|For centuries gardeners have been placing statues of the saints in their gardens to look over their plantings and to inspire. The presence of these stone-faced fellows create a certain peace that a garden should always possess.|
St. Francis of Assisi
The Saint of Saints
The most famous of all garden saints is St. Francis (or Francesco in Italian). Born Giovanni (after John the Baptist) in 1181, his father immediately changed his name to Francesco. His father was a rich merchant and wanted a son to follow in his footsteps, not to be a man of the church. It was in Francis latter 20s when his life changed drastically. He went from rich to poor by his own will, shedding all material possessions, including his own clothing to help another in need. He built a brotherhood of men who reveled in their love of nature and all of Gods creation. In the latter part of his short 45 years, Francis received the Stigmata. It was two years after his death that he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX.
Often youll find statuary that depicts St. Francis flanked by wild birds. The legend is that he preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful for their colorful clothes. The birds stood still and listened as he walked among them. It was not until he said they could leave that the birds flew away.
Another St. Francis statue will show him standing alongside a wolf. A town was being terrorized by a wolf attacking the children. Francis stepped in when he heard the town was planning to kill the wolf. He talked the wolf into never killing again and the towns people soon took in the wolf as a pet, making sure he was well-fed. In all reality, Francis fed the wolf and domesticated him so that there was no need to attack the village children.
My Personal Experience with the Saint
Youll notice that in our display gardens there are more St. Francis statues than of any other saint. This is why:
During our recent tour of Italy we had the good fortune of visiting the Basilica de St. Francesco high on the mountainside in the town of Assisi where St. Francis bones are interred. There is a grandly decorated upper church that is as beautiful as so many that we toured in the old country. Then there is a lower church that, upon entering, one knows that the spirit of the church lies within. It was built to hide the bones of St. Francis so they could not be found by enemies of the church. It is not highly decorated. I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious. Im also a bit of a skeptic. We must have visited twenty basilicas during the trip but none of them, including the Basilica de St. Pietre at the Vatican, gave me the spiritual feeling that I received upon entering the lower church.
Patron Saint of Gardeners
Many confuse St. Francis as being the gardening saint since hes often depicted with birds. The true honors should, however, be bestowed on St. Fiacre, an Irish Monk who spent his days creating beautiful gardens and healing. He was a colorful character who lived in the 600s (a good 500 years before St. Francis) who did not especially care for women, had run-ins with a witch, and who was associated with taxi cabs and hemorrhoids.
Born in a monastery, Fiacre had access to plants and seeds that a normal peasant in those days would never even learn of much less get his hands on. Fiacre, as a priest, was granted forest land by St. Faro on which he could build his monastery and gardens. He planted so many flower and herb gardens that he soon ran out of land. St. Faro offered him as much land as he could turn up in a day. Legend has it that Fiacre drew a trench with his cane and prayed and by the next morning all the soil was turned. It was during this miracle that a (possibly jealous) woman went to the Bishop and accused him of working magic. The Bishop, however, upon seeing the miracle proclaimed Fiacre a Saint and the spying woman a witch!
The herbs that he grew and their healing powers earned him the distinction of being a healer during his lifetime. He cured everything from worms to cancer but specialized in urology and proctology. One healing miracle to which he was attributed was he cured a man of a large sore on his genitale (you figure it out) by constructing a wax replica of the part of that mans anatomy. At the risk of embellishing an already tainted story the last heard of this mold was that it was used as a candle. The term figs of St. Fiacre refers to hemorrhoids, another specialty of Fiacres. During the seventeenth century, Cardinal Richelieu, who was afflicted with hemorrhoids, begged that the Saints bones be made available to rid him of this problem because they were said to still possess healing powers.
The Taxi Cab Thing
In 1648 a man rented carriages from a house in France called the Hotel de St. Fiacre where a statue of the famous saint adorned the doorway. All coaches in Paris became known as fiacres. The tradition grew and taxi drivers began placing small images of the saint on their dashboards, proclaiming him their patron saint.
Water Garden Edition of What's Up, Doc?, July 2000
© Copyright 2000, The Pond Doc's Water Garden Center. All rights Reserved. Reproduction of this article prohibited without prior consent of The Pond Doc.
The following statuary of St. Francis and St. Fiacre are Available via UPS from Pond Doc's Home and Garden:
|17" St. Francis Statue||24" St. Francis Statue||29" St. Francis with Birds Statue||29" St. Francis with Shell Statue|
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