Sunday, May 5, 2013


I woke up to a beautiful day yesterday and decided to take a train trip.  Assisi is only a 20 minute train ride away, and that seemed to be a good choice.  

So I caught a bus to the train station and got on this train.....

...and sat in one of these seats and before I knew it, I was there.  

I went to the information station where I was helped by a man from the Bay Area in California.  He gave me a history lesson on St. Francis of Assisi, offered some good advice on how to navigate the town in order to avoid as much uphill climbing as possible (and you know how much I appreciated that!), marked up my map with his illegible script, and then charged me a euro for it.  

I caught a bus to the highest portal of entry to the town and proceeded downward to explore.  It was now around 11:30 a.m., two hours from when I set foot outside my apartment.  

My first stop was the Basilica di Santa Chiara, a 13th century church that houses the relics of St. Clare, friend and protege of St. Francis of Assisi.  St.Clare was the daughter of a count in Assisi and followed the example of St. Francis against her parents wishes.  She founded a community of women religious called the Poor Clares.

Because of a vision she had while bed-ridden, she was named patron saint of television by a modern Pope in 1958 and is also the patron saint of sore eyes.  

Her tomb is in this church, as well as a number of her relics.

I wasn't aware of it, but the town was in the midst of preparations for Calendimaggio, a three-day festival celebrating the arrival of spring.  I could see evidence everywhere as I entered the main piazza where performance events were to take place.  

There were bleachers on one side of the piazza, where I sat to take this photo of the building opposite, which was decorated with colorful flags.  It was lunchtime now, and most of the churches were closed for "pranzo" until 2:00 or 2:30 p.m., so I decided to eat in a trattoria in this piazza. 

I don't know why I keep forgetting to take pictures of food, especially unusual dishes like what I had for lunch--grilled cheese topped with bacon. This wasn't a grilled cheese sandwich.  It was a thick slice of local caciotta cheese that was grilled to delicious crustiness and topped with what the menu called "streaky bacon".  Grilled eggplant, zucchini, and yellow pepper were served on the side.  It was molto bueno.
After lunch, I visited Chiesa Nuova, a church built in 1615 on the site of the presumed birthplace of St. Francis, the home of his  father, Pietro di Bernardone.

This is said to be an original door of the home and is on a level below the church.

Another door, more decorative.

And the altar in the church...beautiful.  

Next, I headed for Basilica di San Francesco, the plum of Assisi.  It's at the bottom of the hill that Assisi is built upon.  

On the way downward, I saw more evidence of festival preparations... people in medival dress, like these three lovely girls. 

And lots and lots of flags decorating buildings along the way.  

Then it is before me, the magnificent Basilica di San Francesco.  St. Francis was the son of a prosperous silk merchant and lived the "high life" typical of a wealthy young man.  While going off to war in 1204, he had a vision that directed him back to Assisi, where he lost his taste for his worldly life and subsequently lived in poverty.  
He preached in the streets of Assisi and amassed followers, including St. Clare.  His Franciscan order was authorized by the Pope in 1210. He is present everywhere in this town.  
I wonder what he would think of this namesake cathedral. It has an upper and a lower part, and both are pretty grand. In the upper part, there are several frescoes that tell the story his life.
Pictures weren't allowed here, and there were frequent reminders to keep silent.  I can't describe the grandeur of this place.  It's enormous and there's a lot to take in, not just with your eyes, but with your spirit as well.  I can't describe the feeling I had sitting quietly in one of the pews.  Maybe it was awe.

St. Francis' tomb is here.  His stone coffin is enshrined in an open space above the altar in the lower part of the cathedral.  In the early 20th century, his most faithful brothers were entombed in the corners of the wall around this altar.

St. Francis is one of two patron saints of Italy and is also the patron saint of animals and the environment.

My last stop was the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.  Here you see this chiesetta (little church) of Porzuincola within a grand church.  St. Francis was given this small 9th century church by Benedictine monks.

Here it is in the perspective of its enormous house.  Amazing!  Behind it, to the right, is the small hut where St. Francis died in 1226.  He was pronounced a saint two years later.  There are a number of his relics housed here.

I was very impressed that I didn't have to pay one euro to enter any of these grand churches.  I think there was only one I saw in Florence that didn't have an entry fee.  So it was a "pray free" day.
One regret--I didn't go up to the top of the hill to see what that building was.  I learned later that it's a fortress--Rocca Maggiore.  Maybe another day.

All through the day, I encountered panoramic views like this.  It was a really lovely day, and I think you can feel the spirit of St. Francis in the streets of Assisi.

On the bus ride back down to the train station, a "controller" came on board to check that everyone had a valid ticket.  I've experienced this maybe three or four times in Italy.  If you don't have a valid ticket, which cost all of one euro, you're fined 30.99 euro if you pay within 60 days, or 90.64 euro after that.  I wonder who picked those numbers?  One young man was removed from the bus by the controller, and, I'm assuming, was given a fine.  It wasn't a blessed day for him.

I wish I could have seen some of the festival performances scheduled for the evening, but it cost 40 euros for entry, and I wouldn't have been able to see much before the last train back to Perugia to make it worth that.  I was thinking of going back today, but, unfortunately for everyone in Assisi, it hasn't stopped raining since 5 a.m.

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