The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.Francis of Assisi
The city of Saint Francis teased us. From more than two hours, away we could see the basilica, prominent at the west end of the city. But we were excited—fifteen days after hiking out of Florence the hometown of the saint was in sight. And when we finally completed the climb it was sweet to be reunited with Barbara and Peter from Victoria, and Klaus and Kirsten from Frankfurt, at the Basilica—couples we had gotten to know on this pilgrimage.
We spent the balance of that day and all of the next exploring the city. The Basilica di San Francesco was started in 1228–only two years after his death. We attended mass in the lower basilica where we saw more priests and nuns than we’ve ever seen in our lives. We also connected with many pilgrims we’d met from Australia, Denmark, Germany, France, Holland, Austria, Norway, and Italy. Below, we visited the tomb of Francis where he rests in a simple stone sarcophagus. It was a quiet and reverent place.
The upper basilica is spacious and decorated with amazing frescos that tell the life of the saint. A description of the paintings, along with pictures, are available here.
I would have posted my own pictures, but photos in the basilica and most of the Assisi religious sites are forbidden. On one hand it was annoying to not be able to take some. But it also helped to make the atmosphere more spiritual and less touristy. Not that it stopped some of our fellow visitors from sneaking videos or photos. I was sure that some of them were going to be smited by lightning from above, or at least be tased by security. But they only got verbal warnings.
We also visited the main plaza where the the small church of Santa Maria Minerva sports ancient Roman columns. Only the columns remain from the time of Francis. But behind the columns is a small church with amazing decorations.
All these sites and many more were beautiful, amazing, and ancient. But they were not where we most felt the spirit of Francis and his companions. That was at the church of San Damiano, just outside the city proper.
We descended from the heights of the city to this simple church and found a real sense of peace. When the young Francis went to pray in the decaying church of San Damiano he heard the command to “Rebuild my church.” He assumed it was referring to the structure where he was praying. It wasn’t until later that he realized it referred to the whole Christian church—which had strayed far from the teachings of Jesus Christ.
It was at San Damiano that Francis wrote the Canticle of Brother Sun and that his friend Clare was cloistered with her followers who were inspired by Francis. She too, became a saint. Other places in Assisi were beautiful and inspiring, but it was at San Damiano that we felt the true spirit of Saint Francis.
- We had one full day to explore the city. We could have easily spent three.
- One of the highlights of our stay in Assisi was a reunion dinner with many of the other pilgrims we had met during our two weeks. It started with five us us, then others showed up and the restaurant added a table. By the time it ended there were over a dozen. Most of them were ending their trek there. So now we will be meeting new friends
- We usually only use Airbnb for longer stays, but there were many flats available at a reasonable price for just two nights. We stayed in a modern unit in an ancient building at the east end of town. If you haven’t used Airbnb before use this link to get a first time discount.
- Here’s our advice about how to use Airbnb
We highly recommend the book, The Story of Saint Francis of Assisi: As told in the Twenty-eight Frescoes of the Basilica of San Francesco, by Timothy Verdon. Excellent pictures of the frescoes as well as a description of his life.