Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Umber, Umbra, and Wolves

Umber is an earth tone, ranging from dark yellow-brown (raw umber) to dark red-brown (burnt umber). It has been used in paintings since the Renaissance. While the pigment itself was named after the soil in Umbria, it is also related to the Latin word for Shadow, umbra (something White Wolf gamers are probably familiar with).
Umbria is not a land of shadows - in fact, it is quite a beautiful place. Venturing into the world of stories, one doesn't have to reach far: Assissi is located in Umbria, and it gave the Catholic Church one of its most famous saints. On a related note, Gubbio is also located in Umbria, and it gave said saint one of his most exciting stories.
According to legend, while St. Francis was living in Gubbio a ferocious wolf descended on the lands of the town, hunting livestock, and killing everyone that tried to stop it. The situation got so bad that the people of Gubbio did not dare to leave their houses anymore; the wolf was even known to venture inside the town. Finally the people turned to Francis, who promised to put an end to the terror. He walked out of town and into the woods where the wolf's den was; he was followed by a number of people too curious to be scared. When the wolf appeared from its den, baring its fangs and ready to pounce, Francis calmed it with the sign of the cross. The Francis talked to the wolf; he promised the beast that if it stops killing animals and people, the citizens of Gubbio will make sure he never goes hungry again. The wolf put his paw into Francis' hand as the sign of agreement, and then followed him back to town. For the next few years, the wolf was one of the citizens of Gubbio, and people took turns feeding him and caring for him.
The moral of the story, according to St. Francis: How can you not be afraid of the jaws of Hell, if you are scared of a beast of nature?
The moral of the story, according to storytellers: ... you'll have to figure that out for yourself ;)

Note: There is a children's book (this probably should be on my other blog since it's a Hungarian curiosity...) written by Katalin Varga that features a place called the Umbra, an alternative universe where many things can happen. In the book, the main character uses the Umbra to travel in time and make friends with people like King Tut. I loved that book as a kid.


  1. There's a moral in there somewhere - something about co-operation and friendship being better than fighting, perhaps. St Francis was a damn good negotiator ;)
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
    Fantasy Boys XXX - A to Z Drabblerotic

  2. I agree with you, Sophie - we have far too many tales of conflict and not enough about living in harmony with other inhabitants of this earth.

    Great post, Csenge!

    Blogging from Alpha to Zulu in April

  3. All my years as a Catholic and I have never heard this story. I even went to a college run by the Franciscans. Interesting.
    Nana Prah

  4. I've heard this story before but it was lovely to be reminded of it again. Thanks

    Eileen @ In My Playroom (also doing the A to Z Challenge)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. The moral is: An enemy acts out of need and fear. If you meet your enemy's needs and reduce his or her fear, you create a friend.

    [Sorry. Deleted my previous comment because of a typo.]

  7. Burnt umber was always one of my favourite colours when painting - so useful and rich :).
    I'm glad the wolf didn't just get killed; go St Francis! :)
    Tasha's Thinkings - AtoZ (Vampires)
    FB3X - AtoZ (Erotic Drabbles)

  8. I've never heard of this colour before!