Assisi, and Saint Francis
Trip Start Oct 24, 2010
51Trip End Jan 16, 2011
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The train ride from Siena in Tuscany to Assisi in Umbria was a bit of an undertaking . There were three trains involved. The first went to the end of the line in Chuisi, the second one we needed to leave after two stops, and the last we had to jump off after about 8 stops. We typically ask a lot of folks who look like they should know, then make our decisions. Even though the first train was at first 5 minutes late, then 20, it worked out well. We took a short cab up into the beautiful town of Assisi, home to the Franciscan order of monks.
While on the train we watched as the Tuscan countryside rolled by. The farms were composed of olive orchards, and grape vineyards. Each parcel of land seemed to have a large villa, built of stone, surrounded by smaller homes. These living structures had shade trees, and large garden areas with fallow corn fields and still to be harvested cabbages.
Even though it was drizzling rain for much of the three train journeys, I don't mind, as I prefer to ride along in a warm coach to walking around in the rain. Let's hope it will blow over as we continue into Umbria, then on to Rome. It is a beautiful landscape dotted with old castles and villas and the place has the climate of northern California!
We chose to stay in the Hotel Fortezza, just off the Assisi town center. There is a 2nd century Roman Temple Facade from the Temple of Minera just steps way. The hotel had the best included breakfast we have had on our trip so far. Fresh baked rolls and cakes, peaches, various juices, and cereal! What a treat. I have to admit I am getting a bit tired of Pannini Sandwiches and Pizza. I am beginning to get herbivore cravings for veggies, and salads. The hotel also had Wi-Fi that worked in my room, so I caught up on a few posts.
The town of Assisi is forever linked to it's favorite son, Saint Francis, or as he is known here, Francesco. He was born here in 1181 and following his baptism here preached his message throughout Umbria until his death in 1226
We visited the twin basilicas of Saint Francis. The first , my favorite, was built soon after Saint Francis' s death in 1226-1230. The location for the church was at one end of town on a site formerly known as Calle d'Inferno (Hell Hill) due to the fact that the location had been the spot used for public executions up until the 13th century. Francis had asked his followers to bury him there in keeping with Jesus example, having died on the cross in the company of criminals
The first basilica constructed has a basement, where the remains of Saint Francis remain today, enclosed in a stone casket in a beautiful underground crypt. There is bench seating (to afford a spot for quiet reflection), candles to offer (unlit, as the air would get a bit hard to breath), and a Monk/Priest on hand in an attached alcove to offer personal prayers for the faithful.
Upstairs in the First Basilica, were beautiful frescoes, depicting scenes from the life of Francis. Beautifully painted scenes showing Francis praying and preaching to the birds and animals were beautifully done. Over the dome of the basilica were scenes depicting the doctrines of Chastity , Poverty, and Obedience.
As soon as the lower church was finished, the people of Assisi , with support from the Church in Rome, began the construction of a newer, bigger, and more modern Basilica on top of the first basilica. The old church below became the basement of the new church and the crypt was even one layer lower. The upper church has beautiful frescoes by Giotto and other artists
I should add that this religious complex was free to visit. Normally, we have had to pay significant amounts of euros to visit each church or Duomo. While St. Francis preached the virtue of poverty, the town today makes a pretty fortune one his memory.
Today, Assisi is home to the Franciscan Order. There are several large monasteries here. They are large modern facilities. The city is very clean and in the best shape of any medieval city we have seen to date. I believe there was an earthquake in the recent past and much reconstruction and repair has been done. The city today looks much like it did in the days of St. Francesco himself. Popes have maintain residences here in the past, Pilgrims come from all over the world to visit the home and remains of St. Francis. While here we have met people from Guatemala, Spain, France, and US. Many, many men in brown robes held together by a white rope are among the people on the cobble stoned streets. Say what you will about Saint Francis, he had a great impact on his church and has left an organization with missions all over the world.
This is really a beautiful city, and we wish we had more time here. There are many hiking trails around the city that meander out into the oak tree covered hillsides surrounding the city.
Tomorrow, we take yet another three trains back through Chiusi to the medieval fortress town on top of a cliff, Orvieto.