Pigs and persistence
St Francis of Assisi is famous for two things: preaching to birds, and the useless saying ‘Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words’. Presumably his theology of preaching was dictated by his audience. Francis earned himself the nickname ‘God’s Jester’ and the 14th Century Tuscan work, Fioretti di San Francesco, follows the escapades of his band of monks for our spiritual instruction and amusement.
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One of the best known is the story of St Juniper who joined Francis in 1210 and of whom Francis remarked, ‘Would to God, my brothers, I had a whole forest of such Junipers’. Boom boom. One of the friars was ill and Juniper asked if there was anything he could do for him. The brother asked for a simple meal of a pig’s foot, so Juniper happily trotted off in search of a pig. He spotted one wandering around in a neighbour’s farm and lopped-off a foot for his brother.
The owner of the pig was furious and hurled abuse at the Franciscans. Francis demanded that Juniper apologise and make some reparation to the farmer. Juniper was a simple soul, though, and failed to understand how the man could be so upset about such an act of kindness so he retold the story of the pig’s trotter as if he had done the farmer a favour. When the farmer exploded at this, Junpier assumed he had misunderstood and gave him a hug, told the story again- this time hamming it up great deal- and asked that the whole pig could be given to the Franciscans. The farmer was won over by Junpier’s pigheadedness and donated the animal to be slaughtered.
Perhaps Juniper would have looked back to the father of monasticism, St Anthony, who is also the patron saint of pigs. While on a year of solitary retreat and prayer, Anthony was tempted by the devil appearing to him in the form of a fierce porker which viciously mauled him. Anthony graciously resisted the temptation to fight back and serve-up bacon butties, was enveloped by a ‘wondrous light’ and the pig was transformed into a humble and docile porcine companion. Since then, ‘Tantony’ (a contraction of ‘Saint Anthony’) is the nickname given to runt piglets in the litter.