We arrived in Assisi after travelling along the Amalfi Coast and then straight up the middle of Italy on the A1 Autostrada (see my last post for a reflection on the drive). We would be in Assisi for roughly 48hrs before heading to Tuscany and our AirBnB just outside of Florence. Assisi was the one place that I wanted to visit on our trip to Italy because it was the home of one of my heroes of faith – St Francis.
Born in 1181 in Assisi Italy, St Francis was renowned for drinking and partying in his youth. After fighting in a battle between Assisi and Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned for ransom. He spent nearly a year in prison — awaiting his father’s payment — and, according to legend, began receiving visions from God. After his release from prison, Francis heard the voice of Christ, who told him to repair the Christian Church and live a life of poverty. While Francis began to literally rebuild physical churches that had fallen into ruin, it was his constant challenge to the established church and his commitment to the equality, justice and all of creation that caused people and the Church to take notice. He committed to living out and model the life of Jesus and was committed to preaching the gospel of Jesus in a way that ordinary people could understand, using the everyday language rather than the Latin of the Priests and Bishops. Some suggest (and I tend to agree) that St Francis delayed the reformation by at least 100 years due to his reforming influence on the church of the day.
The old town of Assisi is not a big place, and while a majority of visitors come for a day trip (you can see most things in a day), staying in the old city was pretty cool, especially staying in a 12th century restored home. Everything is within walking distance and there was an abundance of places to eat and shops to visit.
Within the Old City, there are many places that are attributed to St Francis and you can visit the church where he was baptised as an infant and where he would come to pray in his early life (St Rufino’s). The square where St Francis denounced his rich lifestyle and committed his life to poverty and following Jesus. There is the Olive grove in which he walked and the place where he is buried around which an enormous church (Basilica of St Francis) has been built, which kind of represents the opposite of what St Francis was all about. But it is still worth seeing, especially the frescoes. One in particular that caught my attention was that of St Francis supporting the church which a bishop lays dreaming in his bed.
But there are things to see outside the Old City. We visited the Basilica of Santa Maria Degli Angeli (about 5km from Assisi), this is the place where the Franciscan community began and where Francis died. Again there is an enormous church built around the humble chapel which St Francis served. The Basilica has literally been built around the humble chapel which now stands inside the church.
Another must visit, and probably the place I enjoyed the most was Eremo delle Carceri, a retreat centre located in the hills 4km above Assisi. St Frances would often come to this place to pray and reflect. It was quite special to walk the paths that St Francis might have walked, as I did so I read some of the creation Psalms (8, 19, & 139) and took some time to pray and reflect. We came across an outdoor preaching station which was a good place to sit and imagine St Francis preaching the simple message of the Gospel.
Assisi was and is a special place, while Positano was restful, Assisi was truly peaceful and well worth the visit.