Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Part 1: Assisi, Italy - St. Francis

Visiting medieval towns in Europe is something that fascinates me. In Italy, I had the good fortune to return to Rome for the beatification of Blessed Pope John Paul II last May 1, 2011, after which a good friend and I had made plans to continue on to Assisi. As we celebrated the feast day of St. Francis last October 4, I was reminded to look back at my pictures taken during that visit. 

We took a train from Rome and in less than 2 hours, we arrived in Assisi. At the train station, we rode a taxi to start our journey.
A panoramic view of Assisi from the train

Assisi is a medieval town that sits at a higher elevation of 1,300 feet in Umbria, in central Italy,  about 12 miles east of Perugia. It is one of the oldest cities in Italy and said to have had it's Christian roots  dating back to St. Crispolitus, who was a disciple of Peter the Apostle. This is a sacred destination for pilgrims as it is the birthplace of a beloved Catholic saint, Saint Francis - the founder of the Franciscan order. 

Once we got to Assisi, the thoughts of St. Francis as a peacemaker and the man who loved everybody came flooding back. I had read books and watched movies about him, and here I could feel his spirit.

Our first stop was this church.
 Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Degli Angeli in Porziuncola (Papal Basilica of St.  Mary of the Angels in Portiuncula)

Inside this grand Baroque structure, built in 1569-1679, are two smaller structures - a small chapel - the Porziuncola,  that was restored by St. Francis, where he founded his order; and where St. Clare took  her vows for a monastic way of life, on March 28, 1211. The other place   is La Capella del Transito  (the Chapel of the Transit) where St. Francis died on October 3, 1226.

Assisi has also become a site for world peace conferences.
This bronze bas-relief was installed on the façade of the church to commemorate the Assisi Peace Conference, October  27, 1986, which was spearheaded by Pope John Paul II. Members of the different faith traditions are represented here.

This peace effort was launched at the time of the United Nation's declaration of the International Year for Peace, 1986. In his efforts, the pope invited all the religions of the world to take part in this conference, to start a "global movement of prayer for peace." This was the first conference that was ever attended by leaders of the major religions. Though, peace has several components that involves "the commitment from the political, social and economic fields, on the part of governments, international organizations, and civil societies," it is a reality "that is formed in hearts, born from the loftiest human aspirations." There were three elements of peace that were highlighted, although "in different forms in almost all religious traditions: prayer, pilgrimage and fasting."

Pope John Paul II clearly explained the reasons and the implications behind the gathering to pray together, with the religious leaders in the town of Assisi:  "The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs." This was a moment of brotherhood - a spiritual sharing among the people of good will, something that typified St. Francis' spirituality.

After September 11, 2001, when violence, hatred and disunity appeared because of religious principles and beliefs, Pope John Paul II, called for another caucus, to bring back the religious leaders to Assisi. The Day of Prayer for Peace in the World came to pass in Assisi, on 24 January 2002. It was to condemn terrorism and, once again, to reiterate the role of religion in "fostering an atmosphere of peace, justice and brotherhood in the world"...and "to bring Christians and Muslims together to proclaim to the world that religion must never be a reason for conflict, hatred and violence."

Back on the road, in the taxi we had commissioned for the ride up to the town of Assisi...
we had a view of the Franciscan basilica and the friary, on the drive up.
This was our home sweet home on Via Galeazzo Alessi, 10--6081 Assisi - St. Anthony's Guest House, under the management of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. At 45 € a night for a single room, that was a deal!

Without wasting another minute,  we were out the door as soon as we settled our bags in our rooms. On foot, it was so easy to find every place we wanted to visit. Down and up the winding roads and in and out of shrines, everything we saw was just like eye candy. 
Entry into some private homes
On a street to go to a busier section of town...
in search of whatever we could find. To the left was a setup for the forthcoming celebration of the  Calendimaggio Festival.
 Santa Maria sopra Minerva

This Baroque church is sandwiched between other structures. The classic façade is original,  for when it was the Temple of Minerva, dating back to the time of Christ.
A sampling of the Baroque ornamentation in the church

Continuing on our walk, we passed the... 
Musei di Assisi
It was just as interesting to peek at pedestrian pathways, such as this one.

In September 1997, two catastrophic earthquakes hit central Italy and Assisi sustained some serious damage. Looking around for signs of what had befallen this place, we could tell from the type, the color and texture of the stones which parts of the city were damaged. 

