After my arrival in Assisi, I immediately went exploring and the first site I found was the Basilica di Santa Chiara (Basilica of Saint Clare), it was just steps from my hotel; it would be my home church in Assisi. At 7:00 the Poor Clare’s pray the Divine Office with Mass directly afterward; what a treat!!

Chiesa di chiaraBasilica di Santa Chiara, the basilica was designed by architect Filippo Campello, construction began in 1260. It is home to the Poor Clare monastery.

Photo by By Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys)

Chiara complexBasilica complex, photo by: By Ricardo André Frantz

P1040157The view from the Piazza di Basilica di Santa Chiara 



P1040161The Piazza di Basilica di Chiara

P1040176Inside the chapel

From the church pamphlet:

O most high and glorious God,  Enlighten the darkness of my heart.  Give me right faith,  Certain hope,  Perfect love  And deep humility.  O Lord, give me sense and discernment  In order to carry out your true and holy will.

This is a prayer that is born in a time of crisis, of darkness, both internal and external. These are the years in which God forms and transforms Francis. It is a tough experience of the desert and of faith, of darkness and of light. One does not arrive at the light of faith except by passing through darkness and by becoming aware of one’s own interior shadows. “It is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God lights up my darkness.” (Psalm 18:29)

Darkness does not exist, it is not measurable, only light can be measured. The darkness is nothing, it is the absence of light, the absence of the Word of God and of communion with Him. It is the emptiness, the void. To experience darkness as the absence of God and suffer from lack of light…is already a grace. It is not the cynics who suffer from the absence of God but the mystics.


P1040162The small side chapel

P1040163The crucifix that spoke to St. Francis telling him “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.”



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P1040169Tunics worn by St. Francis and St. Clare


P1040172In 1240, confronted by troops of Saracens led by the emperor Frederic II of Germany “who entered the cloister…Clare ordered to be brought, infirm as she was, to the door facing the enemies preceded by the small silver box in which the Body of Christ was kept. The Saracens, struck by the force of her prayer, very quickly left the place of San Damiano” – Celano “Life of St. Clare” 21 The City of Assisi still celebrates this liberating event of Clare with the “Festa del Voto” (Feast of the Promise) on the 22nd of June.  (Note the horse jumping right out of the picture frame)

P1040168The Crypt of St. Clare


P1040173St. Clare covered in a model of her face

“Having remained, like the body of St. Francis himself, hidden for six centuries, Clare’s tomb was found in 1850 after a prolonged search. On 23 September that year, the coffin was unearthed and opened. The flesh and clothing of the saint had been reduced to dust, but the skeleton was perfectly preserved. Finally, on 29 September 1872, the saint’s bones were transferred, with much pomp, by Archbishop Pecci (later Pope Leo XIII) to a shrine in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint Clare that had been erected to receive them. It is here that they may now be seen. The feast of St. Clare is celebrated throughout the Church on 11 August.” (

After leaving the church, I continued to explore Assisi.

P1040178This little café looks cool and inviting, doesn’t it?

Then I came to the Chiesa Nuova, a truly interesting church. It is built on the site of the presumed birthplace of St. Francis and home of St. Francis’ father and mother – Pietro di Bernardone and Pica de Bourlemont.

Chiesa_Nuova_AssisiThe Chiesa Nuova: One of the few churches built by Rafael –  Photo By Gunnar Bach Pedersen – Own work (Own photo), Public Domain

P1040369St. Francis’ parents: Pietro di Bernardone & Pica de Bourlemont

P1040195I was taken aback by the paintings on the wall, the church fathers seem determined to expose the horrors of the persecution.

P1040181Many Friars Minor brothers were martyrs of the flock by human heretics for their faith (my Italian is not good, this is the best I can make out)

P1040182Five Friars Minor – Martyrs in Morocco 








P1040194The crypt containing Francis’ parents:  Pietro di Bernardone & Pica de Bourlemont

That was the end of my exploring for that day, I grabbed a quick bite at a sidewalk café and headed to my  hotel.

The next morning, I woke up refreshed and ready to tackle the steep, bumpy streets of Assisi so I took Rick Steves’ audio tour. The first stop was the Roman Amphitheater – yes, Assisi is ancient.

P1040198I went past this very tiny door proclaiming itself  a place of prayer. How refreshing to know that in the heat and busyness, there is a quiet oasis where one can quietly meditate and escape from life for a few minutes.

On the way to the amphitheater, I couldn’t help but notice all the beautiful flowers adorning homes and businesses. It turns out, Assisi has a contest, with the winner of the best floral display announced in June.







The Roman Amphitheater, built in the first century, AD, there is a public park in the center. It was used by the Romans as a mini-coliseum where there were live sports between men and animals. Roman stones were included in the local architecture; the buildings nearby were built in the 13th and 14th Centuries.


P1040212Roman laundry basin, women gathered here to do their wash.

P1040214Porta Perlici, new walls were built in the mid 14th Century as the city of Assisi expanded; the walls were to include the boroughs outside Assisi including the Basilica di San Francesco on one side of the hill and the Basilica di Santa Chiara on the other side of the hill. Construction ceased, however, when the Black Death of 1348 cut the population of Assisi in half.

From the Porta Perlici, there is a clear view of the countryside and the castle

P1040207“Rocca Maggiore, the castle and fortress protecting the town of Assisi, both Rocca Maggiore and Rocca Minore were built around 1360 by Cardinal Gil de Albornoz as part as part of an effort to restore papal authority to the region.” (

P1040159Lovely Umbria, the only landlocked area in Italy

P1040160Barely visible to the left is Rocca Minore, once a protective fortress, today a favorite haunt of young lovers.


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Leaving the hilltop to return to town, I passed through the colorful streets of AssisP1040204


P1040206I wouldn’t want to judge this city’s flower contest.

I arrived at the Cattedrale di San Rufino di Assisi (The Cathedral of Saint Rufino of Assisi)


Assisi’s cathedral, named for Saint Rufino, the city’s first bishop who converted the pagan Roman city to Christianity, after he was martyred, he was buried here. The cathedral was built in the 11th Century. One of best Romanesque facades remaining in Italy.




P1040221One of the lions standing guard at the doorway is eating a Christian martyr.

P1040228In Francis’ time, this was the most important church in Assisi and it played an important role in Francis’ life.





P1040227Baptismal font, in 1181 Francis was baptized here, 13 years later, Clare was also baptized here.

P1040230Would this floor make you dizzy?

P1040225St. Francis 1888

P1040226St. Clare 1888

P1040238The wall that delineates the extent of the city


P1040245Piazza del Commune – the community center; main square and the Temple of Minerva. Center of Assisi for over 2,000 years. The Temple of Minerva became Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (Church of Saint Mary Over Minerva.)

P104024617th Century baroque, statues of Peter & Paul

P1040247Piazza del Commune, frescoed vault of old market, art style is called grotesque, literally meaning from a cave or from a grotto. Painted after 1492, after Columbus returned from America with live turkeys.

P1040248People congregate on this fountain to cool off, get a cold drink and socialize.


After I left the Piazza del Commune, I climbed up the very steep hill toward the basilica built to celebrate St. Francis. This is the best shopping district in Assisi, delis with delicious food treasures to ship home, lace, crocheted items, paintings, glass, crèches, statues, jewelry. It’s a veritable land mine for someone who doesn’t have any suitcase space. Finally, after thinking I’d never make it, there in the distance loomed the giant basilica and friary.

Assisi_San_Francesco_BW_2Basilica Papale di San Francesco (Papal Basilica of Saint Francis)  – Photograph by: By Berthold Werner – Own work, Public Domain.

P1040250The basilica was begun the year following Francis’ death, in 1228; Francis was canonized the same year and in 1230 the lower level of the basilica was complete and his remains were transferred to the basilica from the Basilica di Chiara.

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P1040261Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed so these are the only two I was able to take before they let me know I couldn’t take any more. It’s a shame, the building is absolutely amazing. There are frescoes all along the walls illustrating all of Francis’ life. There is a crypt where his remains are kept. Here is a link to some images:                                              ( ) – copy & paste to your browser

P1040263The Friary, Sacro Convento, of the Friars Minor Conventional.

P1040264The basilica affords a sweeping view of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside.


P1040268Saint Pope John Paul II


It was a long, hot climb up the hill to the basilica, but the walk back down was much easier. It was getting late and many bars and cafes were closing, but I found an organic salad that was delicious. I have one more day in Assisi and already I feel sad that I must say goodbye so soon.

The next morning, I took a bus to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels), I believe it’s the most beautiful of the Assisi churches.

P1040282 - CopyBasilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The jewel of Assisi; the basilica was built in accordance with the wishes of Pope Pius V with the aim of conserving the Porziuncola and provide a welcoming center for the many pilgrims who came to venerate beloved St. Francis. The basilica was built between 1569 and 1679

P1040284Mary of the Angels.



P1040292This is the first Chapel of Santa Maria degla Angeli where Francis spent so much of his time when his ministry first began. It was probably built in the 4th C. and the Benedictine Monks transformed it into the present church in the 9th or 10th C. The name of the region, Porziuncola (Portioncula) means “a little part” and indicates the ground where the church was built. After being abandoned for a long time, it became the third church Francis restored (1182-1226) himself. It was here that he first understood his vocation to give away all that he owned and preach repentance. Here is where he welcomed the first brothers and established the Friars Minor in 1209. He received the church as a gift from the Benedictines in 1211 after he promised to make it the center of his religious family. Furthermore, it was to here that St. Clare escaped her family and put on the religious habit, thus initiating the Order of the Poor Ladies, later known as the Poor Clares.


P1040297The Friars

P1040298St Francis cell, there is nothing here to bring him comfort, that must come from his faith. 

