Sunday, September 7, 2014

Photo of the Day: St. Francis and the Wolf Statue, Chautauqua NY

I have spent so much time at the Chautauqua Institution that the last time I went, at the start of August, I did not expect to record much if anything with my camera that I hadn’t seen already.   

But this picturesque village in upstate New York continues to surprise me. In particular, I was struck by the sight of this outdoor sculpture on the Brick Walk, in front of the east facade of The Hall of Missions.

“St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio,” dedicated in 1933, was created by Ruth Sherwood. Another sculpture on this subject by the same artist stands in the famous Mission Inn of Riverside, Calif.

I think, however, that this tale of St. Francis of Assisi is more in keeping with the spirit of Chautauqua than California.  The Catholic Church doesn’t claim that this incident is factual. (Even the deeply orthodox Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia denies that it occurred.) But as an allegory, it represents why the saint became so beloved.

The story goes that a wolf so terrified the people of Gubbio that they prevailed upon Francis to intervene. Astonishingly, the wolf listened to the saint's command to leave the townspeople alone--and the assurance that he, in turn, would not be touched--and lay at his feet.

In Francis’ day, many would have understood the wolf in a different context—as signifying the potentially mortal threat posed by Moslems in the Middle East at the time of the Crusades. The wolf’s submission to Francis’ command--a command given without a weapon at hand--can be seen as a rebuke to the notion of force.

In other words, conquering terror through the power of love is as miraculous today as it was a millennium ago.

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