Destination Assisi, the UNESCO World Heritage site best known for being the birthplace of Saint Francis, founder of the Franciscan order. Just like yesterday, we were the only ones on our tour, so the same sedan and driver arrived for us at 7:00 a.m. for the two and a half hour drive. We headed north out of Rome eventually veering east. We made one brief bathroom stop next door to a pottery place. Dan’s dream. He bought a beautiful biscotti jar.
There is lower Assisi and the walled town of upper Assisi. Our only stop in lower Assisi was to visit the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the seventh largest Christian church. It is like no other church I have ever seen in that it was built specifically to house two structures held most sacred by the Franciscans: the very small Porziuncola chapel, birthplace of the Franciscan order, and the Cappella del Transito, a teeny tiny chapel built expressly as a place for Francis to die (in 1226 at the age of 45). Picture a really small chapel sitting in the middle of a huge cathedral. Off to the side in back of the tiny chapel was the even smaller one. Construction began on the cathedral 343 years after Francis died. We were really taken by it.
In upper Assisi we saw the house where Francis was born into a wealthy merchant family; the family’s stable where his mother chose to give birth; a tiny stone nook in the family home where Francis’ father held him under lock and key so he could rethink his decision to follow the church’s call rather than become part of the family business; and a cave like place where Francis chose to sleep once he forsook his family for good. The sites are all very respectfully done and clearly held in high esteem by the visitors who were there at the same time we were. We also visited the impressive Basilica of Saint Francis which was begun the day after the canonization of St. Francis in 1228. It is monstrous with an upper and a lower basilica smothered in frescoes, the site of his simple grave, and is the main reason pilgrims visit Assisi today.
Assisi is also the birthplace of high-born Clare, who at 18 became a follower of Francis and later the founder of Clare’s Order of Poor Ladies (the Poor Clares), nuns who lived in the Franciscan tradition. Clare’s father did not like her decision to leave her family any more than Francis’ did, but she persisted. She wrote what is believed to be the first set of monastic guidelines written by a woman. Clare was canonized in 1255. We visited the Basilica of Saint Clare, a huge but simply constructed church built after her death. It was made of native pink stone in 1265. Six hundred years after Clare’s death and simple burial her remains were moved to a very elaborate marble grave/shrine in the basilica. It was deemed worthy of her by her followers but is in total contrast to the simple life she lived and believed in. We joined the procession of people very reverently paying their respects.
We loved Assisi! After our Francis- and Clare-centered tour we walked around town a bit and learned that even in Roman times Assisi was a spiritual center, as evidenced by the Temple of Minerva which dates back to the first century BC. Its columns are now in the center of town. We looked in a few shops, enjoyed the magnificent view of the Umbrian countryside and then headed to lunch. As you know by now, we don’t go very long without refueling.
We met our driver at 4:30 and were back at the hotel around 7:00. Time to pack and organize for our departure tomorrow.
Bet you didn’t remember…
Three Franciscan missions on the west coast became thriving
cities: San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles.
3 thoughts on “Saturday (May 7, 2016)”
Assissi sounds cool
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I loved this informative tour! Thank you!
You would have loved it Matt!