P1040299The cell of another friar


In 1216, Francis felt a strong carnal temptation, so to think of other things, he jumped out of his window into a thorny bush. As he landed, the thorny bush sprouted roses without thorns. Two angels then took him into the little chapel where he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary sitting on thrones and surrounded by angels. Jesus asked him what reward he wanted for his heroic virtue, he replied, “An indulgence for anyone who enters into this chapel, repents and confesses his sins.” After receiving papal permission, Francis announced “Friends, the Lord wants to have us all in Heaven! And I announce to you an indulgence which I obtained from the mouth of the Pope”


P1040300Francis’ vision

The papal indulgence was allowed from noon on August 1 until midnight on August 2, it has been possible to attain a plenary indulgence if the usual conditions are met, a plenary indulgence is also available for the dead for anyone who visits a parish church or Franciscan one. Since then popes have relaxed the date requirement and indulgences can be received any day if the following conditions are met:

  • Sacramental confession to be in God’s grace (during the 8 days before or after)
  • Participation in the Holy Mass or Eucharistic Communion
  • Visit the Porziuncola, followed by a profession of faith (the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed)
  • Say the Our Father, in order to reaffirm the dignity as a child of God that one received in baptism
  • A prayer according to the Pope’s intentions, in order to reaffirm one’s membership in the Church of which the Roman Pontiff is the foundation and sign of visible unity.


P1040294The rose garden where the thorn bushes became roses.  The Rosa Canina Assisiensis (thornless roses) still grow here.


P1040301Along the loggia, there is a collection of paintings depicting the life of St. Clare

While she was still in the world, Clare directed her witness to bring a sum of money to the friars who were working on the Porziuncola so they would sustain the flesh.

P1040303When the day of palms was near, Clare approached St. Francis and asked about her conversion and how it should be carried out. Francis told her that on the day of the feast, she should go, dressed and adorned, together with the crowd to receive the palm, and on the following night, she should turn her worldly joy into mourning for the Lord’s passion. Therefore, when Sunday came, the young girl radiant with festive splendor entered the church with the others, then something happened, that was fitting an omen, as the others went forward to receive their palms, Clare remained immobile with shyness. The Bishop, therefore, came down the steps and placed a palm in her hand.

P1040305On that night, preparing to obey the commandment of the saint, she embarked on her long desired flight with a virtuous companion. Since she was not content to leave by the usual door, marveling at her own strength, she broke open with her own hands that other door that is customarily blocked by stones and wood. And so she ran to the Porziuncola, leaving behind her home, city and relatives. There the brothers, who were observing sacred vigils before the altar of God, received the virgin Clare with torches.

P1040307There, at Santa Maria of the Porziuncola, her hair was shorn by the hands of the brothers.

P1040309There, after rejecting the filth of Babylon, she gave the world a “bill of divorce”. There her hair was shorn by the hands of the brothers, she put aside every kind of fine dress. After she received the insignia of the holy penance before the altar of the Blessed Virgin and, as if before the throne of this virgin, the humble servant was married to Christ, St. Francis immediately led her to the church of San Paolo to remain there until the Most High would find another place.

P1040312Francis died during the night; in the morning, all the clergy and people of the town of Assisi came and brought his holy body from the place he had died and carrying branches from trees sang hymns and praises. By God’s will, the bier stopped for a while at San Damiano…the iron grate through which the sisters received holy communion and listened to the Word of God was taken down and the friars lifted the Saint’s body from the funeral bier and held it up in their arms for a long time to the opening until Clare and her sisters were consoled, although they were all sorrowful and disfigured with tears, seeing themselves deprived of the comforts of and the exhortations of such a father.


P1040314The inspiration for Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si.

P1040315After I reluctantly left the beautiful basilica and St. Francis’ lovely little chapel, I made my way to San Damiano.

P1040316San Damiano: The Church, built between the 8th and 9th Centuries on the ruins of an ancient Roman edifice.  “This is the famous church that Francis restored, working with admirabil zeal and also the home of the priest to whom he gave the money for its restoration. Here, while praying, Francis heard a voice from the wooden crucifix saying ‘Go Francis and repair my house, which you can see is falling into ruin.’” – Celano, “Life of St. Clare”, 10

Francis predicted this place (1211) would become the dwelling place for Clare and the other Sisters of San Damiano (Poor Clares) who remained there until 1260, when the Basilica di Chiara was completed.

It was here that Francis wrote his “Canticle of the Creatures”, a hymn of thanksgiving to God revealing Francis’ brotherly relationship with all creation.

P1040328The Chapel of St. Jerome, here is where Francis heard the voice of the crucifix. To the right of the main entrance is the niche where Francis threw the money which he had provided for the restoration of the church.

P1040327Here is the niche where Francis threw the money he provided for the restoration of the church. It’s very dark, but to the right is a fresco of Francis praying and his father threatening him with a club.

P1040327 copyI cropped the picture to bring out the detail a little bit

P1040329The Apse with Madonna and child between St. Rufino and St. Damiano, below the apse is the communicating window separating the church and the choir of the Poor Clares. Here, on Oct. 26, 1226, Clare and her sisters venerated the body of St. Francis and kissed his stigmatized hands.

P1040333The Choir of St. Clare, “When she returned from her prayers, her face seemed radiant and beautiful in the sun. And her words expressed an incredible sweetness so that her life appeared all celestial.” – Sister Anna, “Canonization process of St. Clare” 4

P1040332“Not a voice but a desire – not clamour but love – not instruments but hearts singing in the ears of God” From the wooden choir of 1504

P1040336This is a place of personal prayer that Clare had built, it was dedicated to the Holy Virgin



P1040341Clare died here in 1253, 27 years after St. Francis, surrounded by his last companions, (Brother Leo, Brother Angelo and Brother Juniper), Two days before she died, she was visited by Pope Innocent IV. He gave her the document confirming the rule of the Poor Ladies. She had ardently desired this rule and as she desired it, so it happened.

On the 11th of August, after 28 years of illness, Clare died, exclaiming “Go in peace my blessed soul! He who created you has always loved you tenderly as a mother loves her little child. And You, Lord, be blessed for you have created me.” On the wall, a crucifix from the 15th C.

P1040352Clare’s place in the refectory is indicated by a cross of flowers.

P1040349The Refectory “The sisters marveled at how her body survived. Clare, for three days a week, that is Monday, Wednesday and Friday, ate nothing. On the other days, she exercised such abstinence which brought her infirmity. At this point, St. Francis ordered that in the above-mentioned days she should eat something.” Sister Pacifica “Canonization Process” 8



P1040345The Garden of the Canticle


My last stop in Assisi was at the top of Mount Subasio, the Eremo delle Carceri

This is the haven St. Francis escaped to, it’s a primitive mountain retreat where he could commune with nature.




P1040355Tourists are asked to maintain silence as this is a holy place where St. Francis was able to find peace and solitude.


P1040358This is where Francis slept during his mountain retreats.



P1040361The Altar San Giuseppi, used when the Mass is celebrated in the mountains, adorned with Francis’ Tau symbol for the Cross. Mass is still held here during special events.


P1040363Eremo delle Carceri is 4 km from town, all of it straight up, so I took a taxi to the top of the mountain, but I walked back. The silence and the solitude were the best way to meditate on the beautiful forest I had just roamed through and the sacrificial life that brought Francis so much joy and freedom. Possessions are chains; when he gave away his possessions, he discovered a freedom and joy he never expected.




P1040368Aaah, I made it safely back to Assisi!!

This was my last night in Assisi; I was melancholy to leave, I went out after dark because the concierge said there was a special kind of beauty in the nighttime. So, here are my farewell pictures of beautiful Assisi.

P1040372Basilica di Santa Chiara



P1040380 - CopyI found some young men in a parking lot practicing for a flag twirling competition, they were accompanied by loud music and drums.

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P1040383Beautiful Assisi! I will miss you!

Tomorrow, I take the train to the mysterious and unknown town of Loreto, what will I find there?



P1040158Assisi with the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels) in the background. 1040158

I left Siena and Tuscany and headed to Assisi in the region of Umbria. The train ride to Assisi offered a beautiful panorama of the Tuscan and Umbrian countryside.

P1040142I think this is the estate I photographed from the top of the Facciatone (stone wall) in Siena.

P1040145Poppy season

What can I say about Assisi? Siena was a trip to the past, it looks as if nothing has changed for nearly a thousand years; I expected Assisi to be more touristy & more modern. But, coming into Assisi is like flying into mythology and Christology; it is mysticism and antiquity, Roman ruins and craggy hills, but more than anything else, it’s Saint Francis of Assisi. I didn’t know much about St. Francis or St. Clare so I came woefully unprepared.

Stepping into the city requires slamming on the brakes, instead of rushing at a hundred miles an hour, one must go back to the 13th Century and the speed of walking barefoot through the wooded hills. Francis is everywhere, all roads lead to something St. Francis built.

The train station is below the town, just across the tracks from the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels), this church is located on the Porziuncola, where the small church given to St. Francis by the Benedictines and where he began his Order of Franciscans is located. I didn’t know that, though, as I stood in the sweltering heat trying to find my bus, the only people around were taxi drivers who insisted a bus wouldn’t get me where I needed to go. Finally, a few other people came to the bus stop who were happy to help me find my bus. The bus dropped me half way up the slope with nothing nearby except an underground parking lot; I felt abandoned. I forgot that my hotel concierge had told me there was an escalator inside the parking lot that would take me the rest of the way up the hill. So, wearing my heavy backpack and dragging my wheeled suitcase behind me, I climbed the very steep and curving, round about road ¾ of a mile up to my hotel. My GPS was very helpful until we reached the hotel when it wanted me to turn where there was no turn. Hot, sweaty and cranky, I called the hotel—fortunately, I was almost outside their door.


I was standing next to this fountain

P1040197The hotel was just to the right of the fountain.

P1040273This is the Hotel Pax, built in the 12th Century, it’s a charming and delightful little hotel. The hosts were by far the most friendly and helpful of anywhere I visited; which was perfect since there was much to see in Assisi and I didn’t want to miss any of it.


I nearly collapsed in their lobby; they assured me the water from the fountain would revive me, it comes from aqueducts straight down from the Alps; it was refreshing, the people of Assisi are proud of their pure, delicious water.

Next door to the hotel is this little niche.

