Assisi

Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
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Trip End May 25, 2007


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Sunday, November 19, 2006

To see all our photos of Assisi, please visit our Smugmug Assisi Page!

Assisi had the feel of a pilgrimage site rather than a "tourist destination". When overhearing conversations of other tourists, it appeared that most came for religious reasons and often with church groups. Some brought their own priest so they could have a mass in the Basilica in their own language This is the hometown of St Francis (1182-1226), a saint with a message so good and righteous that he is beloved by both Catholics and Protestants and by both the left and the right. Who wouldn't want to visit his old stomping grounds? There were plenty of nuns and monks walking around town, going about their daily activities. With a large convent and large Franciscan monastery, the town had its fair share from around the world. Franciscans are the order that wears the brown and grey robes with the rope belts and many have the bald spot shaved into the crown of their head. Remember the movie Robin Hood? Friar Tuck was a Franciscan.

The main sites in the town were the Basilica of St Francis and the more subdued Basilica of Poor Clare. Clare was a follower of St Francis who started an order of nuns in the same spirit of Francis' order. She was also rich but turned away from her families wealth to live a life of poverty in silent contemplation. The Poor Clare's are by and large a contemplative order, like our friends in Sevilla, so you don't see them much outside the convent. The Franciscans, however, do mix with the community. We had the pleasure after mass at the Basilica of St Francis of meeting Friar Ed, a Canadian Franciscan monk who had just come to the basilica for a term to lead English speaking tours and assist English speaking tourists visiting the sites. He told us that this time of the year (the manageable crowds and lack of lines made it very apparent that it was low season) the town was primarily visited by Italians. In fact, one woman came to ask him if he would bless her rosary and when he said that he didn't know Italian but could bless them in English she declined. Luckily Julius had some crosses we had received so he blessed them instead.
The Basilica of St Francis is actually two Basilicas in one, the old one on the lower floor finished in 1230 and a newer one on the top floor, completed in 1259 to accommodate all the pilgrims. The frescoes on the walls are fabulous and elaborate, with both the life of Jesus and the life of Francis recorded on the walls. In the basement are the bones of St Francis and his closest friends, along with his robe, shoes and other things of his. In fact, when Francis died his followers and the people of Assisi were so sure he would become a saint (he already had his miracle by receiving the stigmata) they hid his bones, moving them from place to place, so that the nearby towns wouldn't steal them before the basilica was built. Bones of saints were big business back then and really, you could stay that they have kept little Assisi on the map. The Basilica was started soon after he died, in 1228, and was made far more elaborately than he probably would have preferred. In fact, the tiny chapel outside of Assisi that he rebuilt and used as a home base was later covered with one of the largest churches in the world, the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. It is very strange to walk into this gigantic church and see this tiny, plain stone chapel sitting in the middle (frescoes added later).
We didn't spend too many days here but we enjoyed every minute we spent. We recommend this place to anyone. 

   
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