A Visit to the Basilica of Italy’s Patron Saint
A holy city for Christians, Assisi is an eternal destination for pilgrims wanting to the see the places where Saint Francis was born, where he worked, and where he died.
In this small center – propped up on the slopes of Mount Subasio – everything in sight seems to refer to the Saint, even if it is only remotely relevant to his life.
Together with almost all its surrounding territory, Assisi was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000, described as constituting a unique example of continuous history: a city-sanctuary beginning with its Umbrian-Roman origins, through the Medieval Age and up until today.
The World Heritage Committee included on its list the Basilica and other sites important to the Franciscan Order, due to the fact that they represent an amalgamation of masterpieces stemming from creative human genius – aside from being a fundamental reference in European and international art history. In particular, the Basilica of St. Francis has been defined as an extraordinary example of an architectonic complex that has heavily influenced the development of art and architecture. The celebration for St. Francis as Patron Saint of Italy occurs every October 4; he cultivated a humble and poor style of life, which is probably why he is Italy’s most beloved saint. In this Umbrian city, the Basilica dedicated to his name and life preserves the remains of the “mendicant of Assisi,” thus making it a destination for thousands upon thousands of religious pilgrims.
Having been the birthplace of the Franciscan Order since the Middle Ages, Assisi has been the center of the Franciscan Cult and the movement’s diffusion throughout the world, focusing on a message of peace and tolerance, especially in regard to other religions.
Francis died at the age of 44, and only two years later, he was canonized in an official Church ceremony in Assisi, on July 16, 1228. On that same day, Pope Gregory IX laid the first stone of the future Basilica, destined to become the “mother house” for the Franciscan Order.
However, the initial intention of those who planned it is not one-hundred percent clear. Even today, the critics have not been able to interpret the stylistic discrepancies between the Upper and Lower churches.
It has been proposed that the Sanctuary was conceived as a two-level church, with the Lower level (created to hold the Saint’s remains) to be a commemorative church, and the Upper to hold official Church liturgies: in fact the apse contains a papal throne, meaning the Pope himself is Bishop of this church.
The Lower Church functions as a typical crypt or mausoleum, erected on the tomb of St. Francis (using ancient paleo-Christian practices as a model). The Sanctuary of Assisi is one of the oldest existing Gothic churches in Italy, and its walls are decorated with frescoes by Cimabue, Giotto, Simone Martini and Pietro Lorenzetti.
In this regard, no other church can compete with the Basilica at Assisi.
ALSO INTERESTING TO NOTE... Events
Every April Assisi holds the National Antiquarian Market Show in Piazza del Comune, which garners much attention for the high quality of works on display.
During the first week of May, Calendimaggio is celebrated, transforming the city into an old medieval borgo, with knights and ladies decorated in flowers and sashes traversing the city. They perform in plays, concerts and dances, and compete in arching and flag flying contests held between the two ancient factions of the Medieval Age, Parte de Sopra and Parte de Sotto.
The most magical time of year here is the Christmas season: concerts fill the streets and churches, and evocative Masses are celebrated in various places of worship, while Nativity Scenes (both still and live) animate Francis’s city, creating a unique atmosphere in Assisi and the neighboring villages.
At the Table
Cuisine here is basic and simple, with the local oil, golden and fruity, enriching every plate – without, meanwhile, robbing it of its original flavors. The black truffle is much loved as a condiment for pasta and game.
The terrain is also rather well-adapted to viticulture, and a temperate climate has endowed this zone with prestigious wines marked D.O.C., some of the best of which include Assisi Grechetto and Assisi Rosso.