P1040272These lovely surprises dot the architecture all over Italy.

My room was delightful, there was a little stone stairway leading from the bedroom up to the little bathroom and I had frescoes on my ceiling. I could have been in one of the historical costume dramas I like so much.


Before we can understand Assisi, it’s essential to understand St. Francis (1182-1226)

Francesco_speco and St. Clare (1194-1253).

clarePhoto by By Simone Martini – The Yorck Project

Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, St. Francis, was born during the Middle Ages in 1182 and lived until the beginning seeds of the Renaissance were planted. Some say Francis ushered in the Renaissance with his love for his faith, for beauty, and for all living things because people began to notice nature and to see the beauty of faith; the Renaissance idealized faith, beauty. integrity, dignity and learning. Francis was revolutionary for his time because he asked if there wasn’t more to life than scraping out a living, materialism and self; could we be happier if we focused our attention outside of ourselves?

Francis lived a life of comfort and relative freedom, his father, Pietro di Bernardone, a successful silk merchant, was in France when his son was born, so his mother, Pica de Bourlemont, named him Giovanni. Pietro loved France and simply called his son Francesco (the little Frenchman). Francesco enjoyed the privileges that his station in life allowed a restless young man of his time. He joined a military expedition to Perugia in 1201 where he was taken captive and held for more than a year, he became ill during this time and began to consider the emptiness of the life he was living. Still, when he recovered, he quickly resumed his old habits and friendships. His ambition for glory led him to the military life, he joined the Neapolitan States in opposition to the governor in 1205, but he grew ill a second time in Spoleto and heard a voice tell him to go back to Assisi; he did so at once. It was then, that he seemed to lose his fervor for the life he had led before the illness, he seemed to yearn for the life of the spirit. When his friends teased him about his absentmindedness, asking if he were about to be married, he replied “Yes, I am about to take a bride of surpassing fairness”, he was referring to Lady Poverty who would soon become his constant companion – noted by both Dante and Giotto.    He lost interest in lavish clothes and raucous parties and began to spend more time in contemplation and prayer. One day, while riding across the Umbrian plain, he came across a leper, the disgusting appearance of the leper caused him to draw back in revulsion, but he eventually got control of himself, dismounted and embraced the beggar, giving him all the money he had. Similarly, during a pilgrimage to Rome, disappointed by the meager offerings at the tomb of St. Peter, he emptied his purse at the shrine. He, then, traded his luxurious clothing with those of a poor beggar and spent the rest of the day fasting with the beggars at the door of the basilica.

Later, back in Assisi, while praying before a crucifix in the battered wayside chapel of San Damiano, he heard a voice say “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.”

P1040163This is the crucifix Francis was praying before when he heard the voice, it is found in the Basilica di Chiara.

Francis immediately went to his father’s shop and bundled together a large amount of drapery and rode quickly to Foligno where there was a market at which he sold both the fabric and his horse in order to obtain the money needed to restore the church of San Damiano. When the priest at San Damiano refused to accept the gold Francis brought him, Francis flung the gold aside in annoyance. Francis’ father was incensed at his son’s actions so Francis hid in a cave for nearly a month. When he emerged from the cave, he was gaunt from hunger, squalid and dirty; he was followed by a hooting rabble who threw stones and mud at him, thinking he was deranged. Finally, his father dragged him back to his home, beat him, bound him and locked him in a dark closet.

P1040187His mother released him when his father was out of town, he immediately went to the priest at San Damiano for sanctuary, but his father quickly brought charges against him with the city consuls; the priest restored the gold Francis had left at the church to Francis’ father but Bernardone refused to be content until his son relinquished his inheritance. Francis was more than willing to follow his father’s wishes, he announced that since he was now in the service of God, he was not under civil jurisdiction, he was then taken to the bishop whereupon he removed all of his clothing and gave it to his father, saying, “Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven.'” According to Dante, this was the moment Francis became wedded to his beloved bride, Lady Poverty, in whose name he surrendered all worldly goods, honors and privileges.

Francis Gives HIs Clothes to HIs Father

Fresco from the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi

After wandering throughout Umbria, he came back to Assisi, where he roamed the city begging for stones with which to restore the church of San Damiano, gradually, he rebuilt the old church. He, then, restored two other churches, St. Peter’s and St. Mary of the Angels, some distance away in an area called the Porziuncola. During this time, he was also very active in works of charity including nursing lepers.

In 1208, he was serving at Mass when the Gospel reading included the passage in which Jesus told the disciples to travel with neither gold nor silver, nor shoes nor staff nor more than one tunic and they were to exhort sinners to repentance. Francis believed this message was sent particularly for him, he gave away what little he had left: his shoes, cloak, pilgrim staff and empty wallet. He obtained for himself a coarse woolen tunic of “beast color” and tied it on with a knotted rope, he then went forth into the countryside exhorting people to repentance, brotherly love and peace. Gradually, he began to gain the admiration of the people of Assisi and to draw others to him. In seeking God’s will for the lives of himself and his followers, Francis retired to a church and randomly opened the Gospels three times, each time it opened to an exhortation from Jesus to give up all things and follow him; “This shall be our rule of life” he determined and led his followers to the public square where they gave away all of their possessions. After this, they obtained rough habits like that of Francis and built small huts near Francis’ Porziuncola. Later, with their rule ready, the “Penitents of Assisi” as they called themselves, headed for Rome to obtain papal approval of their new fellowship. Legend has it that Pope Innocent III rudely rejected the rag-tag group of mendicants who came before him.

Francis and Innocent

But, through the intercession of the Bishop of Assisi, and a dream in which the pope saw the “Poor Man of Assisi” holding up the tottering Laterin, the Pope finally gave verbal sanction for the rule Francis had submitted and granted them permission to preach repentance everywhere. Before they left Rome, they received the ecclesiastical tonsure and Francis was ordained a deacon.

Francis and PorziuncolaIn 1211, the Benedictines gave the Friars Minor, as Francis called his small band of followers, the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels in Porziuncola; they went on to build the first Franciscan monastery by erecting small huts of straw, mud and wattle, enclosed by a hedge. They went forward, two by two, singing with joy and calling themselves the Lord’s minstrels. They worked in the fields when they could get work, when they could not, they begged for their needs. Gradually, Francis became extremely influential and people of all ranks of life flocked to him and his little band of friars.

During Lent of 1212, a great and unexpected surprise came to Francis; Clare, a wealthy young heiress of Assisi, sought him out and begged to be allowed to enter the new lifestyle he had founded. Following Francis’ advice, the eighteen-year-old Clare secretly left her father’s house on the night of Palm Sunday and went to the Porziuncola where Francis cut her hair, clothed her in the habit of the Friars Minor and received her into the life of poverty, penance and seclusion.

P1040305A highly romanticized image of Clare escaping her parents’ home to join the friars.


Clare stayed with some Benedictine nuns near Assisi until Francis could provide for her and for her sister, Agnes, and the other young ladies who joined them. He established them at San Damiano’s at a home near the chapel he rebuilt with his own hands. The Benedictines gave this church and accompanying structures to Francis as a home for Francis’ spiritual daughters, called the Second Franciscan Order of Poor Ladies who would eventually be called the Poor Clares.

During the autumn of that same year, 1212, Francis’ determination to convert the Saracens led him to sail to Syria, but he was shipwrecked on the coast of Slavonia and forced to return to Ancona. He spent the following spring evangelizing central Italy, then, in 1214, he set out for Morocco in order to preach to the infidels and, if need be, to shed blood for the Gospel. But, while in Spain, he became violently ill and was compelled to return to Italy.

Legend has it that sometime near July 1216, during the pontificate of Honorius III, Francis received the concession of the famous Porziuncola Indulgence. As the story goes, while Francis was praying near the Porziuncola, Christ appeared to him and offered whatever favor he may desire. Because Francis’ constant hope was the conversion of poor sinners and because he wanted the Porziuncola to be a sanctuary where many might be saved, he begged a plenary indulgence for all who confess their sins and visit the little chapel. Jesus agreed to Francis’ request on the condition that the pope should ratify the indulgence. Francis immediately set out for Perugia in search of Pope Honorius III. In spite of much opposition from the Curia, the pope granted the indulgence with just the restriction that it could be for only one day each year, he set August 2nd in perpetuity as the day of receiving the Porziuncola Indulgence, il pardono d’Assisi.

Later, in 1219, Francis, still determined to reach the infidels, took eleven companions and set sail for Saint-Jean d’Acre and they were present at the taking of Damietta in northern Egypt during the fifth crusade, after preaching to the Christians, Francis fearlessly went over to preach to the infidel camp where he was taken prisoner and led to the sultan. The sultan treated Francis with kindness and agreed to treat his Christian prisoners with the same courtesy.


In 1223, Francis devised a new way to celebrate the Nativity, he reproduced in a church at Greccio, Christ’s manger at Bethlehem, thus, he is credited with beginning the devotion to the crib, and the first nativity scene. Christmas was a favorite time for Francis and he tried to get the emperor to establish a special law that men should provide well for beasts and birds, as well as for the poor, so that they all could celebrate the joyous season.


From the upper Basilica of St  Francesco.

“Early in August, 1224, Francis retired with three companions to “that rugged rock ‘twixt Tiber and Arno”, as Dante called La Verna, there to keep a forty days fast in preparation for Michaelmas. During this retreat the sufferings of Christ became more than ever the burden of his meditations; into few souls, perhaps, had the full meaning of the Passion so deeply entered. It was on or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) while praying on the mountainside, that he beheld the marvelous vision of the seraph, as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart. Brother Leo, who was with St. Francis when he received the stigmata, has left us in his note to the saint’s autograph blessing, preserved at Assisi, a clear and simple account of the miracle, which for the rest is better attested than many another historical fact.” (


“After the reception of the stigmata, Francis suffered increasing pains throughout his frail body, already broken by continual mortification. For, condescending as the saint always was to the weaknesses of others, he was ever so unsparing towards himself that at the last he felt constrained to ask pardon of “Brother Ass”, as he called his body, for having treated it so harshly. Worn out, moreover, as Francis now was by eighteen years of unremitting toil, his strength gave way completely, and at times his eyesight so far failed him that he was almost wholly blind. During an excess of anguish, Francis paid a last visit to St. Clare at St. Damian’s, and it was in a little hut of reeds, made for him in the garden there, that the saint composed that “Canticle of the Sun”, in which his poetic genius expands itself so gloriously.”

