Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

assisi, italy...fountains, frescoes & St. Francis


There is a place...a sacred place, tucked away into the hills of Umbria. Some would say it's a holy place.
It is the small chapel which St. Francis rebuilt with his own two hands. Where he wrote and prayed and figured out a path for his life, and many others.

St. Francis was by all accounts an interesting fellow. Born wealthy, he was a playboy, loving the lavish lifestyle known at the time. What changed his life was, what impacts most of us, meeting others who influence or make an impression on us, and a shocking life experience such as an accident or illness.

The hilltop town of Assisi
St. Francis, born in the late 1100's with the name Giovanni which his mother gave him, and soon renamed Francesco by his father, had a few influencing encounters with beggars and pilgrims which he wrote about, was then taken prisoner in 1202 while in the military, whereupon he became quite ill. In the following years he began to re-evaluate his life's meaning and purpose, which didn't suit his father one bit. There was much conflict between the two and Francesco turned his back on his father's money, and began a life of service to those in need.

He spent most of his time in and around Assisi, the incredibly charming hilltop town in central Italy. The narrow lanes are lined with geranium-filled pots hanging from windowsills and dotting doorsteps. Modern-day pilgrims flock to here to visit the Basilica di San Francesco d'Assisi where his tomb was discovered buried beneath in 1818.

While the basilica is impressive, and the views alone are for sure worth a visit, I was mostly interested in finding the stone chapel which St. Francis built and where he spent most of his time, and where he gathered with his followers, officially beginning the Franciscan Orders in 1209.

It took a little while. Most guidebooks and signs point people to the imposing basilica atop of the town. But, the chapel lies just outside of Assisi, on what was once empty fields far (by foot) from the town. Called the Porziuncola, you will find it inside the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels which was built in the late 1500's enclosing the chapel, most likely to protect it and the legions of Franciscans who visit it.

It really is incredible inside. I'm not Catholic, but I was moved to tears being within the tiny Porziuncola's stone walls, knowing that St. Francis built these with stones he collected in Assisi, that here he heard God's direction to devote his life to the poor, and that here he wrote his famous words which have long been hanging on my wall:

"Make me a channel of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me bring love

Where there is darkness, only light
And where there's sadness, ever joy

Grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
And to love."

The Franciscan Orders follow the teachings of St. Francis, but also those of St. Clare of Assisi, who was one of St. Francis's closest friends. She wrote the first set of monastic guidelines written by a woman. She reminds me a great deal of Hildegard of Bingen...another early power frau who commanded the attention of the men of the time with her intelligence and thought...and whose writings are still revered today.


Piazza IV Novembre
A short drive from Assisi, about 30 minutes, is the university town of Perugia. It is the capital city of the province of Perugia and is a bustling place with lots of young people (obviously), lots of cafés and restaurants, and much interesting architecture. Walking around this hilltop city for a day, or an afternoon, will not be boring.

One of my favourite Renaissance painters, Raphael, was mentored in Perugia, and painted some of his paintings and frescoes here, but unfortunately none of them are here anymore. Still, the atmosphere of art and culture thrives here, as if it is in the bones of these incredible buildings. There are a great many festivals which take place here and much to do, so little time.

Palazzo dei Priori
Along with watching a wedding party descend from the Palazzo dei Priori in the centre of town for a good long while, I couldn't help but take a lot of photos, as inconspicuously as possible, of the glamourous Italians. I can't help myself in Italy. They have a style like no others...unaffected and assured, like the French, but without looking like they're trying at all. A woman I met in Milan once told me, without being the least bit arrogant about it, that they grow up dressing with's in their blood...they just can't help looking this good. I kind of loved that.

If at all possible, and I've said this before about Venice, try staying in any Italian town you're visiting until after dark. Experiencing the sights and smells (oh the smells!) while walking past the osterias, trattorias and ristorantes amidst these ancient stone buildings is always an incredible treat. And, it goes without saying, you absolutely need to everywhere! There's nothing better...

except maybe the view!

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