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!!
Basilica 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)
Basilica complex, photo by: By Ricardo André Frantz
The view from the Piazza di Basilica di Santa Chiara
The Piazza di Basilica di Chiara
Inside 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.
The small side chapel
The crucifix that spoke to St. Francis telling him “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.”
Tunics worn by St. Francis and St. Clare
In 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)
The Crypt of St. Clare
St. 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.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_di_Santa_Chiara)
After leaving the church, I continued to explore Assisi.
This 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.
The Chiesa Nuova: One of the few churches built by Rafael – Photo By Gunnar Bach Pedersen – Own work (Own photo), Public Domain
St. Francis’ parents: Pietro di Bernardone & Pica de Bourlemont
I was taken aback by the paintings on the wall, the church fathers seem determined to expose the horrors of the persecution.
Many 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)
Five Friars Minor – Martyrs in Morocco
The 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.
I 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.
Roman laundry basin, women gathered here to do their wash.
Porta 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
“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.” (http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Assisi1.html)
Lovely Umbria, the only landlocked area in Italy
Barely visible to the left is Rocca Minore, once a protective fortress, today a favorite haunt of young lovers.
Leaving the hilltop to return to town, I passed through the colorful streets of Assis
I 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.
One of the lions standing guard at the doorway is eating a Christian martyr.
In Francis’ time, this was the most important church in Assisi and it played an important role in Francis’ life.
Baptismal font, in 1181 Francis was baptized here, 13 years later, Clare was also baptized here.
Would this floor make you dizzy?
St. Francis 1888
St. Clare 1888
The wall that delineates the extent of the city
Piazza 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.)
17th Century baroque, statues of Peter & Paul
Piazza 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.
People 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.
Basilica Papale di San Francesco (Papal Basilica of Saint Francis) – Photograph by: By Berthold Werner – Own work, Public Domain.
The 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.
Unfortunately, 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: ( https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Assisi+Basilica+Superior+E+Di+San+Francesco&FORM=RESTAB ) – copy & paste to your browser
The Friary, Sacro Convento, of the Friars Minor Conventional.
The basilica affords a sweeping view of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside.
Saint 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.
Basilica 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
Mary of the Angels.
This 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.
St Francis cell, there is nothing here to bring him comfort, that must come from his faith.
The 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”
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.
The rose garden where the thorn bushes became roses. The Rosa Canina Assisiensis (thornless roses) still grow here.
Along 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.
When 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.
On 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.
There, at Santa Maria of the Porziuncola, her hair was shorn by the hands of the brothers.
There, 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.
Francis 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.
The inspiration for Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Si.
After I reluctantly left the beautiful basilica and St. Francis’ lovely little chapel, I made my way to San Damiano.
San 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.
The 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.
Here 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.
I cropped the picture to bring out the detail a little bit
The 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.
The 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
“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
This is a place of personal prayer that Clare had built, it was dedicated to the Holy Virgin
Clare 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.
Clare’s place in the refectory is indicated by a cross of flowers.
The 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
The 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.
Tourists are asked to maintain silence as this is a holy place where St. Francis was able to find peace and solitude.
This is where Francis slept during his mountain retreats.
The 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.
Eremo 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.
Aaah, 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.
Basilica di Santa Chiara
I found some young men in a parking lot practicing for a flag twirling competition, they were accompanied by loud music and drums.
Beautiful Assisi! I will miss you!
Tomorrow, I take the train to the mysterious and unknown town of Loreto, what will I find there?