“On the eve of his death, the saint, in imitation of his Divine Master, had bread brought to him and broken. This he distributed among those present, blessing Bernard of Quintaville, his first companion, Elias, his vicar, and all the others in order. “I have done my part,” he said next, “may Christ teach you to do yours.” Then wishing to give a last token of detachment and to show he no longer had anything in common with the world, Francis removed his poor habit and lay down on the bare ground, covered with a borrowed cloth, rejoicing that he was able to keep faith with his Lady Poverty to the end. After a while he asked to have read to him the Passion according to St. John, and then in faltering tones he himself intoned Psalm cxlii. At the concluding verse, “Bring my soul out of prison”, Francis was led away from earth by “Sister Death”, in whose praise he had shortly before added a new strophe to his “Canticle of the Sun”. It was Saturday evening, 3 October, 1226, Francis being then in the forty-fifth year of his age, and the twentieth from his perfect conversion to Christ.” (

Francis insistence on kindness at all times and to all creatures, included pleading with the people of Gubbio to feed the wild wolf that had ravished their flocks, because “brother wolf” did it from extreme hunger. Many legends from Francis’ life leave us with images of birds and beasts attracted to Francis’ gentle ways and entered into friendship with him. There is even a legend that claims the little birds listened so devoutly to his roadside sermons that Francis chided himself for not thinking to preach to them earlier. He loved nature, he communed with flowers, springs, fire and greeted the sun when it rose.

There is much more to Francis’ life, but I’m afraid I’ve gone on too long even now. To learn more, check out this link to my source for this information:(












My hotel, Alma Domus, was next door to the Santuario di Santa Caterina and just up the street from the Basilica di San Domenico, I didn’t plan to be there, I didn’t even know they existed, but I was truly pleased to discover them.



P1040109St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

The Sanctuary of St. Catherine is the Benincasa home where Catherine Benincasa was born. “Born in 1347 in Siena, Italy she was the 25th of 26 children of Giacomo and Lapa di Benincasa.  Many of her siblings—including her twin, Giovanna, died at a few months old. Her father was a dyer of cloth; his business was on the ground floor of his great big house with his family and employees living upstairs.” (

P1030947Sanctuary – Home of Saint Catherine



P1040078Beginning as early as age six, she began having mystical experiences and made a vow of virginity at the age of twelve.

P1040077“When her older sister Bonaventura died in childbirth, the sixteen-year-old Catherine greatly upset her parents’ plans for her to marry Bonaventura’s widow by cutting off her hair and staging a massive fast. She had been sent by her parents to meet with a male cousin whom they greatly liked but, unbeknownst to her parents, he was sympathetic to Catherine’s desire to belong only to Jesus—it was he who urged her to cut off her hair as a sign of her love for Jesus for such an act would make her undesirable to male suitors in those days.” (

P1040076She chose to remain cloistered in her home, she practiced extreme fasting and a deep devotion to the Eucharist, her family resisted her chosen lifestyle, but she would not be dissuaded. She also took up the habit of giving away the family’s food and clothing and patiently bore their criticism.


As her mystical experiences continued, she became a Tertiary of the Order of St. Dominic which allowed her to be associated with a religious community but continue to live at home. When she was twenty, she had a mystical experience that she called her mystical marriage to Christ. Later, while visiting Pisa, while praying before a crucifix, she claimed to have received the stigmata, although no one could see it but her. (See altar piece near the beginning of this post) This experience changed her, the vision told her to go out into public life and help the poor and the sick. It was during the Great Plague of Europe, but without showing hesitation, she went into places where no one else would go. She cared for the sick with her bare hands, washing their wounds and burying them herself. She quickly attracted followers who helped her serve the sick and the poor, these people became her “family”.

P1040071“They love their neighbors with the same love with which they love me.” Dialogue 60

P1040073“The soul cannot live without love. She always wants to love something because love is the stuff she is made of, and through love I created her.”  Dialogue 51

P1040075A woman she cared for who was stricken with cancer accused Catherine of living a “bad life”; she answered the charge by professing her innocence, but she was so upset she went in prayer to ask Jesus to help her prove her innocence. In response, Jesus showed her a crown of beautiful jewels and a crown of thorns, and asked her to choose between them. Catherine placed the crown of thorns upon her head. “Since Thou dost bid me choose,” she answered, “I choose to be like Thee, and to bear crosses and thorns for Thy love as Thou hast done for love of me.” (

At the beginning of her ministry, she could not read or write, so the Dominicans taught her some rudimentary skills, she wrote 375 letters, penned by her disciples through dictation, wrote the book “The Dialogue of Divine Providence” which transcribes conversations she had with Jesus. During her times of ecstasies, she dictated her “Orations” which were prayers dedicated to the Lord, the shortest but deepest in theological thought of her writing.

“In 1375 Catherine gained an international reputation by mediating the conflict between the papacy and the city of Florence, and then used her influence to advise kings and make political treaties. Catherine was influential in convincing the timid Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon in France (where the popes had resided for many years) and return to Rome, freeing the Church from excessive French influence. This success was short-lived, however, for in 1378 Gregory died, and the Great Schism — a division of allegiance between two rival popes — developed. Catherine steadfastly supported Pope Urban VI, the properly-elected successor to Gregory, but the schism was not resolved for almost forty years.” (

“Catherine’s greatest gift, however, was in her ability to teach and preach the Faith and her love of the Eucharist.  In Catherine’s day, it was very unusual to receive the Eucharist on a daily basis — one really had to have permission in order to do so and most times it was denied.  Catherine, however, received very many mystical graces in the Eucharist — so great was her profound love of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Visions and ecstasies often lasting 3-4 hours took place at Communion…many priests later attested to it.  In fact, her spiritual director/confessor, Fr. Raymond of Capua, tells the following of this powerful and holy woman in his biography of her:

“Pope Gregory XI…to content this longing of hers, published a Bull that granted her the right to have a priest at her disposal to absolve her and administer Communion to her and also to have a portable altar, so that she could hear Mass and receive Communion whenever and wherever she liked” (Capua, the Life of St. Catherine of Siena, p. 284).


“For the seven year period prior to her death, Saint Catherine of Siena took no food into her body other than the Eucharist. Her fasting did not affect her energy, however. She maintained a very active life during those seven years. As a matter of fact, most of her great accomplishments occurred during that period. Not only did her fasting not cause her to lose energy, but became a source of extraordinary strength, she becoming stronger in the afternoon, after having received our Lord in His Eucharist.” (

Her extreme fasting led to her illness that ended her life, her spiritual director ordered her to eat, but she said she it was too difficult to eat food. She died at the young age of 33, admired and respected by some of the most powerful people within the Church.

“In 1461 she was canonized by Pope Pius II, in 1939 Pope Pius XII proclaimed her Patroness of Italy together with St. Francis of Assisi and in 1970 Pope Paul VI declare her Doctor of the Church. Besides the “Dialogue” St. Catherine left 374 letters, many prayers and she was also fortunate in being the subject of two biographies written by two of her contemporaries. Her friend and confessor, Blessed Raymond of Capua wrote “The Major Life” and another Dominican, Thomas of Siena, wrote “The Minor Life”.’  (

“We are called to live out our Baptism to love others with the heart of Christ who himself said “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34-35).  It is not enough to love others with a warm fuzzy kind of love but as He has loved us — that is, he loved us unconditionally and unto death. To love them is not just to have feelings for them.  Catherine and all of the great saints took this command of Christ to go forth and to do for others, often at the risk of their lives.  When Catherine volunteered at the local hospital to care for a woman named Tecca who was suffering from leprosy, Catherine’s mother Lapa had great concern that she, too, would catch the hideous disease.

Indeed, Catherine’s hands did develop leprosy but love for this woman (who often had an ungrateful heart for Catherine’s care) did not stop the virgin from caring for her.  When at last the woman died, Catherine herself washed and dressed the disease-ridden body, prepared it for burial, placed it tenderly in a casket, said the prayers and covered the casket with her own hands.  Whereupon, Catherine’s hands were miraculously cured and her hands appeared as more youthful than they had been.  Such is the love and faith in God that the great saints had.”

Read more of my friend, Cynthia Trainque’s, article here (


P1030945Outside the chapel is the courtyard, a bookstore and the crypt. These statues are in the courtyard.

It’s true what they say about nuns being very strict, the nuns shooed me out of the chapel in the Sanctuary twice, after that I was a little gun shy. They have a strict schedule, the public isn’t welcome during their prayer time and, like most churches in Italy, it close promptly at noon until 2:00.

P1030951Not far from the Sanctuary of St. Catherine is the Basilica of San Domenico; it is beautiful.  It was built in the 13th Century by the Dominican Order on Camporagio Hill, this view dominated my skyline and I walked the steep trail up to visit it often, this became my home church in Siena.

Basilica-di-San-Domenico-SienaThis street is right outside my hotel.



P1040081Going from the Sanctuary to the Basilica, Siena is in the hill country, everything is either up or down.


I somehow missed taking pictures of the interior of the basilica so I snagged some photos from the internet.


basilica san domenico 2Catherine and her family attended the Basilica even before it was complete; her father and other members of her family are buried there. This Basilica is closely associated with Catherine because she spent so much of her life here.

P1040082St. Dominic





P1040084Catherine of Siena conversing with Jesus

“It is the nature of love to love as much as we feel we are loved and to love whatever the one we love loves.” Letter T299

P1040098The crucifix Catherine was standing before when she received her stigmata.

P1040083The death of Catherine.

 “And you may be certain of this–unless you really are more ignorant than anyone–that the arm of holy Church, though it may well be weak, is not broken. From its weakness this arm always emerges strengthened, as do those who stay close to it.”  Letter T339.

