29 September 2021, The Tablet

Saint Francis - the sacred muse

Saint Francis - the sacred muse

Andrea McLean’s Brother Sun and Sister Moon
Photo by Gordon Taylor


Of all the saints, Francis – whose feast day falls next week – provides the most inspiration for artists

When Pope Francis titled his 2015 encyclical on the environment Laudato Si’ after the opening words of St Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun”, he struck a chord with nature lovers the world over. Of all the saints in the Christian calendar, the one whose name this Pope chose has always been the most accessible to non-Christians – and his concerns for nature, the poor and those in need of peace and reconciliation have never been more relevant than they are today. In recognising the interconnectivity of all things, St Francis was way ahead of the global curve.

Perhaps this is why, while other saints have slipped from artistic view, Francis continues to inspire many contemporary painters. The appeal of the birds and wolves enlivening the pages of his fourteenth-century biography, The Little Flowers, is a factor – but there is also the magic of his home town, Assisi.

Andrea McLean was 15 when she made her first trip there. At the time she knew very little about Francis other than the story of him preaching to the birds, but despite a non-religious upbringing she was interested in spiritual vision, and has returned several times since. As a sufferer from bipolar disorder, she sees in Francis an example of someone who despite his suffering was at peace in the world: “He found joy in being part of nature and feeling that he was building things; he encouraged people to rebuild the world spiritually. That could mean minute differences in perception.”

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