The Wolf of Gubbio

Story Time

January 30, 2002|By Michael Bedard

* Editor's note: This is one of the stories based upon the legendary St. Francis of Assisi, who renounced a life of wealth. He chose poverty and preached the gospel of brotherly love and caring for the poor and sick.

It is near noon in Gubbio. I sit at the window of the house and look down the narrow lane, where the great grey wolf goes from door to door. Other faces watch at other windows. Soon the wolf will come to our door as well. But I am not afraid, for I have seen a wonder in Gubbio.

Once we lived in fear. The gates were locked and barred. Those who left the town, left armed with pikes and pitchforks, and traveled in groups for safety. Many were afraid to leave at all.

For in a cave in the woods below the town there lived a monstrous wolf. And when hunger drew him from his den, so fierce was he that no living thing was safe from him.

Then one day a ragged band of strangers appeared. They were barefoot, their coarse robes belted at the waist with cord. Whispers followed them as they walked along the cobbled lanes.

"It is the Poverello," I heard someone say. "The little poor one. He calls all creatures brother and sister. They say he understands the language of bird and beast."

"Some say he works wonders," said another.

He sat down by the well in the square, drew water, drank, and passed the cup to his companions. He spoke quietly with the crowd that had gathered there. The talk soon turned to the wolf who terrorized the town.

The Poverello listened intently to the story they had to tell. When they were done he quietly rose and said, "I will go to see this wolf."

"No!" the people pleaded. "You will surely be killed."

"Nonetheless, I shall go," he said.

He made his way to the town gates with his companions following at a distance behind. And behind them further still, those of the townsfolk who dared to go. I went with them and saw all with my own eyes, or I would not believe it to be true.

We walked down the path that led into the woods. There, in the shadows of the tall oaks and walnut trees, the wolf had his lair.

Suddenly there came a fearful howl, and out from the shadows sprang the wolf. At the sight of him the people turned and ran. I climbed up into the closest tree and cowered there. But the little brother walked on. With jaws agape, the great beast bounded toward him.

And then I saw a thing I thought impossible. For as the wolf was about to pounce, the brother raised his hand and made a sign of blessing.

"Brother Wolf," he said. "I command you in the name of God to harm neither me nor any other."

The wolf stopped as if he had been struck. He closed his great mouth and came walking to where the little brother stood.

"Brother Wolf," said the Poverello, "You have done great wrong to kill the creatures of God. The people of Gubbio cry out against you and would have you hanged on the gallows like a criminal. But I wish to make peace between you and them. If they forgive the ill you have done, you in turn, must promise to offend no more."

The Poverello turned then, and walked back toward the town with the wolf following close behind. As they went beneath the tree where I hid, the wolf looked up at me.

Through the city gates and up the cobbled streets the strange procession passed. And all the townsfolk marveled at the fierce beast become mild as a lamb.

They gathered in the square. The little brother sat down by the well with his companions and gave the wolf a drink. Then he spoke to the people.

"Friends," he said, "put away your fear. Brother Wolf has pledged to keep peace with you. It was hunger that drove him to these evil deeds. Do you, for your part, promise to feed him faithfully each day?"

With one accord the people promised to provide for the wolf and to welcome him among them without fear.

Then the brother turned to the wolf and said, "Brother Wolf, pledge me your faith again, before these people, that you will keep the promise you have made."

While all the town looked on, the wolf raised his ragged paw and placed it in the brother's palm.

And so it was done. From that day to this, the wolf has lived within these walls.

Each day at noon he goes from door to door, doing harm to none nor fearing harm. Soon he will come to our door.

I will give him this food we have set aside for him. And when he is done, he will hold his paw out to me, and I will take it in my hand.

Excerpted from The Wolf of Gubbio, published by Stoddart Kids. Text copyright c 2000 by Michael Bedard. Illustrations copyright c 2000 by Murray Kimber. Reprinted by permission.

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