assisi & the basilica di san francesco

We had breakfast in our apartment: yogurt, strawberries, granola, orange juice and coffee, although it took Mike a while to figure out the espresso machine. As I am so bad with mechanical things, I always count on him to figure them out. 🙂

We meant to get an early start but didn’t leave until 9:00. We arrived in Assisi at 9:45 and parked on a mountain road on the far side of town.

Assisi is one of the Christian world’s most important pilgrimage sites and home of the Basilica di San Francesco, built in honor of St. Francis (1182-1226).

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view of Rocca Maggiore from our parking spot

We walked downhill forever until we were in sight of the Basilica di San Francesco. On the way, we passed the Temple of Minerva, which dates from the first century B.C.

For a restroom break, we stopped at a cafe for a chocolate muffin and Mike had coffee and a pistachio and jam cookie.

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a chocolate muffin at a cafe near the Basilica

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Basilica di San Francesco

We went in to the Gothic Upper Church, known as the Basilica Superiore (built from 1230-1239), which sits atop the lower one. It has soaring arches and tall stained glass windows (the first in Italy). It is covered floor to ceiling with some of Europe’s finest frescoes. Sadly, no photography was allowed. 😦

The St. Francis fresco cycle is the highlight of the Upper Church. Twenty-eight frescoes depict the life of St. Francis, born in Assisi in 1181, the son of a French noblewoman and a wealthy cloth merchant. He had a troubled youth carousing; he was fascinated with troubadours. After a military expedition to Perugia in 1202, he spent a year in prison. He had planned a military career, but during a long illness in 1206, he heard the voice of God, renounced his father’s wealth, and began a life of austerity in imitation of Christ, preaching and helping the poor.

He traveled around Italy and beyond, performing miracles such as curing the sick, communicating with animals, and spending months praying in a cave like a hermit. He embraced poverty, asceticism, and the beauty of man and nature. He quickly attracted a vast number of followers. He was the first saint to receive the stigmata (wounds in his hand, feet and side corresponding to those of Christ on the cross). He died on October 4, 1226 at the age of 45 in the Porziuncola, a secluded chapel in the woods where he’d first preached the virtue of poverty to his disciples. He was declared patron saint of Italy in 1939 and today the Franciscans make up the largest of the Catholic orders.

Peace was for Francis the greatest ideal, the highest aspiration at the center of his life. The Franciscan Rule asks the friars to do what the Gospel says: “In whatever house they enter, before entering, they should say: Peace to this house!”

It is largely believed Giotto was behind the creation of the frescos, but assistants helped with the execution. Some say he wasn’t involved at all.

The 16th century choir is made of delicate inlaid wood. We went to the saint’s tomb over the small altar in the Crypt Church and the reliquary room as well.

We then went to the Romanesque Lower Church, known as the Basilica Inferiore. Construction began in 1228, just two years after St. Francis’ death, and was completed in a few years. It has low ceilings and a candlelit interior. It embodies the introspective spirit of Franciscan life.

In the first chapel to the left, a fresco cycle by Simone Martini depicts scenes from the life of St. Martin. The main altar has “Three Virtues of St. Francis” (poverty, chastity, and obedience), and “St. Francis’s Triumph.” The main body of the church is decorated by Florentine masters Cimabue, Lorenzetti and Martini.

The entire Basilica was truly magnificent.

Outside, the Courtyard overlooks the 15th-century cloister, the heart of the monastic complex. The courtyard also functioned as a cistern to collect rainwater for 200 monks (which have now dwindled down to about 40).

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Basilica di San Francesco

We passed a busy square, the Piazza del Comune, with an elaborate fountain.

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fountain in Assisi

On the way to the castle, we stopped in a little church with an exhibition of Virgin Mary images which were meant to be held in hands during prayer. They were beautiful, serene and smooth.

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a smooth Virgin Mary to hold in prayer

We stopped into various shops along the way. In one shop, I bought a silk scarf, then I stopped in another shop of the same name and bought two more. The woman there gave us a card for a 10% discount at her family’s Trattoria: Trattoria Spadini.

We then walked up to the castle on the hill, the 14th-century Rocca Maggiore. We had great views of Perugia to the north, the surrounding valleys, and the Basilica from on high.

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Rocca Maggiore

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Rocca Maggiore

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Rocca Maggiore

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view of Basilica di Santa Chiara from Rocca Maggiore

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View of Basilica di San Francisco from Rocca Maggiore

Back down in the town, we visited Trattoria Spadini, where I ordered Zuppa dell a casa: imbrecciata (a soup of mixed vegetables: gluten, barley, spelt, soy, & lupini beans). Mike got “Salsicce Umbre alla griglia, con spicchi di torta al testo a verdura cotta,” or Grilled Umbrian Sausages with wedges of flat bread and cooked spinach.

We then walked around the 13th-century Romanesque Basilica di Santa Chiara with its pink and white striped facade, which frames the piazza’s panoramic view over the Umbrian plains. It is dedicated to St. Clare (1194-1253), one of the earliest and most fervent of St. Francis’s followers and the founder of the Sorelle Povere di Santa Chiara, Order of the Poor Ladies, or Poor Clares, based on the Franciscan monastic order. She is buried in the church’s crypt. It was closed so we didn’t go in.

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Basilica di Santa Chiara

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view from Basilica di Santa Chiara

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Basilica di Santa Chiara

Then we walked back out of the town the same way we came in.

We stopped into the 13th-century Romanesque Cattedrale di San Rufino, remodeled by Galeazzo Alessi in the 16th century. St. Francis and St. Clare were among those baptized in Assisi’s Cattedrale, which was the main church in town until the 12th-century. St. Rufino was martyred on August 11, 238.

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Cattedrale di San Rufino

Adoro questo posto! (I love this place!)

We retrieved our car and were on our way to Spello.

*Steps: 16, 170, or 6.85 miles*

*Tuesday, May 7, 2019*