Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi
Also known as
Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral Day
annually on October 4th
The Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi commemorates the life of Francis of Assisi and his transition to the afterlife. In the Catholic Church, Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals, ecology, the environment, and Italy. He is known for his generosity to the poor and willingness to minister to those with leprosy, and for showing humility and aligning his words with his actions, which he exemplified by wearing tattered sackcloth and choosing poverty as a way of life. He also founded the Catholic Church's Franciscan order.
Francis was born in Assisi, Italy, in 1181 or 1182. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, the privilege and revelry of his youth did not match the saintly endeavors he'd later pursue, nor did his role as a soldier in the 1202 war between Assisi and Perugia. A member of the cavalry, he was captured by the Perugians and held in prison for almost a year, until his father paid a ransom. He claimed to receive visions of God during his imprisonment and was quite sick when he returned home in 1203.
According to legend, he met a leper while he was riding a horse, and perceived him as a moral conscience, or perhaps as Jesus himself, and instead of turning away, as he would have in his past, he embraced him. Francis began spending time in a mountain hideout and in quiet churches, praying and nursing lepers. He claimed to have heard the voice of Christ telling him to repair the Christian church and lead a life of poverty. The final vestiges of his pre-prison life fell away like chaff in the wind.
Francis became known around the Christian world. He aimed to bring back the values of Jesus Christ to the bloated and money-laden church. He traveled to multiple villages a day, preaching a relatable and emotional gospel. His followers came to be known as Franciscan friars. A vision in 1224 reportedly left him with the stigmata of Christ. Francis died on October 3, 1226—on the night before the date that would become his feast day—in Portiuncula, Italy, at the age of 44. His sainthood was announced by Pope Gregory IX in 1228.
On the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, observed today, religious services are held in Assisi at the Basilica of St. Francis and the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels. Lamps are lit with consecrated oil on the evening before, and burn in the city for two days.
In the United States, the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi is a day when pets are blessed, which is why it is also sometimes called Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral Day. Many Catholic churches offer animal blessing services on or around the date. Children often bring their pets, and the pets may receive a verbal blessing and holy water. The tradition is most fitting since Saint Francis is the patron saint of animals. Some Anglican churches also take part in the tradition of blessing animals.
Some churches request donations on the day, like blankets and animal food, which are given to animal shelters. Nature walks are organized, and children sometimes write about the plants and animals they see. Messages about what can be done to save endangered and abused animals are often shared by educators, caregivers, and animal rights organizations. Appropriately, the day coincides with World Animal Day.
How to Observe Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi
- Attend services and events being held in honor of the day at a church, cathedral, or basilica. If you have pets, check to see if any nearby places of worship are blessing pets today, and bring them along.
- Donate animal-related items to a church collecting them or to an animal shelter.
- Go on a nature walk with children and have them write about the plants and animals they see.
- Make a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi and take part in events being held there and throughout Assisi.
- Read a biography about Saint Francis of Assisi such as Francis of Assisi: A New Biography by Augustine Thompson.
- Read some words written by Saint Francis of Assisi, such as the collection titled The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi.
- Watch a film that focuses on Saint Francis of Assisi such as The Flowers of Saint Francis, Francis of Assisi, or Francesco.