Tour of Italy: Assisi and Saint Francis

On the journey to Assisi, our tour guide pointed out the Abbey of Montecassino on a nearby hill.  It was a Benedictine monastery when the Germans took it over during WW2.  The US made a calculated decision to bomb the location – but the Germans were gone.  Montecassino was rebuilt after the war by the United States.

When we arrived at Assisi, we learned the city is thought to have originated around 1,000 BC.  It eventually covered three square miles and had eight gates. Medieval Assisi was densely populated.

In 1182, Francis of Assisi was born to a wealthy family.  Assisi went to war with Perugia in 1202 and Francis joined the military seeking glory. He was taken prisoner and jailed for a year until his father paid the ransom.

That experience helped to transform Francis’ life. Another experience was feeling compassion for and hugging a man with leprosy. Francis was further changed when he visited the crumbling chapel of San Damiano. He heard God say, “Francis go and build my church which you can see is falling down.”   Francis physically repaired the chapel and later helped to rebuild people’s faith in God and the church.

Francis denounced all his worldly possessions and lived simply.  His mission was to love and help people.  This fresco shows him giving his fancy clothes to his father.

Francis was never a priest.  He was a simple friar who often preferred the solitude of nature.  Yet, he was also a reformer, challenging the wealthy and powerful, both in the community and the church.  

Frances founded three religious orders that still exist today.  He created two of the most sacred Christian devotions, staging the first Christmas Nativity in 1223 and creating an interpretation of the Stations of the Cross.

After a life of piety and helping others, Francis died in 1226.  The church made him a Saint just two years after his death.  That was exceptionally fast.  Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals, ecology and the co-patron saint of Italy.

Building began on the Basilica of Saint Francis in 1228, just two years after Francis’ death. The first stone was placed by Pope Gregory IX the day after the canonization of Francis. The church sought to build a place to protect the saint’s remains.

In 1296, Giotto de Bondone was invited to paint the story of Saint Francis of Assisi in the basilica. He is considered to be the first painter in the history of Western art to show human emotions, and to place figures in realistic surroundings. 

The art in the basilica is a classroom of the lives of Jesus and Saint Francis.

The basiilca is really two churches, one built on top of the other.

The lower church is Romanesque in style and is decorated with frescos of the life of Jesus.  The colors are very vibrant having undergone cleaning.

Below the lower church is a small chapel holding the remains of Saint Francis, just as the pope intended almost 1000 years ago.

The upper basilica is 800 years old and was the first gothic style church in Italy.  Giotto painted 28 scenes of the life of Francis.  The photographs of Francis above are from the upper church.

Taking photographs was not allowed inside the basilica. Those shown above are photographs I took during a Rick Steve’s television program.

An earthquake damaged the basilica in 1997 and it was closed for two years while repairs were done.  There were 80,000 puzzle pieces of frescos to put together.  The repaired frescos are only 55 percent complete as many pieces were too small or destroyed to powder.

The Basilica of Saint Francis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. It is one of the most important sites on a Christian pilgrimage in Italy. 

This is a view of the surrounding region. It is a lovely place.

The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis begins with:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy. 

While the sentiments expressed could certainly be associated with Saint. Francis of Assisi, the prayer was not in his writings and didn’t appear until 1912.

The current pope symbolized his commitment to the poor in choosing the name Francis.

Next blog post – Venice!!

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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3 Responses to Tour of Italy: Assisi and Saint Francis

  1. Ann Shadiow says:

    Wow! Another chapter in the of
    “Wandering” Adventures & Memories
    Can’t wait for Venice!!

  2. Jean and Reed says:

    Thank you for giving us a wonderful history lesson. Wish we could be there to experience all this with you.

  3. Teri McClelland says:

    Another beautiful church! The history is amazing.

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