117. San Francesco d’Assisi

I come from a very Catholic corner of Massachusetts.

Yet while Catholicism was the air we breathed, I don’t recall anyone being particularly pious or devout, or taking it all too seriously. I don’t recall even a peep about all the social issues associated with Catholics today. But the one thing that you commonly saw were religious statues — typically the Virgin Mary — in yards all around town.

These statues — this one seen in Ridley, PA —  are affectionately known as our Lady of the Bathtub.

My husband Ben is a devoted and enthusiastic gardener, tending to a never-ending list of tasks and projects. My contribution is nearly nil, confined to buying the statuary that is stationed throughout. There’s a gnome, of course, and a frog and an angel and a fairy. Never satisfied, I decided I needed a statue of St. Francis.

A house in Bernalda, Basilicata. In Italy, if you don’t have a yard for a statue, you can always embed it in a wall.

My good-sport Jewish husband readily consented to this, and after all, who doesn’t love St. Francis? A rich, spoiled young man, he defied family and his social circle, to give away his worldly possessions and, although sickly and weak, roam hundreds of miles through Italy — ranging from Sicily to Bologna —  founding monasteries and serving the poor. I suppose in today’s world, as with many of the saints, we would have thought of him as crazy; at one point, he is said to have given away every stitch of clothing. But over the past eight centuries, he has remained one of the best known and revered figures in the Catholic tradition, named the patron saint of Italy, of animals and of ecology, and whose name the current Pope chose as his own. In popular culture, he is frequently pictured surrounded by birds and on his saint’s day in October, churches often sponsor ceremonies to which parishioners brings their pets for blessing.

I have seen Francis’ relics in the Basilica in Assisi, but shuffling by with the crowds, that felt more like an experience to check off on the list of tourist must-sees.

Ben in Assisi with the Basilica in the background, 1987

What was far more meaningful was hiking out, in 2010, to the Convento delle Celle di Cortona, on the outskirts of Cortona, a beautiful hill town best known as the setting of Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. There we were able to visit a still-operational monastery where Francis himself stopped on his travels. IMG_8574I still vividly remember the cell he slept in — a dank closet-sized space with a wooden plank on a stone bench, a bit too short for even me to stretch out on. We would not consider it an adequately-comfortable bus shelter on a city street, let alone a living space.IMG_8571

My research showed me that St. Francis was a prominent figure in the history of Gaeta, my father’s hometown, where he was said to perform healing miracles. Perhaps that’s why he was front of mind when my father devised one of his crackpot schemes. He felt if he only had the patience to stand outside in the backyard day after day, perfectly still with crumbs in his hand, eventually the birds would land on him and eat out of his hand, just like Saint Francis. So my statue of St. Francis, bird in hand, is largely an homage to him and his dream.

San Francesco takes his place next to the garden gnome

5 thoughts on “117. San Francesco d’Assisi

  1. My aunt Audrey could feed chickadees from her hand. I have photos of her doing it. So your father’s idea wasn’t so crazy. I think only the very friendly chickadees can be “trained” to do this, and it does take patience!


  2. Sent from Nancy’s iPad

    Begin forwarded message:

    > From: BARBARA > Date: January 22, 2021 at 11:04:10 AM EST > To: Theresa Bulman , Sue James , Sandra Murray , Imelda Nelson , Nancy Anderson , Mary Lyons , Bette Johnson > Subject: Fwd: Gorgeous photography > >  > > Sent from Xfinity Connect App > > > >


  3. Sent from Nancy’s iPad

    Begin forwarded message:

    > From: Anna Abbruzzese > Date: May 15, 2021 at 4:47:25 PM EDT > To: nancy anderson , Martha Horsefield > Subject: Fwd: Memories to Savor > > So true!!! > >> Begin forwarded message: >> >> From: Tara P Volungis >> Subject: Fwd: Memories to Savor >> Date: May 15, 2021 at 3:13:38 PM EDT >> To: Anna Abbruzzese , Bruce Doten , Charles Desantis , “marthahurtig@gmail.com” , dan prisble , Ed Mawyer , Jerry Pastner , “richardjtrocchio@gmail.com” , Hawk Hickman , Kate Kelley , Jerry Kane , John O’Leary , Paul Kalita , Maryann , Tom Minisce , tomreid555 , Pat Sicilia , Patricia Pastner >> >> >> >>


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