.
In 1872, renovations took place at the church. The remains of a large wolf were found under a slab on the perimeter of the church. The skeleton was reburied in the renovated church.