2 October 2020
Saint Francis of Assisi – The Patron Saint of Animals
One of your proudest moments when becoming a qualified veterinary nurse is receiving your red RVN badge, which is worn with pride on your uniform.
If you take a closer look at both your badge and the BVNA logo, you’ll see Saint Francis Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals, symbolising our dedication to the care of animals.
On the 4th of October, we celebrate the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, also known as World Animal Day, in his honor. In this blog, we take a look at the life of St Francis and how he became one of the first animal advocates because of his love for animals and the natural world.
The Life of St Francis
St Francis was born in the 1180s in Assisi in Umbria, a central region of Italy. He was born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, however, his father didn’t approve of the name and he was renamed Francesco, or Francis in English.
He came from a wealthy cloth merchant family, and after fighting in a short war between Puglia and Assasi, where he was taken hostage for a year and then falling ill, he began reflecting on his life and became spiritual after hearing a voice tell him “to serve the Master rather than the man”.
He then spent some years travelling around the region of Umbria, where he went on a pilgrimage to Rome and gave away his money and clothes and started to beg to experience life as a poor man. He then made it his mission to work for the church and the poor, which greatly disappointed and angered his father. He started a new religious order called The Order of Friars Minor, which has a motto in Latin ”pax et bonum” which translates to “peace and the good”.
In 1224, St Francis wrote a hymn called “The Canticle of the Sun” which praises and thanks God for the creation of animals and the environment – the sun, moon and stars, fire, wind and water.
There are also many stories and paintings that portray him preaching to the birds. One folklore story describes how one day while travelling he said to his companions “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds”. He proceeded to have a captive audience of birds that surrounded him as he addressed them by saying “you owe much to God, your Creator, and always in every place ought you to praise him because he has given you the liberty to fly everywhere”. This is why he is often portrayed with a bird, which is usually in his hand (like in the BVNA logo, which has been used since 1977!)
The Feast of St Francis of Assisi
The Feast of St Francis is a celebration which commemorates the life of St Francis and his devotion to animals. Many churches on Sunday open their doors to pets and their owners and it has become known as “The Blessing of the Animals” day.
Every kind of animal, whether they are pets or from farms, if they have two legs or four, hooves or claws, beaks, scales, fins or shells (yes, there was even a 100 year old tortoise!), can be blessed in his honor.
World Animal Day
Sunday the 4th of October is also known as World Animal Day which has a mission to “raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe”.
World Animal Day originally started in Germany in the 1920s by Heinrich Zimmermann, who was a cynologist (someone who studies the care and behaviour of dogs), and it was officially recognised as a way to raise awareness about animal welfare standards in 1931 at the International Animal Protection Congress in Italy.
It is now celebrated globally, “irrespective of nationality, religion, faith or political ideology” to make the world a better place for animals, where they are recognised as sentient beings which require welfare standards.
You can read more about World Animal Day here – what events are on, how you can get involved, making pledges and also download resources to put up on your practice noticeboard.
The St Francis Award
In this year’s “BVNA This Is Us 2020 – A Celebration of Veterinary Nursing” online event, there is a brand-new award which will go to a veterinary nurse who has gone above and beyond for their team, for their patients or for our profession over the past 12 months, called the St Francis Award.
Although nominations have closed for this award, you can watch the ceremony by registering for the event here (it is free for BVNA members!)
St Francis is there on our badge everyday of our veterinary nursing career, and now you know a little bit more on why – because of a shared devotion to the care of animals, and even after almost 1000 years, he still has an impact on World Animal Day.