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Published: July 18th 2018
Basilica of St Francis of Assisi
From the bottom of the hill - a long distance
I am sitting in the shade at the grand Santa Maria degli Angeli
, 4 or 5 km (depending on the sign) downhill from Assisi. Inside the Basilica is the church where St. Francis bestowed the cowl on St. Clair and where he died. The inside of the whole basilica is not overly ornate – the frescoes and statues, bas reliefs, and trompe l'oeil are above the side panels. The plainness of the high vaulted central portion puts emphasis on the little church – golden stone in the field of plain white plaster.
I walked here from Assisi, driven by curiosity - and may walk back along the pilgrim’s trail. The way I came, led to the San Domiano shrine
, which was closed, but the pathway was pretty and showed wonderful views of the valley. Unfortunately there weren't any back roads to wander through, as described by Sister Sue. (I don’t think she has walked it.) After the shrine, all of the walking was on the main road, which is like an Alberta secondary or even tertiary road. Still, I paused periodically in the heat to appreciate the beautiful views back up. After all, I had been regretting that part of my holiday wasn’t a walking
Basilica of St Francis of Assisi
Imposing walk to the upper church, consecrated 1253
Now I am back at the Guest House (in the garden) having walked back. Returning up along the new pilgrim’s path was half an hour shorter than my way down. The pilgrim's path extends from Santa Maria degli Angeli to one of the Assisi gates. It is paved in red bricks, most of which have names of donors and their cities, a nice touch. It was made after the earthquake to honour the four dead and the many donors. The lower third leads straight to the hill and then moves up at a serious but not ridiculous angle. (The vehicle road is a lazy switchback.) On the path, a friar (young and thin) asked me a question in Italian about his destination to which I answered “No lo so” – "I don’t know". He switched the destination to Santa Maria degli Angeli and seemed really happy when I said “Si”.
I got a little mixed up on streets once I was inside the walls, partly because I didn’t realize how far to the north I was compared to where the Guest House was. Finally after checking the map fruitlessly, I asked “Dove siamo?” (Where are we?) of
a woman in a shop. From there, once orientated I had no trouble.
On the way I bought a Panini for supper. The first place was sold out, but the second still had buns and several kinds of salami, which I called “salsiccia”
(sausage) “No, sole salami”, he said. ("No sausages, only salami.") He had a very hard time understanding my halting Italian, but I choked out the right words eventually. (Here a Panini is only bread and salami or cheese, no lettuce nor tomatoes). I had an orange in my room and some of Leila’s cantuccci.
A full meal wasn’t necessary because of my lunch. Breakfast was scrimpy here (cereal, bread and jam, plus yogurt which I don’t eat). Even so, I didn’t eat lunch until after the first half of my long walk. I went into the second restaurant on the road. (The first looked too expensive for my tastes.) The restaurant was nice enough, relatively modern, large with a handful of tables occupied. They didn’t have the ovens going for pizza (at least that was my interpretation of what she said), and the specials were only offered Wednesday and Thursday. So I quickly ordered a
See, but not visit
different and unknown pasta dish than planned. It was tagliatelle in tomato sauce with what I finally decided was cut-up gizzard! It had an indifferent flavour until I added a bit of parmesan cheese for salt. My salad was excellent. From watching an Italian cooking show on Food Network in Calgary, I knew that artichokes are a specialty in Italy. This salad was large enough to be in a serving bowl, rather than an individual portion. It was filled with cut arugula, long peels of zucchini, long peels of yellow sweet pepper, and many pieces of artichokes. They were fresh and fully tender – completely unlike commercial ones bottled in oil. I also had a beer. I was so stuffed!
My walking started this morning when I went to the Basilica of St. Francis
, the great pilgrimage site. It is at the other end of town, about a 25 minute walk. The Basilica is enormous, the focus of the town's economy. I chose the entrance on the level of the street by which I came, which meant I entered the newest church, decorated with frescoes by Giotto (13 century) - which shows that it is not particularly new! There are three churches,
In the garden of the Basilica
Plaque: "At the break of day Francis, with his reformed inner self, desired only to conform to the will of God."
one on top of the other. The bottom one is now the crypt of St. Francis, and the naves of the other two are directly above it. Each is built out from the one below and extends into the hill in a triumph of architecture and engineering.
I “provided a donation” for an audio guide that explained all the major features. The Giotto frescoes are a cycle of 28 that move through the life of St. Francis, on the two long walls of the church. An interesting point was that the barrel arches are decorated with gold stars on a blue field (common to many Italian ceilings) that have small mirrors in them, to increase the reflection in the candle light.
The lower church has a greater variety of frescoes, dedicated to a lot of saints; the guide said that many have disappeared because minor transepts were re-built for special chapels. Further below, the original church and now the crypt of St. Francis was obviously a very solemn place, not overly decorated, ultimately holding a plain stone coffin. Many people took the opportunity to be blessed by a priest there, which was very moving for those who chose
Garden of the Basilica
to do that. The complex is a working monastery, and some of the lovely yellow painted cloisters are off-limits to tourists. Hundreds of visitors, including myself, wandered through highly manicured formal gardens, enjoying the medieval vision maintained for us today. View map of trip to date.
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