P1040089Knowing how much it would have pleased the people of Siena to have had at least the remains of their great fellow citizen among them, her former spiritual director, Blessed Raymond of Capua, on October 13th, 1383, secretly sent the head of the Saint to Siena. The occasion to thus content the Sienese arose when the same Blessed Raymond wished to honor Catherine’ s corpse by transferring it inside the Basilica of Holy Mary above Minerve from the cemetery of the Friars adjacent to the church where it had been originally placed in a simple tomb not very tightly sealed and exposed to the elements.

Dampness caused by rainwaters began to consume the body very quickly. It was, therefore, quite easy to detach the head from the rest of the body without violence. There was no need to actually “decapitate” Catherine as some have mistakenly believed and written. By means of tests carried out at the base of the skull the lack of the first few cerebral vertebrae has been discovered: this discovery confirmed the above-mentioned dissolution of the softer nerves and tendons which had already begun to take place, thus facilitating the separation of the head from the trunk.

For more than six centuries Siena has jealousy kept watch over the sacred head of St. Catherine in the Basilica of St. Dominic. The Chapel where it has been placed is one of the most celebrated in the world thanks to the frescoes of Antonio Bazzi called “SODOMA”, who was a disciple of Leonardo da Vinci, the elegant marble altar built by Giovanni di Stefano and another oil fresco of Francesco Vanni.” (

P1040092Yes, this is the head of Catherine of Siena and this is a place frequented by locals and tourists alike, people bring their problems to Catherine and receive the same loving care she gave to her charges during the plague of the 14th Century.




P1040102St. Catherine’s thumb inside a reliquary

“The use of relics has some, although limited, basis in sacred Scripture. In 2 Kings 2:9-14, the prophet Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah after Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. With it, Elisha struck the water of the Jordan, which then parted so that he could cross. In another passage (13:20-21), some people hurriedly bury a dead man in the grave of Elisha, “but when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet.” In the Acts of the Apostles we read, “Meanwhile, God worked extraordinary miracles at the hands of Paul. When handkerchiefs or cloths which had touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them” (19:11-12). In these three passages, a reverence was given to the actual body or clothing of these very holy people who were indeed God’s chosen instruments—Elijah, Elisha and St. Paul. Indeed, miracles were connected with these “relics”—not that some magical power existed in them, but just as God’s work was done through the lives of these holy men, so did His work continue after their deaths. Likewise, just as people were drawn closer to God through the lives of these holy men, so did they (even if through their remains) inspire others to draw closer even after their deaths. This perspective provides the Church’s understanding of relics.

The veneration of relics of the saints is found in the early history of the Church. A letter written by the faithful of the Church in Smyrna in the year 156 provides an account of the death of St. Polycarp, their bishop, who was burned at the stake. The letter reads, “We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together as we are able, in gladness and joy, and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.” Essentially, the relics—the bones and other remains of St. Polycarp—were buried and the tomb itself was the “reliquary.” Other accounts attest that the faithful visited the burial places of the saints and miracles occurred. Moreover, at this time we see the development of “feast days” marking the death of the saint, the celebration of Mass at the burial place and a veneration of the remains.

After the legalization of the Church in 312, the tombs of saints were opened and the actual relics were venerated by the faithful. A bone or other bodily part was placed in a reliquary—a box, locket and later a glass case—for veneration. This practice especially grew in the Eastern Church, while the practice of touching cloth to the remains of the saint was more common in the west. By the time of the Merovingian and Carolingian periods of the Middle Ages, the use of reliquaries was common throughout the whole Church.

The Church strived to keep the use of relics in perspective. In his Letter to Riparius, St. Jerome (d. 420) wrote in defense of relics: “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.”” (


P1040100St. Catherine quotes:

There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.

Out of darkness is born the light.

All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, “I am the way.”

In your nature, eternal Godhead, I shall come to know my nature. And what is my nature, boundless Love? It is fire, because you are nothing but a fire of love. And you have given humankind a share in this nature for by the fire of love you created us.”

“This is why you have seen God in his last judgment permitting the Church to suffer so many persecutions and trials. But take heart…and don’t be afraid, no matter what has happened or may yet happen. God is doing it to make the Church perfect once again, so that lambs may feed in this garden instead of the wolves who are devouring the honor that belongs to God by stealing it for themselves. Take heart in Christ gentle Jesus, for I trust that his help, the fullness of divine grace, will come soon to your support and aid. If you do as I’ve told you, you will emerge from war into the greatest peace, from persecution to complete unity–not by human power but by holy virtue–and you will defeat the devils we can see (evil people) as well as those we cannot see–though they never take their eyes off us.”

“You know…that to join two things together there must be nothing between them or there cannot be a perfect fusion. Now realize that this is how God wants our soul to be, without any selfish love of ourselves or of others in between, just as God loves us without anything in between.”  Letter T164















Italy has enormous variety, from the seaside of Levanto to the crowds and canals of Venice, to the quieter, and steeper, hills of Siena. Siena is another city trapped in time, it’s like stepping back into the 13th or 14th Century, the Middle Ages, just before the Renaissance. The roads are rough cobblestones that challenge your balance, the buildings are ancient, the streets are so narrow they seem like alleys, they all go up or down, nothing is level. Everything is stone and the people are friendly and always willing to lend a hand. And, the soil as well as the stones, are the color of Crayola’s burnt sienna – the color is everywhere.

P1040061Siena is probably best known for this piazza, Il Campo, right in the heart of the city. The square was first laid out in the 12th Century, it attracts tourists and locals to soak up the sun, visit the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) or eat at one of the many nice restaurants. Originally, it was just a field (campo) outside the city walls, but as the city expanded, in the 1200’s, the walls were torn down and it became the town’s marketplace and the conjunction where the 17 contrade (neighborhood districts) converge.

P1030953 City Hall adorns the other side of Il Campo, its monumental clock tower, at 330 feet, is one of Italy’s tallest towers. The chapel at the base of the clock tower was built in 1348 to give thanks to God for ending the black plague.



P1040064The Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy) the fountain is named for the great celebration in Siena when the residents saw water gushing out for the first time.

Each contrade (neighborhood district) has an insignia, mascot, color, fountain and church, the walls of the district are marked with that district’s insignia.



P1040036Unfortunately, I don’t know what they mean.



P1040060And banners

The neighborhood rivalry is set in full motion twice a year, on July 2 and August 16 when they have the Palio di Siena; a world renowned horse race in which 10 of the 17 neighborhoods compete at Il Campo. The horses are taken to the contrade church to be blessed, “Go and be victorious”, says the priest; it is considered good luck if the horse leaves droppings in the church.  

From Rick Steves: “While the race itself lasts just 90 seconds, festivities go on for days. As Palio day approaches, processions break out across the city, including one in which the famed and treasured banner — featuring the Virgin Mary, to whom the race is dedicated — is held high as it is paraded to the cathedral. Locals belt out passionate good-luck choruses. With the waving flags and pounding drums, it all harkens back to medieval times, when these rituals boosted morale before battle.”


“The race! Once the rope drops, there’s one basic rule: There are no rules. The jockeys race bareback like crazy while spectators go berserk. In Siena, life stops for these frantic three laps. Up in the apartment, Roberto and Franco held their breath. And then, the winner: Lupa, the she-wolf district.

We zipped out into the street to join the ecstatic mobs coursing toward the cathedral. The happy “Lupa-Lupa-Lupa!” horde thundered through town, weeping with joy. At the cathedral, the crowd packed in, and the winning contrada received the beloved banner. Champions — until the next race.”

Read Rick Steves’ complete article here:

I wasn’t there for the Palio, but there were signs of it everywhere.

P1040111A mark on a wall in a narrow street (yes, the stone walls are this color)

P1040068In a store window


I was drawn to Siena by the stunning pictures I’ve seen of the striped cathedral, so that was one of my first stops, it’s just around the corner from Il Campo.


Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption) Also known as the Siena Duomo

It did not disappoint, located at the top of a hill in the small city, it overshadowed everything near it.





P1040044Romulus and Remus



P1040030The Focciatone. The cathedral was built to rival the Duomo of Florence but the black plague destroyed the city’s will to complete their plans; here you see the wall that would have been part of the cathedral if the original plans had been followed. Following the black plague, Siena withdrew from the world stage and thus preserved this gem of a city and now, we can experience a trip back 700 years into the past.









P1030996The Last Supper

P1030995A heavenly organ!

P1030984A museum displays huge ornate music books that were used in times when churches couldn’t afford a separate book for each person, so the books were printed with large text so the book could be displayed from the front of the church and those of the congregation who were able could read it.

The Duomo Museum


P1040007A window dedicated to the Virgin Mary

Bottom – burial of the Virgin Mary — Middle – assumption of the Virgin Mary; — Top – crowning the Virgin Mary Queen of Heaven

P1040008Some of the original 12 Disciples statues that were removed from the Duomo to protect them


P1040012The Transfiguration by Girolamo Genga

After my visit to the museum, I visited the Facciatone; the top of the uncompleted wall attached to the Duomo.


I didn’t understand (it would have been so much better to learn Italian before I came here) that my ticket included a climb to the top of this wall, the Facciatone, I thought I was climbing the bell tower so I was not prepared for how steep and narrow the steps were. The steps were barely wide enough for my shoe, the stairway was circular and so narrow, there was room for only one person; the tour was planned so that a group went up and then the group at the top went down; there was no passing. The stairway was dim so it was hard to see and there was barely enough room to look down. I wasn’t worried when we started, but as we climbed and climbed with no end in sight, I became more and more anxious. Remember, the tour started in the museum, I didn’t even know I was outside climbing to the top of a wall. There were feet at the top of my head and someone’s head just below my feet, there was no going back and going forward was painfully slow. This was the hardest time of my entire trip; I felt so claustrophobic and trapped I had to repeatedly swallow down the creeping panic. When we emerged at the top where there were incomparably beautiful panoramic views, all I could think of was that I’d never make it down; what if my foot slipped? I’d land on someone and the one before him and the one before him and we’d all go tumbling down like something from a Lewis Carrol story. I looked around and saw a strong looking, kind looking younger man and approached him to see if I could follow him down. He kindly said yes, but his companion had a lot of questions; I must have passed because she smiled and agreed that the three of us could go down together. “He’s not very strong, you know” she said, “I don’t plan to fall on him, I just don’t want to go down alone” was my reply that seemed to convince her. With those arrangements made, I was finally able to enjoy the magnificent view.

