Dear Readers, to continue with the St Francis of Assisi theme I wanted to share this painting, by Stanley Spencer, showing St Francis as a large, avuncular figure, surrounded by the chickens and ducks in the farmyard. It seems to me that it manages to combine the sacred and the profane rather well: Spencer said that St Francis was based on his father, who would go out in his dressing gown to feed the birds. The committee of the Royal Academy were not impressed back in the 1930s however, rejecting this painting along with several others. Spencer resigned his membership of the Royal Academy in protest.
The painting is based on the story of St Francis preaching to the birds: one account tells of how, when passing through a woodland with his companions, he asks them to excuse him while he goes to ‘preach to my sisters, the birds’. The birds are said to have listened attentively, with not one of them flying away.
St Francis of Assisi was the first person to set up a living nativity, with an actual ox and ass, in 1223. The Sunday closest to St Francis’s feast day, 4th October, is often used for a service to bless animals, and one of the largest ceremonies (with the most diverse selection of animals) is held at St John the Divine in Manhattan, but there will be smaller services in many countries. I imagine that it’s quite the occasion, and that keeping all those different animals from getting up to mischief would be quite a challenge. Has anyone ever been to one of these services, dear Readers? Do share.