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All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to romapip@quipo.it. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page added in June 2007.

8:14 from Termini
Everyday a train leaves Termini at 8:14; first stop: Orte; second stop Narni; third stop Terni; fourth stop Spoleto; fifth stop Trevi; sixth stop Foligno; seventh stop Spello; eighth stop ...

Assisi - part three: St. Francis

St. Francis is for Assisi what Mozart is for Salzburg; there is not yet a chocolate filled with marzipan named after him, but there is already pane di S. Francesco, a cake filled with candies and also Baci di S. Chiara, a cookie named after Chiara, one of St. Francis' first followers (St. Clare of Assisi).

St. Francis: (left) an inscription on the house where he met Bernardo Quintavalle, his first follower; (centre) a modern glazed tile portraying St. Francis preaching to the birds; (right) a cookie named after S. Chiara

St. Francis (1181-1226) was the son of Pietro di Bernardone, a wealthy merchant of Assisi: Francis had the opportunity to receive a proper education; he joined a military expedition against Perugia and in general he spent his youth in a rather carefree way. In his early twenties he had a spiritual crisis; after a pilgrimage to Rome, while he was praying at the small and ruined church of S. Damiano outside Assisi, he had a mystical experience which led him to give up all his possessions and to break his family ties; he lived for years as a beggar, taking care of the restoration of S. Damiano and other small churches including a small chapel dedicated to S. Maria degli Angeli, which due to its size was known as la Porziuncola (the small thing).
St. Francis lived at a time during which the Cathar heresy claimed that the original purity of the Christian faith had been betrayed; this heresy was spreading to many parts of Italy from its main centres in southern France.
In 1209 Pope Innocent III promoted a crusade against the Cathars. In that same year St. Francis started preaching a life of repentance and poverty and was joined by his first follower, Bernardo Quintavalle; this event is celebrated by an inscription on the house where Bernardo lived. Other events of St. Francis' life are celebrated by modern images many inhabitants of Assisi place next to the entrance of their homes.

Popular devotion: (left) St. Francis and St. Clare at the sides of the Virgin Mary; (centre) St. Francis receiving the stigmata; (right) S. Rocco showing the sore of the plague

The paintings in the churches and the sacred images along the streets of Assisi are very often dedicated to St. Francis and St. Clare; the only other saint who is the object of a particular devotion is S. Rocco, who died of plague while helping the sick: he is portrayed in the act of showing the sore on his thigh which was the first sign of his illness: the devotion to S. Rocco is explained by the many pestilences which struck the region.

S. Francesco: lower and upper churches

Henry James visited Assisi nearly a century later than Goethe: although he praised Tempio della Minerva which had raised the enthusiasm of the German traveller, he was more intrigued by the two churches built starting in 1228 to house the tomb of St. Francis:
" This twofold temple of St. Francis is one of the very sacred places of Italy, and it would be hard to breathe anywhere an air more heavy with holiness. Such seems especially the case if you happen thus to have come from Rome, where everything ecclesiastical is, in aspect, so very much of this world - so florid, so elegant, so full of accommodations and excrescences. The mere site here makes for authority, and they were brave builders who laid the foundation-stones. The thing raises straight from a steep mountain-side and plunges forward on its great substructure of arches even as a crowned headland may frown over the main.
... Entering the lower church at the bottom of the great flight of steps which leads to the upper door, you seem to push at least into the very heart of Catholicism." (Italian Hours).

S. Francesco: (left) Lower Church: detail of the entrance; (right) Upper Church: the rose

The two churches, together with elements of the Umbrian tradition, show evidence of Gothic architecture, most likely due to the fact that Haymo of Faversham, who led the Franciscan Order between 1241 and 1243, called in French master masons.

S. Chiara

Clare heard Francis preaching in the streets of Assisi and was moved by his words. After having lived for a while in a Benedictine nunnery, Clare founded the Order of Poor Ladies, or of S. Damiano where she settled with her followers; they lived in seclusion. The name of the order was later on changed by
Pope Urban IV to the Order of St. Clare.
The large church where she is buried was completed just a few years after her death and it was consecrated in 1265 by Pope Clement IV. The use of white and pink stones plays a major role in its decoration, a feature one can see also in many churches of Spello and Foligno.

