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Faith like a mushroom – Young Christian Writer of the Year on Arthur Boyd

Wolf – Feeding the beast within

Among Arthur Boyd’s tapestries interpreting the life of St Francis, there is a fascinating depiction of the wolf of Gubbio fable. To understand his artistic statement, you must first be familiar with the story.


It goes something like this: There once lived a fierce wolf in the little town of Gubbio that was so rabid with hunger that it terrorised the villagers.

It ate animals and humans alike and the people were terrified.

Francis decided to approach the wolf, seeking a resolution to the problem. He could find only one companion to accompany him outside the town gate. They ventured forward and it was not long before the wolf lunged at them from the woods, canines bared, growling.

Bravely, Francis called out, “Come to me, Brother Wolf. I wish you no harm.”

And the wolf lay down at his feet.

Francis gave the wolf a bit of an earbashing, telling him of the punishment he deserved, before offering a peaceful resolution. The townspeople would feed the wolf each day and cease to hunt him in return for their safety, acknowledging that the wolf’s actions were out of hunger. Francis and the wolf shook paw and hand, and the town adopted the wolf, feeding him daily until his death.

So goes the tale.

It has been told and retold as an example of the need to resolve differences, to seek reconciliation.  As it is written in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Boyd’s tapestry, however, serves a different lesson.

The 1974 artwork shows the figures of St Francis and the wolf melded into one being – a distinct divergence from traditional artwork on the topic, which typically show the saint and beast shaking hands. It asks the viewer to consider that the wild wolf is within St Francis, within all of us, representing the internal struggle between good and evil.

And that is an uncomfortable moment of introspection.

Rather than seeing ourselves as the saint – halo adorning the cranium, cross in hand, battling the forces of darkness –Boyd’s interpretation turns the story on its head. He acknowledges that we are all capable of malevolence when pushed to certain limits. That in turn reminds us that we need to daily climb above selfishness if we are to overcome the human condition.

Something Jesus had down to a fine art.

He urged people to spend less time worrying about the wolves around us and more time taming the wolf within. In Luke 6:41, Jesus says: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Or as Boyd inferred, it is not the wolf at the city gates that should alarm so much as the wolf within.

Read more of Claire’s work at her blog, Faith Like a Mushroom.

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