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Published: June 14th 2017
Geo: 43.0702, 12.6175
Another big day! Assisi is about 90 minutes away, so we decided to go. We arrived in town (after a short play at the park) through the gates and into the Basilica di Santa Chiara (St. Clare's). St Clare was the friend of St Francis, who founded the Poor Clare's convent at the same time as he founded the Franciscan monks (early 13th century). The church was lovely, and its main attraction was the crucifix (which has been moved from St Damiano's in the olive groves) upon which the painted Christ is said to have bowed his head in sadness and asked Francis to rebuild His church. We also saw the burial place of St Clare, and robes that she and Francis had each worn. Georgia was delighted – no gory bits of saints here! It was very simple and moving.
We went on to the centre of the town, to Piazza del Comune, and (after a bit of a false start) we found a grocery store and bought the makings of a wonderful picnic lunch. We had a quick look at the Tempio di Minerva (the façade of a 2000 year old Roman temple, still one of the main
buildings in the central piazza, although the building is now a church to the patron saint against sudden death) and at the Church which was built over the home of St Francis – we were able to see the small room where his father locked him, when his dad caught him giving all his (dad's) wealth to the poor, and also the shop where his father sold cloth in 1180s. It is incredible that this is all still here – but Francis was made a Saint only 2 years after he died, and was considered a saint in his own lifetime.
We decided to move the car to another carpark to visit the Basilica di San Francesco, which is at the other end of this hilly, and long shaped town. This is the most enormous church, particularly as it hangs off the hill of Assisi, and as it is made of three separate churches, each built over the top of the other, and all sumptuous.
We started in the lower church (the middle one, actually). The Basilica was started in 1228, just two years after the death of the Saint, and again, are an appallingly wealthy response to a man who
called for a life of simplicity and poverty! The best artists of the day were called to decorate the churches – the frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue, Martini and others are amazing, and cover every inch of the walls and ceilings with richness and colour. For me, the crypt, with the coffin of the saint, together with the coffins of some of his closest friends, was very moving – the artwork, however, in the lower and upper churches was mind-blowing. The colours and the way that all the works of art come together is just amazing. We did get an audio guide, but it was so detailed and the language so flowery that the kids asked if it was really in English! Better to not understand every nuance of the paintings, but just to soak it in.
On the way out of Assisi, we stopped at a really unusual church – Santa Maria del Angeli. This great big baroque Church has been built around the little church in which St Francis started his mission (the Porziuncola ) and where he actually died (the Capella del Transito). Again, no display of the body of the Saint or bits of it, but the little
church inside the Church was just lovely – certainly very different to any other church we've ever seen. The history of the Porziuncola is that it is the chapel restored by St. Francis himself. In it he founded the Franciscans, and it was also here that St. Clare embarked on her monastic life on March 28, 1211. The large church around it was necessary because of the huge number of pilgrims – over 100,000 per year by the 15th century! Religious tourism is nothing new to this town!
I'd bought a book for the kids about St Francis, so spent most of the trip home reading to the kids about his life. His father gets a bad rap – when Francis decided to join the poor, he took the stock from his dad's shop, loaded it onto his dad's horse, then went about selling the lot, to give the money to the poor. And his dad is the bad guy because he absolutely lost his temper. I don't think he'd be alone! (don't think this was the message I was supposed to get from the story, but you can't help but empathize with his poor old dad!)
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