P1040014The best viewing spot in Siena.

P1040016Beautiful Tuscany


P1040027Look at the blue sky and the purple hills




P1040029It was hard for me to climb that stairway, but it was worth it…what a view! What a city!

In August and October of 2016, there were devastating earthquakes in Norcia, Italy; the historic Basilica of St. Benedict and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea were severely damaged; many of the treasures recovered from there were sent to nearby Siena for restoration and safety. They can be found in the crypt under the Duomo, there are videos and photographs of the rescue operation; I was touched by how careful the rescue workers were with the ancient and holy articles they retrieved.





P1030978Restoration in Norcia goes on, the people are hopeful they will be able to restore the damaged buildings and retrieve the precious items from Siena.

Across from the Duomo is the Santa Maria della Scala museum which was once a hospital dedicated to caring for abandoned children, the poor and the sick; today it is a museum lined with frescoes illustrating the work that was done there.

P1030960The more time I spend it Italy, the more I admire the beauty of frescoes; these are from the 1330’s and they’ve never been restored – look how fresh they are!





On my last morning in Siena, I planned to go to Mass at the Duomo, so I headed out, past the Santuario di Santa Caterina,


Up and down the narrow cobblestone streets of the cityP1040057P1030949






P1040105My home parish is St. Teresa of Calcutta, so this touched me.

And up to the Duomo Piazza; the guard told me I was early and I should come back in half an hour when he’d let me in. I wandered about looking at souvenir shops. After half an hour when I went back, the guard very abruptly told me there would be no Mass and I should go to St. Agostino’s; where is that Do I have time?? A gentleman was just being turned away and headed to St. Agostino’s so I asked if I could tag along. St. Agostino’s was celebrating the feast day of St. Rita; they were selling roses and candles to place near the St. Rita statue and they were also selling “blessed bread”; I had never heard of blessed bread.

St. Rita: At the age of 12, against her wishes, Rita was married to a violent, cruel and unfaithful man; Rita bore his treatment with meekness and love that eventually had a calming influence on her husband, even to the point of renouncing a feud; unfortunately, his enemies betrayed him and killed him anyway. Rita forgave the killers and publicly pardoned them, a year later, both her sons contracted dysentery and died. Rita later joined a monastery when she was 36. When she was 60, she prayed “Please let me suffer like you, divine Savior” and received a wound on her forehead as if a thorn from Christ’s crown had pierced her. It never healed and she suffered from it until she died. She contracted tuberculosis and while she was bedridden, she asked a cousin to bring her a rose from the garden; her cousin didn’t think it was possible to find a rose in January, but there was one single bloom which her cousin brought back to her. She passed away four months later. She is the patron saint of the impossible.

Blessed bread: bread that is blessed during Mass and distributed to the congregation as a token of union and love.

P1040046The church was overflowing with roses.

P1040047And candles

P1040049The statue of St. Rita surrounded by roses

It was a lovely Mass; the church was filled to capacity and everyone got into the spirit of raising funds for the church and celebrating St. Rita. I bought a small roll of blessed bread and ate it, it was very good.

P1040033Later that day, I went back up to the Duomo Piazza to see the Baptistery; when I arrived at the piazza, there were police cars and crowds surrounding them, I hesitated to go forward, but curiosity won and I continued to the Duomo.


P1040122Oh, why didn’t I learn Italian??

I began to hear “Obama” and then “Obama!!!” I looked all around at the intense security presence and limousines, finally I couldn’t take it anymore so I walked over to the guard who suddenly changed his mind and didn’t let me go into Mass this morning, surely he would know what’s going on. He told me former president and first lady, Barak and Michelle Obama, were coming to tour the cathedral. I had seen newspaper headlines that they were in town but I did not expect to find them.

I walked around the Duomo to go to the Baptistery, but all avenues were blocked, I wasn’t allowed to proceed near the building, so I returned to the front of the cathedral.

P1040129As I got back to the front of the Duomo, I saw everyone looking up and pointing at the Facciatone (the wall I had climbed earlier), so I went back up the Duomo stairs and looked where everyone was pointing and there, indeed, was someone who might be President Obama. I used the zoom on my camera and snapped a few shots of the former president, I thought the woman with him was the former first lady, I couldn’t tell it was not until I got home and took a closer look at my pictures. People were chanting “Obama, Obama” there was a festive atmosphere; people all around me seemed to be very excited. It was obvious that this crowd adored the former president; the excitement reminded me of being at a rock concert.

P1040128That’s Eric Holder in the blue shirt to the left center.

P1040132I decided to walk to the next block and come up to the baptistery from the back.

P1040134It was a little climb


 The Baptistery had just closed!! ☹ 


When I got back to the Duomo, I learned that the former president and first lady had walked by on their way in to tour the cathedral and apparently the first lady scandalized all of Siena by wearing an ugly and inappropriate blouse, but I didn’t see it. (In Italy, no one is allowed to enter Catholic churches unless their shoulders are covered and their legs are covered to below the knee. Michelle Obama’s blouse did not cover her shoulders and appeared to hang down almost to her waist.)

Barack Obama and Michelle in Siena

Photo from a news report

So ended my journey to Siena – what a beautiful and relaxing place to visit. On my way to the train station, I ran across this newspaper stand. What are the chances I’d cross paths with them?

P1040141The Obama   Enchanted by Siena

Tragic crash kills young father

So, I leave Siena and Tuscany to go to Assisi in the neighboring region of Umbria. But, my next post is about Catherine of Siena; the person most intimately associated with this beautiful hill town.








There was still so much to see, as soon as I left the Uffizi and said goodbye to my terrific guide, I headed to the Basilica di Santa Croce (the Sacred Heart).


P1030887My beloved Dante Alighieri stands sentinel over the Piazza di Santa Croce

P1030889The Basilica di Santa Croce, it’s reminiscent of the Duomo with similar gothic architecture, similar marble patterns and façade, but it’s much difference. Here many of the greatest names of the Italian Renaissance are laid to rest.


P1030876Christ crucified and Christ Risen


P1030878The Sepulcher of Lorenzo the Magnificent

P1030881The Tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, the person to whom Machiavelli addressed his treatise “The Prince”. Michelangelo sculpted the tomb, the Duke is the pensive figure at the top, the other two figures represent Dawn (left) waking from sleep and Dusk (right) seems to be falling asleep.

P1030885Tomb of Giuliano Duke of Nemours, Michelangelo has again adorned the tomb with Dawn awakening from sleep (left) and Dusk drowsing and approaching sleep. (right)


P1030897The Tomb of Michelangelo, “Michelangelo died at Rome in 1564. The general design of his tomb, which we are now examining, was by Vasari. The bust of the great master, seen above the central figure, is by Battista Lorenzi, and, if a good likeness, does not show Michelangelo to have been a very handsome man. The figure of architecture – the one on the right – is by Giovanni dall’ Opera. The central figure represents Painting and is by Lorenzi ; while the third represents Sculpture and was executed by Cioli.” (

It was bittersweet to stand before this tomb; the creator of the magnificent David and the sweeping ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the man who carved the heart-wrenching Pieta, the man who infused art with life and vitality and truth and used that art to proclaim his faith in God the creator and in His Son. In our time of post-modernism, I think we take too much for granted, we can’t imagine art before there was perspective or life or energy; today we find it boring. But, gentle reader, Michelangelo rocked the world, he was a greater star than anything we saw in the 20th Century. Michelangelo Buonorotti, I salute you! Thank you!!

Da Vinci Tomb

P1030890The tomb of the great Leonardo da Vinci, mankind owes so much to this man; his invention and discovery as well as his contribution to the art world changed more than we know and influences our lives today. Master da Vinci, thank you.

P1030900My beloved Dante Aligherio; this isn’t Dante’s tomb, that’s in his small hometown of Ravenna, this is just a memorial to him.

“It contains a script “Onorate L’Altissimo Poeta” – or “Honor the Poet of the Highest Regard”. In the right side, we can see an allegorical sculpture representing Poetry mourning the loss of Italy’s Supreme Poet. On the left, allegorical sculpture of Italy, points to the seated figure of Dante.” (

Dante; father of the Italian language and poet who sings so beautifully we can see heaven from his words. Dante, I salute you and long for the day I can sit at your feet and hear you speak.

P1030891“Galileo Galilei (Italian: [ɡaliˈlɛːo ɡaliˈlɛi]; 15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642) was an Italian polymath: astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician.

He played a major role in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments.” (

A grateful world remembers you, Galileo, thank you!

The Basilica di Santa Croce was a bittersweet visit; one can’t visit Florence without being struck by the Italian Renaissance; everything changed, the world would never be the same because God placed so many great people in one place at one time.

P1030942Church of Santa Maria Novella

“Architecturally, it is one of the most important Gothic churches in Tuscany. The exterior is the work of Fra Jacopo Talenti and Leon Battista Alberti. The interior holds extraordinary works of art including Masaccio’s Trinità, Ghirlandaio’s fresco cycle in the Tornabuoni Chapel and Giotto’s Crucifix, among others.” (

P1030902Church of Santa Maria Novella, it takes your breath away.





P1030908The crucified and risen Savior



P1030911When I left the Santa Maria Novella, I wanted to go to the The Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito (The Basilica of Mary of the Holy Spirit), but it was on the other side of the Arno and I was feeling tired and dispirited because there was so much to see and my time had run out. The horseback riding was fun but it probably took more energy than I had expected, I thought I’d wander back toward my hotel.