It's an all-Italian sight, all around, except for the tourists.
Ingredients for the Mediterranean gourmet cook

Hand-painted ceramic pieces from Deruta, Italy
Stone mosaics
An arch entry way branching off to another road

One of the places that was heavily damaged was the Basilica di San Francesco. Upon inspection, there was falling rubble that practically wiped out the frescoes by Bencivieni de Pepo Cimabue. City officials embarked on a reconstruction project of the damaged church. By November of the same year, the basilica was reopened to the public after the structure was installed with a  stretch-and-snap-back wiring system that was to protect it from future tremors. It was finally completed in November 1999, at an estimated cost of 50 million dollars.
It was understandable that this rebuild-Assisi project was given priority. Assisi relies on it's tourism industry. The local officials wanted to reopen their gates to the pilgrims and tourists, as soon as possible. Much to the disappointment of the local people who were left unaided and still living in temporary quarters after their places were condemned and declared uninhabitable, they were angry and complained about how they remained without permanent houses while the church had been finished. 

It is not possible to get lost here. All roads lead to the Basilica di San Francesco.

The story of Francis is that of a radical conversion. The legendary story begins with Francis not wanting to come out until a pilgrim came to tell his mother that he was going to be born in a "stable of straw." 

He was born into a family with great means. His parents were prosperous. His mother - Lady Pica, was of noble lineage, and his father - Pietro, was from a family of merchants and weavers. He grew up learning about his father's business. As he   assisted him, he learned the trade and was turning out to be a very good businessman. He also grew up learning worldly ways and was considered a most eligible bachelor. 

In the time of his youth, Europe was recovering from the fall of the Roman empire; the crusades were trying to recover the holy places from the moslems;  the church was in turmoil; political corruption was rampant; knighthood and chivalry were in fashion; there were wars going on here and there. When Assisi was at war with Perugia, Francis joined the forces to defend his hometown. He was taken prisoner. It was after his release that changes began to happen. He heard the call from God and he responded. He changed his ambition from being a crusader to being a man of peace, by loving everyone as Christ did. From a man of means he became a beggar, giving up everything - including his inheritance. He began to spend more time in prayer. In the Church of San Damiano, an old shrine that was now in ruins, he heard a voice: "Francis, do you see that my house is in ruins? Go and return it for me." Thus, began his new life, with full dependence on God's provisions. By his example, he led others to God. He put the church hierarchy on edge when they realize that here was a man who had taken the gospel and literally lived it, with no further interpretations.

Several movies have been made about his life.  Among them was one made by Roberto Rosellini in 1950, then, a romanticized version made by Franco Zeffirelli and released by Paramount Pictures in 1972 "Brother Sun, Sister Moon." There are still others, and one that depicted his humanity more was by Liliana Cavani in "Francesco - Francis of Assisi," with Mickey Rourke playing the lead role.
A side entrance to the Basilica di San Francesco
This is the main attraction in Assisi, her "crowning glory." It is a destination for pilgrims and art lovers.
In the movie St. Francis of Assisi (a Perseus Production, a Cinesmascope Picture released through  20th Century Studio in 1961) many more scenes painted by Giotto, such as these, were photographed and used in the introduction of the movie.

This is one of several altars in the basilica, on the ground level.

I was able to hear mass in the crypt, that was being said for a Spanish delegation.

Right above the altar is where St. Francis is entombed.
One of many messages St. Francis received, while in prayer
Frescoes were every where, and this is right by one of the side entrances into the upper part of the church.
An exit leading to the courtyard
The Gift Shop/Religious Store

A panoramic view of the city belowAssisi
The courtyards 
A message of peace on the church grounds

Heading down on another course...
Once a final resting place
Looking back at the basilica

Steps to get in and out of dwellings

The evening has come

And soon it will be time to go.

My visit to Assisi brought the spirit of St. Francis to mind. Inspired by this man who preached the gospel by example - for his was a life so simple, in poverty of worldly goods, in search of a spirituality beyond what the world could offer, made me think about my priorities in life.  

To commemorate the 25th year since the first peace conference was held, Pope Benedict XVI will have a rendezvous with the religious leaders, to move forward and face the challenges in fostering world peace. Set for October 27, 2011, in this same place, coming from different parts of the world - representing various major, world religions, as well as known figures in the scientific and art circles, are the "Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace," as eloquently described by the theme of this conference. Let us, each, be a traveling companion to the pilgrims heading to Assisi, in prayer, in thoughts, in deeds and by fasting.


  1. Thank you for the travel! Fabulous photos!

  2. Awesome photos and narration, as always! I've been to Assisi but only saw the Basilica, not the town. Thanks for sharing. Bubut

  3. Sounds like fun. Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thanks for visiting my site Bubut, Eri, and Christine.



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