Assisi is a very medieval city – here’s a picture of a fortress or castle or something. There are still city gates surrounding the city, and every building is built with this medieval style.
Here’s a picture of the church. A lot of buildings were damaged in a large earthquake years ago, but most of the city has been restored. The rosette is typical of this era of architecture, meaning that God has no beginning and no end. It’s also seen on St. Claire’s church in the same city.
This is the lawn in front of St. Francis. It has the word “PAX”, which means “peace” and the Franciscan cross. St. Francis had a cross made out of twigs that looked more like a “T” than the traditional cross, and thus was born the Franciscan cross. The belt on his robe also had three knots on it, which symbolized obedience, poverty and chastity. If you’ve never read or learned anything about St. Francis of Assisi, I would. His life is super cool- he pretty much gave up a life of being rich and famous for a life dedicated to God.
A nice monk took us on a tour of the church, and explained to us different things about St. Francis’ life. The inside of the church is fantastic, and almost every wall and ceiling is covered with a different fresco. Unfortunately, this means we couldn’t take pictures because the flash would damage them.
Most of the frescoes in this basilica were done by the painter Giotto. The upper part of the church had many panels surrounding it, each depicting and important part in St. Francis’ life. One of these pictures is the stereotypical painting of St. Francis and the birds – which is misleading, according to the monk (who was a part of the Franciscan order), because St. Francis didn’t mention animals much in his works (his life is super crazy amazing, he did so much), but he’s the patron saint of animals, and people only seem to know that about him. If you want a book with wonderful pictures of the frescoes in the basilica, try “Art and History of Assisi” by Nicola Giandomenico.
We celebrated mass there as well, but not in the main church. We celebrated where the monks do, in a little half-underground medieval chamber. It was made of the same stone you see in all the other buildings, and it was dimly lit (well lit, but also dim enough to make it seem more medieval). The altar was made from a tree trunk, with the table part resting on top of where the branches started. We sat on little wicker stools in rows. Fr. Matt thought it was cool that they had so many languages available for the mass guides (I’m not sure the actual name… lectionary?) It was a very neat mass.
Before leaving Assisi, we had a brief time to go to the tomb of St. Francis. It is aweing to be so close to the body of such an amazing saint. There were even pews set up for you to pray around this area. His casket was enclosed with metal bars, and the entire area (which was underground) was dimly lit, as if by torches.
If you go to Italy, I would take time to go visit Assisi. It is a wonderful place where wonderful saints came from.