Everywhere in Italy, there is always a church to bring calm and peace. As I roamed back toward my hotel after giving up on making it to the river, I saw an incongruent glass door in the side of an ancient stone building. As I looked more closely, I made out the word “chiesa” (church), so out of curiosity, I decided to check it out. They were having “adoration”, a time of silent prayer and meditation, it was exactly what I needed! I went in for an hour and when I came out, I felt rejuvenated and ready to explore more. There’s always a church when you need one. Then, I wandered through the Piazza della Repubblica.

P1030793I joined the crowds on the stairway, ate a gelato and watched the people go by.

Then as I made my way to my hotel I came upon the Bargello Museum and it was still open! Why not?  I asked myself.

P1030914The term “Bargello” seems to come from the Latin for castle or fortified tower.



P1030916Mercury by Giambalogna

Donatellos DavidDavid by Donatello

P1030921Bacchus by Giambalogna

P1030923Ghiberti’s original bronze doors designed for the Baptistery: The Gates of Heaven





P1030931This small dome came to light during the enlargement of the museum in 2012, it is important proof of the spina-pesca (herring bone) technique used on the big dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore. This alternation in the laying of bricks creates wedges able to lock already-laid bricks in place, preventing slippage.

P1030933An illustration of Dante’s Inferno.

P1030934Florence is so rich in history, art, architecture, natural beauty and delicious food that I really needed another day. But, now I must say goodbye to Florence and head to the beautiful town of Siena.















After a solid night’s sleep, I was up early to join a tour of the Accademia Gallery; I was truly looking forward to seeing the original David.


P1030795Plaster model of the Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna (1583)


P1030798An uncompleted Michelangelo sculpture of a slave, you can see how the person appears trapped in the marble. The Awakening of the Slave (1530-1534)

P1030802Perfection!! They keep the lights low to protect the art, which makes for disappointing pictures. This is Michelangelo’s David, perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture. Where earlier sculptures tended to be stiff and posed, the David is tense with anticipation as his entire body is preparing to spring into action. Michelangelo carved the masterpiece between 1501-1504, he began when he was only 26 years old. Previous sculptures of David portrayed him after he has killed Goliath, often holding Goliath’s head triumphantly in his hand. Michelangelo chose to show David preparing for the battle, one leg is back, preparing him move forcefully. His face is tense with concentration and self-confidence, the David came to symbolize liberty and the Florentine readiness to defend itself.

His head and right hand are disproportionately large, most likely because the statue was intended to be mounted near the top of the Duomo, so Michelangelo enhanced important features to make them visible from such a large distance. The sculpture was an instant sensation and Florence determined that it should be placed in the heart of Florence, the Piazza della Signoria, where a replica stands today.



P1030801An unfinished pieta, one of Michelangelo’s last sculptures, the Palestrina Pieta. (1555)

The Accademia Gallery was a little disappointing; the only really noteworthy work is the David. But, as soon as we left the Accademia, my guide and I headed to the Ufizzi Gallery where no one would be disappointed.

The Renaissance was a period of vibrant change, there are many points attributed with the birth of the Renaissance, but many converge on the year 1401 when Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Bruneleschi competed for the right to design the doors to the Florence Baptistery. The Renaissance was an explosion of scientific, artistic, philosophical, religious and political exploration. The art of the period began to explore realism, with the introduction of nature and perspective and lifelike settings and poses. While Dante introduced a new perspective on religious thought, language and poetry, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei and others were advancing all areas of scientific exploration, art became an entire industry with some of the greatest artists of all time contributing to the innovation explosion; Ghiberti and others also advanced architecture. The Renaissance embraced ideals of beauty, kindness, compassion and patriotism. It changed the world.

It was the thrill of a lifetime to visit the Galleria degli Uffizi Museum (The Ufizzi Gallery)


I was surprised this was the Ufizzi Gallery, we came back to my procession of Renaissance notables!



Prior to the Renaissance, painting was primarily done to tell a story, not as decoration or to capture what the subject looked like. Paintings were flat, one-dimensional, there was little sense of movement, images were wooden. During the Renaissance, art took on a new vibrancy and import. Figures began to show emotion, backgrounds began to fill in, often with views of nature, postures began to show movement. Here we see a typical pre-renaissance representation of the Madonna & child. There is little interaction between the mother and child, Mary is looking off into the distance, she almost seems oblivious to the child on her lap, her expression shows almost no emotion. The Baby Jesus is also looking off into the distance and holding his right hand up in blessing of his viewer; there is no background to place them in a specific setting. They are surrounded by six very wooden looking nearly identical angels. Everything is flat, there is no perspective, all the angels are the same size looking as if they are stacked on top of one another.


In this painting of Madonna and Child, note how perspective is beginning to pop out, the angels aren’t stacked on top of each other, but bunched together with some in front and some behind. The Madonna and the Baby Jesus are looking at each other and appear to interact with each other.



P1030817In this painting of the Annunciation by Simone Martini & Lippo Memmi (1333) we see movement in the Angel Gabriel as he leans in to deliver his message to Mary. We see Mary pulling away with a startled or frightened expression. Mary’s chair looks solid and it appears as if she’s sitting in it. The first Madonna image above almost gives the sense that Mary is floating above her chair.

P1030822Adoration of the Magi by Gentile de Fabriano (1423). Here we see Mary looking at the Baby Jesus who is reaching out to bless one of the kings, there is no bland gold or black background here; there’s a sense of real people behaving realistically, there is a lot going on in the background; the cow is watching with interest. Bystanders are involved, the dog and horses show movement. The Renaissance in art is unfolding as we watch.

P1030824Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi (1465), here we see a real looking mother interacting with her child and the child reaching out to the mother, the angel holding the Baby Jesus is looking at us with an impish grin, it looks as if he’s incredibly pleased to have the privilege of holding the Child. We also see some landscape beginning to emerge as Mary is placed in a real place and time.

P1030826Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piera Della Francesca (1465-1472); Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza. These were the ruling class; the duke has lost his right eye in a tournament so would allow only his profile to be painted. You may notice the strange shape of his nose; he had a classical ski-slope Italian nose, but with only one eye, he lost his ability to see to the left so he had a surgeon remove the top of his nose to increase visibility. The stiff profiles stand in stark contrast to the beautiful landscape behind them.

AT last we come to Boticelli; face it, the only real reason to visit the Ufizzi Gallery is to see the Botticellis. 🙂

Sandro Botticelli, original name Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (1445, – May 17, 1510), (Boticelli means Little Barrel). A lot of Botticelli’s work was done by commission, so he painted subjects and themes his benefactor requested. Mythology and secular art were becoming popular in Medicean Florence, “Mythological figures had been used in earlier Renaissance secular art, but the complex culture of late Medicean Florence, which was simultaneously infused with the romantic sentiment of courtly love and with the humanist interest for Classical antiquity and its vanished artistic traditions, employed these mythological figures more fully and in more correctly antiquarian fashion. A new mythological language became current, inspired partly by Classical literature and sculpture and by descriptions of lost ancient paintings and partly by the Renaissance search for the full physical realization of the ideal human figure.” (


Primavera by Sandro Botticelli (1482)

“One of the greatest of these mythological style paintings is Botticelli’s “Primavera” (Allegory of Spring) which was painted for Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de’Medici, cousin to Lorenzo the Magnificent. “On the right Zephyrus (the blue faced young man) chases Flora and fecundates her with a breath. Flora turns into Spring, the elegant woman scattering her flowers over the world. Venus, in the middle, represents the “Humanitas” (the benevolence), which protects men. On the left the three Graces dance and Mercury dissipates the clouds.

The Allegory of Spring is a very refined work of art. The naturalistic details of the meadow (there are hundreds of types of flowers), the skillful use of the color, the elegance of the figures and the poetry of the whole, have made this important and fascinating work celebrated all over the world.” … “Leaving out the many possible interpretations proposed by various experts, what is certain is the humanistic meaning of the work: Venus is the goodwill (the Humanitas), as she distinguishes the material (right) from the spiritual values ​​(left). The Humanitas promotes the ideal of a positive man, confident in his abilities, and sensitive to the needs of others.”  (

[The three graces are: Aglaea (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth) and Thalia (Good Cheer)]

Botticelli has brought art to life, the painting has movement, relationship, a lush background, there is perspective and depth, the people look real. This is a revolution in the art world and Botticelli’s mythological paintings continue to be some of the most popular of paintings.

P1030831“The Birth of Venus is undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous and appreciated works of art. Painted by Sandro Botticelli between 1482 and 1485, it has become a landmark of XV century Italian painting, so rich in meaning and allegorical references to antiquity.

The theme comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a very important oeuvre of the Latin literature. Venus is portrayed naked on a shell on the seashore; on her left the winds blow gently caressing her hair with a shower of roses, on her right a handmaid (Ora) waits for the goddess to go closer to dress her shy body. The meadow is sprinkled with violets, symbol of modesty but often used for love potions.”  (

P1030832Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi (1476), while full of life, nature and interaction; this painting is beloved largely for the people he incorporated into it. In the lower right corner in the brown robe and looking back at us with a rather haughty expression is the master himself.

Others appearing in the painting are de Medici family & friends:

  1. Lorenzo the Magnificent
  2. Poliziano
  3. Pico della Mirandola
  4. Gaspare Lami (a broker who footed the bill)
  5. Cosimo the Elder
  6. Piero the Gouty (Lorenzo’s father)
  7. Giuliano de Medici (Lorenzo’s younger brother, later murdered in the Pazzi Conspiracy)
  8. Giovanni de Medici (younger brother of Piero the Gouty)
  9. Filippo Strozzi
  10. Joannis Agiropulos
  11. Sandro Botticelli
  12. Lorenzo Tornabuoni


P1030833The Uffizi is breathtaking.


P1030836There are expansive views of lovely Florence from the rooftop restaurant at the top of the Gallery. Here is the Arno River.

P1030837Pont del Vecchio



P1030843The Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) from the roof top of the Uffizi Gallery; since I was the only one who signed up for this tour, it was private and my wonderful guide had time to take my picture.

