A three hour train ride this morning took us up to Assisi, in the heart of the province of Umbria. The ride itself was beautiful as we travelled through hills, valleys, forests and farms. We sped through the Lake District catching glimpses of the lake through the trees and cottages. From the train station in Assisi, we caught the “C” bus into town. As we headed up the hill we could see the Basilica looming ahead in its grandeur. And grand it is. The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars founded of course by St Francis, who was born, lived and died in Assisi. It is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. The building began construction in 1228, two years after St. Francis’ death. We entered quietly and as there was a mass in progress, slipped silently into a seat. After mass we wandered around the interior, gazing at the magnificent frescoes, sculptures, and altars of the various chapels. We descended to the lower floor to leave prayers at St Francis’ tomb and view the relics of his life, enclosed in glass. We headed to the Upper Basilica which is again magnificent in its artwork and design. From there we were able to go out to one of the main courtyards and take some pictures before taking the stairs back to the street below.
We left the Basilica on Via Francesco walking past little shops, cafes, museums, chapels and homes. We were amazed at how quiet the streets were and how quaint the town is. We stopped for lunch and ate outside in the Piazza del Commune with a view of the Church of St. Mary (formerly the Temple of Minerva). The Roman pillars of this building are original, dating back to the first century BC.
After lunch we continued to meander through the cobblestone streets of this medieval town still in awe of its beauty. We stopped to explore the pink and white Basilica di S. Chiara. Saint Clare of Assisi was one of the first followers of Saint Francis. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. The construction of the Basilica of Santa Chiara began in 1257, four years after the saint’s death. The church is a smaller version of the Upper Basilica of St. Francis. Many frescos line the walls depicting the life story of St. Clare. Her remains as well as other relics from her life are on display on the lower level of the church. After seeing the horsehair undershirt that she wore, I don’t really think that I can complain about wearing a bra anymore.
From the Basilica of St. Clare, we could see a castle up on the hill. It looked very high and very far away but after some debate we decided to go take a look. As it turned out, the walk to the Rocca Maggiore did not take us that long even though it was uphill all the way. The views of the town and valley below are breathtaking. I am sure that the photos will not capture the beauty of the surrounding area. The castle itself is pretty cool – mostly rooms, towers, and courtyards housing modern pictures of festivals and concerts that still take place there. There is a lot of history in the castle over the 800 years of its existence. It has changed hands many times, kings have used it as refuge and popes have been involved in the power shifts of ownership. We are certainly glad that we made the climb.
As we had a train to catch we were keeping an eye on the time and only had time to see one more site. We chose (mostly by default because it was close to the bus stop) the Cathedral of St. Rufino. The Cathedral contains the baptismal font where both St Francis and St Clare were baptized. This is the third church built on the same site to contain the remains of bishop Rufinus of Assisi, martyred in the 3rd century. We did not have time to explore the lower level which contains a museum and remains of the previous churches but we did have the opportunity to view a side gallery which held a number of paintings of John Paul II. These depict his life from a young man to his last days. They are very vivid and catch the essence of the man.
We caught the train back to Florence late in the afternoon and after having to disembark at an out of the way train stop due to “problemo traino”, we caught the next train and arrived back at our apartment close to 9 PM. A Valentine’s Day supper of Big Mac’s and fries closed off our day.
The day can be summed up in the beautiful sunset that I observed from the train window. We were passing by the lake and the sky glowed orange which reflected the colour off the water. The entire scene was completely ethereal, meaning “light in a way that seems not to be of this world”. The town of Assisi is just that – something that we can only dream about and can’t really believe actually exists. It is another place to add to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.
The Cathedral of Saint Francis..
The Rocca Maggiore and some from the top.
They had a real Medieval spiral staircase in the castle. The diameter was only about six feet and I am not sure if there would have been room for two people to pass. Definitely something you would see from a movie…..
The Cathedral of Saint Claire.
The Temple of Minerva which is now the Church of St. Mary. This was our view as we were having lunch outside.
The wrap up… I chose the music of Pachelbel in D major for the slide show as it really captured the essence of Assisi.