We made one quick stop in the region of Umbria, in the province of Perugia to visit the town of Assisi. We didn’t stay long in Assisi. We had just enough time to visit the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi. The drive up to Assisi was beautiful. The town is situated on a hilltop so you had a great view.
Brief background on St. Francis: Assisi is where St. Francis was born in 1182 into a wealthy family and died in 1226. In his early to mid-20’s, Francis had a mystical vision. He turned to a life of poverty and committed himself to God. His family was not very supportive of his decision which led him to renouncing them completely. He founded the men’s Franciscan order and women’s Order of St. Clare. He is the patron saint of animals and the environment.
Construction of the basilica began in the mid-13th century, shortly after St. Francis was canonized. There is a crypt below where St. Francis is interred and an exhibit of some of St. Francis’ personal belongings.
Friary of St. Francis
This is the courtyard of the friary. The friary now houses a museum and library.
Inside the Basilica
No photography is allowed inside the basilica so what to do but buy postcards for my album and pilfer the photographs below from Wikipedia to show you a glimpse of the interior. The basilica is actually comprised of two churches – the Upper Church and the Lower Church and different styles were used for each one. The Lower Church was built in the Romanesque style while the Upper Church is built in the Gothic style. Can you tell the difference from the photos below?
The frescoes that adorn the walls of both the Upper and Lower Churches are significant because they contain works from late medieval painters such as Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti. There was so much to take in! The earthquake that struck Assisi in 1997 destroyed quite a few of the frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis in the Upper Church. By the way, did you catch the news from a few months ago about the hidden devil found in one of the Giotto’s frescoes? Click here to see the article.
Remember I mentioned the tomb of St. Francis in the crypt? Here it is and thank you Wikipedia for the image. The crypt is located under the Lower Church. Amidst the beauty of the art works in the basilica, the crypt really brings you back to the main reason why the basilica was created in the first place. Among the throngs of tourists, this is where people come to pray. Nothing adorns the walls of the crypt. You will not find any frescoes here. A stark contrast to the churches above. The tomb itself is made of stone. Many people come to Assisi on a pilgrimage. See the black iron grid that surrounds the tomb? As you walk around the tomb, you’ll notice many photos that have been inserted between the stone walls and the black iron grid. Makes one pause.
Here is the image of the fresco by Cimabue of Our Lady enthroned and Saint Francis (1280) courtesy of Wikipedia. That’s St. Francis on the right. Some say it captures the humility of the saint. I think our guide said that it is believed to be the only painting depicting the true likeness of St. Francis. This image of St. Francis adorns many tourist souvenirs.
A pleasant surprise to have found this photo from Wikipedia of the habit of St. Francis which is on exhibit inside the basilica. I did a quick math and it is over 786 years old! It’s amazing how it has survived.
The View Around the Basilica
I will return to Assisi someday and explore the beautiful region of Umbria. Until next time.