St Francis of Assisi – with Birds of Aotearoa

“St Francis with Birds of Aotearoa” [Egg tempera and gilding on gessoed board, 38x25cm]

Saint Francis (b. 1181) was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher. He founded the men’s Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the Third Order of Saint Francis. Francis is one of the most venerated and painted religious figures in history. ‘To rekindle the love of God in the world and reanimate the life of the spirit in the hearts of men’ — this was his mission.

Francis was a profound mystic in the truest sense of the word. The whole world was to him one luminous ladder, upon the rungs of which he approached and beheld God. He profoundly united religion and nature – finding in all created things, however trivial, some reflection of the Divine perfection. (See his famous poem “Canticle of the Creatures” below.) He loved to admire in them the beauty, power, wisdom, and goodness of their Creator. He saw a sermon in stones, and good in everything. He delighted to commune with the wild flowers, the crystal spring, the friendly fire, and to greet the sun as it rose.

The very animals found in Francis a tender friend and protector and the early legends have left us many an idyllic picture of how beasts and birds alike were susceptible to the charm of Francis’s gentle ways, and entered into loving companionship with him. How his “little brethren the birds” listened so devoutly to his sermons that Francis chided himself for not having thought of preaching to them before. A winning trait of Francis which inspires the deepest affection was his unswerving directness of purpose and unfaltering following after an ideal. “His dearest desire so long as he lived”, Celano tells us, “was ever to seek among wise and simple, perfect and imperfect, the means to walk in the way of truth.” To Francis love was the truest of all truths; hence his deep sense of personal responsibility towards his fellows. Hardly less engaging than his boundless sense of fellow-feeling was Francis’s downright sincerity and artless simplicity. Humility was, no doubt, the saint’s ruling virtue. He truly believed himself less than the least.

For many thousands of years the birds had dominion over the islands of New Zealand,  but human settlement forced the extinction of many, and several species are currently endangered.  New Zealand has lost more bird species than any other nation. Of those remaining we now have a higher percentage at risk than any other country. Yet they will continue to hold their place in this land – intimately connected with the forest, the mountains and the shorelines. During Francis’ lifetime, they would have been abundant. The Kea, in the bottom of the image, is considered to be a guardian. In Francis’ right hand he holds one of our most endangered birds – the black robin – which was once reduced to one breeding pair. [more info]

The Praise of the Creatures

(Written by St. Francis)

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours all glory, honour and blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Praised be You, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
He is most beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
He bears the essence, of You, Most High.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the Stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through air serene and stormy clouds,
through every kind of weather

You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water;
She is very useful, humble, precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds and sustains us, who rules and governs us
Who produces many fruits and colourful flowers and herbs.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.


[This image and poem are reproduced in a large card, see order form]

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