P1030857Venus of Urbino by Tiziano Vecellio (better known as Titian) (1538)

“This work, completed in 1538 for the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere, is very interesting for its many hidden meanings.

It was a gift from the Duke to his young wife. The painting represents the allegory of marriage and was a “teaching” model to Giulia Varano, the young wife of eroticism, fidelity and motherhood.

The evident eroticism of the painting, in fact, reminded the woman of the marital obligations she would have to fulfill to her husband. The erotic allegory is evident in the representation of Venus, the goddess of love, as a sensual and delectable woman staring at the viewer who could not ignore her beauty. The light and warm color of her body is in contrast to the dark background, bringing out her eroticism.

The dog at the feet of the woman is the symbol of marital fidelity while, in the background, the house maid looking down at the young girl as she rummages in a chest symbolizes motherhood.

The strong sensuality of this painting was therefore consistent with its private, domestic purpose, as a gift from husband to wife.

The pose of the nude is certainly a tribute to his friend-master Giorgione, who in 1510 had painted a very similar subject, the Sleeping Venus.

Thanks to the wise use of color and its contrasts, as well as the subtle meanings and allusions, Titian achieves the goal of representing the perfect Renaissance woman who, just like Venus, becomes the symbol of love, beauty and fertility.”


P1030859The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci. (1472-1475) “Leonardo’s early painting of the Annunciation owes much to the influence of his master, Andrea del Verrocchio. However, it is considered to be da Vinci’s first major work, a large painting executed by his own hand with, perhaps, the help of Verrocchio’s workshop. In fact the attribution to Leonardo was only presented in 1867 and the debates about the parts actually painted by him continued for a long time.” (

P1030860“The Baptism of Christ is a famous painting made by Leonardo da Vinci’s master, Andrea del Verrochio at circa 1472 in his studio in Italy. The painting was completed by Verrochio in collaboration with his apprentice, Leonardo da Vinci who painted and finished the details of some parts of the painting, particularly the angel. The painting was an altarpiece commissioned by the monks of the San Salvi Church near Florence.” (

P1030861“The Adoration of the Magi (1481) is an early painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo was given the commission by the Augustinian monks of San Donato a Scopeto in Florence, but departed for Milan the following year, leaving the painting unfinished. It has been in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1670.

The Virgin Mary and Child are depicted in the foreground and form a triangular shape with the Magi kneeling in adoration. Behind them is a semicircle of accompanying figures, including what may be a self-portrait of the young Leonardo (on the far right). In the background on the left is the ruin of a pagan building, on which workmen can be seen, apparently repairing it. On the right are men on horseback fighting, and a sketch of a rocky landscape.”  (

The ruin in the background that is being repaired is said to symbolize the arrival of Jesus to repair the ruin of the culture and bring a new hope and a new way.

P1030862The Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo da Vinci

P1030864Medusa on a Wooden Shield by Leonardo da Vinci (believed to be a very early da Vinci)

P1030863The Sacrifice of Isaac by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1603)

P1030865Bacchus by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1596-1597)

P1030869Supper with the Lute Player by Gerard van Honthorst, also known as Gherardo Delle Notti (1619-1620)

P1030872The Annunciation 

P1030871The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst, also known as Gherardo Delle Notti (1620)


Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi (1620)

Gentileschi “was an Italian painter, considered as one of the most accomplished and, most famous women painter, of the 17th century after Caravaggio. In an era when female painters were not easily accepted, she was the first female painter to become a member of the Accademia di Arti del Disegno in Florence.

Daughter of Caravaggio’s follower, Orazio, Gentileschi moved to Florence to escape the scandal in Rome after the lawsuit for rape she brought against the landscape painter Agostino Tassi. Of this dramatic case, concluding predictably with the humiliation of Artemisia, documentation does exist and today is often taken as a symbol of the violence women have had to endure for centuries.

Unfortunately, those events often seem to overshadow her achievements as an artist and for long was regarded as a curiosity. Fortunately, today her work is being reevaluated and considered one of the most progressive of her generation.

In her work, Artemisia seems to have transferred her experience to canvas. Her paintings often have strong, suffering women from myth and the Bible – victims, suicides, warriors. She particularly seems to have liked the Judith story, one of two paintings present at the Uffizi Gallery today.” (

In the Old Testament book of Judith, Holofernes is an Assyrian general who has laid siege to a town in Israel called Bethulia, preventing the townspeople from any access to water. There was not enough water for even a single day in all of Bethulia. The people of the town petitioned their prince, Ozias, to surrender saying it was better to be captives to Holofernes than to die of thirst. They all went into the synagogue and cried and prayed unto the Lord for a long time. Ozias arose and asked the people to wait five more days, if help came, then they would glorify the Lord, if not, then they would surrender to Holofernes. When the widow, Judith, heard of the plan, she arose and arrayed herself in her finest jewels and precious clothes, when she had completed her prayers, she went down the hill to meet Holofernes and offered to show him a secret passage into Bethulia, she praised Nebuchadnezzar as the only king of Israel and thus convinced Holofernes that she had joined him in his battle against the Jews. He was enchanted by her beauty and invited her to drink with him. Holofernes became drunk and eventually fell into bed in a drunken stupor. While he was sleeping, she took his sword and cut off his head. She wrapped his head in the bed canopy and took it back to the town, the head was hung from the town walls. When the Assyrian leaders and generals learned that a woman had defeated Holofernes and cut off his head, they panicked and began to flee. When Israel saw the Assyrians fleeing, they went out and slew the fleeing armies. They, then, looted the Assyrian tents. Judith was celebrated by all Israel and all gave the glory to God.

My tour guide insisted this is the best painting in the museum because it is by a woman and because Gentileschi was raped and the rapist walked away without any consequences while Gentileshi’s reputation was destroyed. This painting was Gentileschi’s revenge and, by extension, a type of revenge for rape victims everywhere. I think Judith would find satisfaction in knowing that her story comforted and encouraged rape victims.

After my tour of the Uffizi Gallery was complete, I had time for just a couple more sites before my time in Florence would come to an end, so I decided to go to the Basilica of Santa Croce (the Sacred Heart). It is a monumental building that houses equally monumental works of art and history. That will be the subject of my next post.





After an exciting morning of horseback riding and wine tasting, I felt I needed to make up for lost time so I headed out to find the Piazza della Signoria. It was a long walk, but I saw some interesting sites along the way.



The Piazza della SignoriaP1030764

Equestrian statue of Cosimo I (1598) by Giambologna in the heart of the Piazza della Signoria

IT_Florenz_Piazza_della_Signoria“Piazza della Signoria (Italian pronunciation: [ˈpjattsa della siɲɲoˈriːa]) is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy. … It is the main point of the origin and history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political focus of the city. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists, located near Plazzo Vecchio and Piazza del Duomo and gateway to Uffizi Gallery.” (

P1030765Replica of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David, it’s standing in the Piazza where the original stood for centuries, it dominates the square.


P1030766Hercules and Cacus by Bartolommeo Bandinelli

P1030767The Loggia dei Lanzi or the Loggia della Signoria contains many pieces of noted Renaissance sculpture, here is Hercules killing the Centaur by Giambologna

P1030769Rape of the Sabine women by Giambologna


I made it just inside the doorway of the Palazzo Vecchio, it looks lavish.


The Uffizi Gallery, I didn’t realize this was the Gallery but I was enthralled by the statues; the great figures of the Renaissance are standing in procession offering wisdom, insight and brilliance to the lesser beings roaming the street below. I felt a little bit transported back in time so I took pictures of the people I knew best.


Cosimo de Medici, known as the father of the nation.


Lorenzo de Medici the Magnificent




The Great Man Himself! Painter, sculptor, scientist, engineer, astronomer and inventor; a man of genius; the very definition of Renaissance.


Perhaps the greatest sculptor of all time, the creator of the magnificent David, the Pieta now housed in St. Peter’s in Vatican City and the painter of the Sistine Chapel, invigorating art and making it come to life. I know they’re just statues, but I felt enormous awe to just be in the presence of these statues.

P1030779For everyone who loves “The Divine Comedy” as much as I do. This man created new universes and taught us to see the consequences of sin versus the reward of virtue and he did in a way that sings to the reader’s heart. He is considered the father of the Italian language because rather than writing in Latin as his predecessors did,  he wrote in Italian in the Tuscan dialect. As others followed his example, the Tuscan dialect became the language of Italy. Dante was, without question, a true Renaissance man.


Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (Italian: [nikkoˈlɔ mmakjaˈvɛlli]; 3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer. He has often been called the father of modern political science. He was for many years a senior official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned in the Italian language. He was secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his most renowned work The Prince (Il Principe) in 1513. (



After leaving the Palazzo Vecchio, the Piazza della Signoria and the Ufizzi Gallery, I came to the Pont del Vecchio, one of the most famous bridges in the world.

P1030784Pont del Vecchio bridges the Arno River, it is believed to have been built in Roman times. It was originally populated by butchers, but after the de Medici’s consolidated power in Florence, they took over the Palazzo Vecchio as their own, since they did not like the smell of the meats for sale on the bridge, they banned the sale of meat and the shops were taken over by gold merchants. Today, the many stalls are filled with jewelry shops selling expensive gold jewelry. In order to connect the Palazzo Vecchio with the de Medici palace, the Palazzo Pitti, Cosimo De Medici had a corridor built above the bridge called the Vassari Corridor which you can see above the shops in this picture. The de Medicis could use this corridor to walk from their palaces above the hubub of the bridge below and never have to come in contact with the common rabble.

P1030786Palazzo Pitti (the Medici’s palace); the Medici wealth appears to have no limit. This is just across the Arno from the Palazzo Vecchio so one must cross the Pont Vecchio to arrive here; hence the need for the Vassari Corridor.

Just past the Palazzo, I found a lovely little ancient church that was just beginning Mass; I gratefully stepped into the coolness of old stone walls and the refreshment of the worship and participated in the Mass, what a splendid way to end an eventful and interesting day. 

The next morning, I was up early for a tour of the Accademia Gallery which contains the original of Michelangelo’s David.