ITALIAN LESSONS: Assisi

Help me to live this day quietly, easily.
~ St. Francis of Assisi

If you’ve been to Assisi, you’ve passed through Santa Maria degli Angeli, the town at the base of the mountain where Assisi sits. Santa Maria is not a town with which most people are familiar, but it is just as important—if not more—than Assisi itself.  Unlike the hilly Assisi, Santa Maria is flat and a lot less touristy.  Interestingly,  the Spanish Franciscan missionaries named Los Angeles after this town which holds the Porziuncola, the most sacred place to the Franciscans and was the town in which their founder, St. Francis, died.

The Porziuncola originally belonged to the Benedictines who abandoned it.  Legend has it that Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his way back to Assisi, he had a vision in which God asked him to repair his  “…house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”  Francis sold his belongings and some goods from his father’s store to help the priest.

Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli

The Porziuncola

Santa Maria is not a town with which most people are familiar, but it is just as important—if not more—than Assisi itself.  Unlike the hilly Assisi, Santa Maria is flat and a lot less touristy.  Interestingly,  the Spanish Franciscan missionaries named Los Angeles after this town which holds the Porziuncola, the most sacred place to the Franciscans and was the town in which their founder, St. Francis, died.

The Porziuncola originally belonged to the Benedictines who abandoned it.  Legend has it that Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his way back to Assisi, he had a vision in which God asked him to repair his  “…house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”  Francis sold his belongings and some goods from his father’s store to help the priest.

IMG_1497

Altar in the lower church of the basilica

If you don’t know, Francis was the son of a wealthy businessman, Pietro.  When his father found out Francis had sold cloth from his store to help the poor, Pietro cajoled and then beat his son in an attempt to get him to return to the family business and give up this idea of living with and helping the poor.  Pietro eventually even imprisoned his son in a small, cave-like room near their house, but Francis remained strong in his beliefs that God wanted him to do his work. He renounced his father in front of the public and bishop of Assisi and took off the garments his father had given him.  For the next several years, he lived as a beggar and helped restore several churches, including Porziuncola.

Francis founded his order on land near the Porziuncola (which means “small piece of land”), and the Benedictines gifted him the church on the condition that he make it the mother church of the order.  He died in October 1226 about 15 feet from the Porziuncola. Both places currently sit under the roof of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the town of the same name.  St. Francis’s body, which was once there, too, was moved to the basilica on the hill.  The bodies of his companions are buried around the Porziuncola.

The Basilica of St. Francis

The Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, was built into the side of a hill.  Work began in 1228, the same year Francis was canonized. The basilica has two churches— the Upper Church and the Lower Church. The pope at the time moved the saint’s remains there thinking he could attract more of the faithful to the town.

He was right. You can read about how Assisi is now by clicking here.

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