October 17–19, 2019
We boarded a slow train to Assisi, best known as the home of St. Francis. Perhaps by American standards it was a fast train, but certainly nothing like the 200+ mph of the train from Rome to Florence. And there was no first class or reserved seating. But we were comfortable enough. We just missed the luggage area for suitcases too big and heavy to put overhead. I was keeping track of the stops we were making (a lot more of course than on the fast trains). When we stopped at Arezzo, it was time for a private joke, so I started singing softly, "Ut, a deer, a female deer. Re, a drop of golden sun. . . ." Luckily, I don't think Torrey heard me. He may have been the only one who would have caught the joke, if he had and if he also knew we were in Arezzo.
Like many places in Italy, Assisi has an old part high on a hill, and a new part down in the valley. Train stations are in the valleys, and the things you want to see are on top of the hill. Fortunately taxis are plentiful and inexpensive, especially when splitting the cost. We found our hotel, just down from the main plaza, and got settled in our room. The view from our room was quite nice, better than my pictures suggest. We had a small balcony, and the weather was pleasant enough to keep the doors open. So I took pictures as the sun set from 6:30 to 7:00. Then we ate at an interesting pizza place, and when we got back to the room, I took some night shots about 8:40 before closing up for the night.
In the morning we headed toward the main plaza, which had been the forum during Roman times. As the name implies, the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva was built over the site of a temple of Minerva. The bell tower was added in the thirteenth century. It was once an important Roman town from shortly after 300 BC. Torrey walked up to the site where the Roman amphitheater used to be.
In the church you can still see the original paving stones of the temple and even a drain for the blood from the sacrifices.
As you continue on down the main street, you will pass many souvenir shops, as you might expect.
There are city gates of walls built in different eras as the town expanded.
St. Clare was a rich girl who gave it all up under the influence of St. Francis's teachings. She founded an order of poor nuns, in parallel with the Franciscan friars. The church dedicated to her memory is rather sparse on the outside. The inside was graced by frescoes that were whitewashed over in Baroque times. Clare is buried in the crypt, and you can take stairs down to visit, and to pray if you are of a mind to. In the chapel to the right is the crucifix that supposedly talked to St. Francis and told him to rebuild the church. He took that to mean spiritually.
Franciscan friars went to California and set up missions there. At least three cities there have names with Assisi connections, but in Spanish, of course. San Francisco and Santa Clara would be the two most obvious. The lower town with the train station is called Santa Maria degli Angeli, after the basilica there. The pueblo in southern California named for Our Lady of the Angels now goes by Los Angeles, for short.
The hills below the old town are covered in olive trees.
There is ruined fortress high above the town.
Torrey shot this panorama of the town with his iPhone:
Torrey walked up to the site where the Roman Amphitheater had been and shot this picture:
St. Rufino is the patron saint of Assisi. He converted the town to Christianity and was martyred there. He is honored by the Cathedral of San Rufino, up the hill from the main plaza. By the doors are lions, one eating a Christian martyr.
Torrey's picture of the lions:
Francis was baptized at this font, and so was Clare some 13 years later. Obviously the decoration is from a later period.
Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament
The main nave and the high altar are plainer by comparison.
In the crypt you can see parts of earlier buildings, Roman columns, and some art works. A variety of Roman capitals are on display.
This used to grace the high altar.
This capital was converted into a baptismal font.
The next day we were to leave Assisi. We looked at Rick Steves's guide book to see what we had missed of his walking tour of the town and discovered that we didn't visit two of his stops, including the main attraction in the town. So we headed down first to the Church of St. Stefano, which in St. Francis's day was outside the city walls. The simple Romanesque building stands in contrast with almost every other church we saw in Italy.
The next and final stop was the Basilica of St. Francis itself. It has a much frescoed upper level and an older lower level with its own chapels. Below that is the chapel that holds the remains of St. Francis himself. The very Lutheran Rick Steves says that when we visit Italy, we should park our Protestant sensibilities at the door and go with the flow. I can do that up to a point, but am not into praying to dead people. Even so, I think it is appropriate to thank God for the example of the saints who have gone before us, that "great cloud of witnesses." Later on the cruise, on All Saints' Sunday, Torrey and I held our own service of thanksgiving.
In my introductory commentary to this page, I started to say that St. Francis was the founder of the Prosperity Gospel. I decided that was going too far as a joke. And considering the crap that people believe these days, I was afraid someone might take that seriously.
Chapels in the lower church
The stairs to the left lead down to the chapel where St. Francis is buried. I visited, but did not pray to him.
In the plaza was a prophet preaching to anyone who might listen. My Italian was not good enough to pick up on his message.