Sunday, December 14, 2008

Assisi, Part 2

That evening we walked up to the Basilica of St. Clare, but did not go in. The steep streets are amazing. The are mostly cobblestone and parallel - going up the mountain. They are connectors between the streets - passageways with steps. Some have buildings over the top of them. There are about 2000 people who live in Assisi - about 90 percent of them religious. We passed some buildings that housed cloistered nuns. We did stop and get hot chocolate, a specialty of the Italian towns. It was interesting - like warm chocolate pudding. I liked it, but most of the people with us didn't. The houses are are built together - no yards to speak of. I can just imagine St. Francis as a youth running loose all over the streets and wreaking havoc in the town squares. The whole town in surrounding by walls. Some of the gates were present at the time of Francis. The ones we used were added later - especially once they built the St. Francis Basilica. This was built on the site outside Assisi where the gallows, or execution spot was. It was his desire to be buried there. He was first buried at the Church of San Giorgio, his home parish, but that was torn down when the St. Clare Basilica was built. He was moved 2 years later to the Basilica. It was built to keep Francis body safe.

The St. Francis Basilica is very interesting. There is a lower basilica built in the Romanesque style with the curved arches. There are frescos all over paint showing events in the life of Jesus and St. Francis. You can even find the most familiar portrait of St. Francis in the right transcept.
There was a tunnel made to go to Francis' tomb under the high altar. Much later, the Perugians (historic enemies of the Assisians) tried to invade the town and steal Francis' body. When that didn't work, the Perugians petitioned the Pope to let them have Francis' body, because it would be much safer in Perugia. Instead, the Pope ordered the tunnel to Francis' tomb sealed. It was sealed for 600 years. Later the upper Basilica was built over the Lower. It is in a very early Gothic style. The frescos there are also very early Renaissance style. Our guide, Marco said that this is the very beginning of the Renaissance. We went to Sunday Mass at the Lower Basilica.

The upper basilica is the one that was damaged in the earthquake in 1997. Most of those frescos have been repaired. The frescos on one side of the church are scenes in the life of Francis and the other side, Jesus.

In the 1800, Francis' tomb was opened and a small entrance was made there. Then the pilgrimages stared and most Assisians moved away. In the early 1900's they made a grander entrance and a chapel at the tomb under the altar. There , buried all around Francis are 4 of his companions, Leo, Masseo, Rufino and Angelo. We had Mass there Monday morning. It was so incredibly awesome to be praying at the tomb of Francis. We also prayed at the side chapels in the lower basilica. They had a chapel to St. Maximilian Kolbe there.

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