S. Maria degli Angeli: (left) Late Renaissance dome and Baroque bell tower; (right) XIXth century fašade

In 1569 La Porziuncola, the small countryside chapel dear to St. Francis, was enclosed in a very large church commissioned by
Pope Pius V. Its elegant Renaissance dome was designed by Galeazzo Alessi, who was advised by Vignola, one of the major architects of that period; the bell tower was added in 1679.
In 1832 an earthquake caused the fall of the main nave and of the fašade: they were rebuilt by Luigi Poletti in 1836-40, but in 1925-30 the fašade was modified by Cesare Bazzani: his magniloquent style could not have been less appropriate for a church celebrating the preacher of poverty.

S. Maria degli Angeli: Medici fountain

Assisi and in particular la Porziuncola attracted many pilgrims and this explains why a long fountain was built on one side of the church. It was donated in 1610 by Cosimo II, Grand Duke of Tuscany and it was decorated with his family's (the Medici) coat of arms.

S. Damiano

S. Damiano is most likely the only place in Assisi where St. Francis would feel his message has not been betrayed or misunderstood. Here the saint had his first mystical experience, here he is said to have written Cantico delle Creature (Praise of the Creatures), one of the first literary works in volgare (early Italian language), here St. Clare built a small nunnery next to the chapel.

CANTICO DELLE CREATURE

Altissimu, onnipotente bon Signore, Tue so' le laude, la gloria e l'honore et onne benedictione.
Ad Te solo, Altissimo, se konfano, et nullu homo Ŕne dignu te mentovare.
Laudato sie, mi' Signore cum tucte le Tue creature, spetialmente messor lo frate Sole, lo qual Ŕ iorno, et allumini noi per lui. Et ellu Ŕ bellu e radiante cum grande splendore: de Te, Altissimo, porta significatione.
Laudato si', mi Signore, per sora Luna e le stelle: in celu l'Ói formate clarite et pretiose et belle.
Laudato si', mi' Signore, per frate Vento et per aere et nubilo et sereno et onne tempo, per lo quale, a le Tue creature dÓi sustentamento.
Laudato si', mi Signore, per sor'Acqua. la quale Ŕ multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta.
Laudato si', mi Signore, per frate Focu, per lo quale ennallumini la nocte: ed ello Ŕ bello et iocundo et robustoso et forte.
Laudato si', mi Signore, per sora nostra matre Terra, la quale ne sustenta et governa, et produce diversi fructi con coloriti fior et herba.
Laudato si', mi Signore, per quelli che perdonano per lo Tuo amore et sostengono infirmitate et tribulatione.
Beati quelli ke 'l sosterranno in pace, ka da Te, Altissimo, sirano incoronati.
Laudato s' mi Signore, per sora nostra Morte corporale, da la quale nullu homo vivente po' skappare: guai a quelli ke morrano ne le peccata mortali; beati quelli ke trovarÓ ne le Tue sanctissime voluntati, ka la morte secunda no 'l farrÓ male.
Laudate et benedicete mi Signore et rengratiate e serviateli cum grande humilitate.


Most High, Omnipotent, Good Lord,
Thine be the praises, the glory, and the honor and every blessing.

To Thee alone, Most High, do they belong
and no man is worthy to mention Thee.

May Thou be praised, my Lord, with all Thy creatures,
especially mister brother sun,
of whom is the day, and Thou enlightens us through him.

And he is beautiful and radiant with a great splendor,
of Thee, Most High, does he convey the meaning

May Thou be praised, my Lord, for sister moon and the stars,
in heaven Thou has made them clear and precious and beautiful

May Thou be praised, my Lord, for brother wind,
and for the air and the cloudy and the clear weather and every weather, through which to all Thy creatures Thou gives sustenance

May Thou be praised, my Lord, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste

May Thou be praised, my lord, for brother fire,
through whom Thou illumines the night,
and he is handsome and jocund and robust and strong

May Thou be praised, my Lord, for our sister, mother earth,
who sustains us and governs,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and green plants

May Thou be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for the sake of Thy love,
and endure infirmity and tribulation

Blessed those who endure them in peace,
because by Thee, Most High, will they be crowned

May Thou be praised, my Lord, for our sister, bodily death,
whom no man living can escape

Woe to those, who die in mortal sin:
blessed those whom she will find in Thy most holy desires,
because the second death will do them no evil

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility!

(translation by Fr. Kajetan Esser - A Publication of The Franciscan Archive)

Background image: rose of S. Chiara.

Return to
page one (the fortifications) or page two (the development of the town) or take the train and reach Perugia.



1864 clickable map of Umbria