While St. Francis of Assisi is widely known for his love of animals, centuries before he was born there was already a saint who dearly loved God’s creatures.
That saint was Blaise, a 4th-century bishop of Sebaste (modern-day Turkey). There are many legends that surround his life, and one of them was his kindness to creatures and his ability to heal their wounds.
In The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts (published in 1900), the story is told of how St. Blaise was most at peace in the forest.
Saint Blaise loved to go away into the woods and fields where he could learn about the untamed creatures and teach them to be his friends. The birds and beasts and fishes grew to love him because he never hurt them, but talked to them kindly and healed them when they were sick or wounded. The timid creatures were brave in his presence, and the fierce ones grew tame and gentle at the sound of his voice.
He fed them on a daily basis and they returned each morning to his forest home. They licked him in return for his kindness and would wait patiently for him when he was praying.
St. Blaise lived at a time of Christian persecution and one day a group of soldiers came to take him in. However, they knew they couldn’t put him in the arena with the wild beasts, for they would do nothing to him!
Instead the soldiers beat him and eventually beheaded him. His death caused grief in the forest, as the animals were sad without their master.
The beasts could not save him from the cruel men, but at least they would not do anything to hurt him. Those which were still left in the forest howled and moaned about his deserted cave, and went sniffing and searching for him everywhere, like stray dogs who have lost their master. It was a sad day for the wood-creatures when Saint Blaise was taken from them forever.
For these reasons St. Blaise is invoked as the patron of veterinarians, a holy man of God who treated each animal with great dignity, seeing in them a tiny reflection of their Creator.
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