Day Eight Tuesday - All Things Saintly - Poverty, Chasity and Obedience
A good night’s rest and a good breakfast in our lovely hotel saw us all ready to begin the days adventures so off down the hill we wandered to our waiting chariot to be whisked off to the fabulous and famous city of Assisi in Umbria, such is the beauty of our location close to the Umbrian border.
For those of you who may not know, this is not a city for the faint of heart, a certain amount of fitness is definitely a requirement for the steep cobbled streets. Luckily we had a plan, dropped at the top of the city we meandered down to the cafe outside the church of Saint Rufino where we availed ourselves of a cappuccino before entering this intriguing place of worship.
As you enter the first thing you notice is the glass paneling in the floor that shows the remnants of an Etruscan site below ground. It really is a marvel and to be honest a little scary to walk on as there is always the thought that crosses one’s mind what if the glass gives way. Luckily, we are not on the glass walkway over the grand canyon, nonetheless, it is a somewhat disturbing feeling for those who don’t like heights.
From here we leave the church behind and make our way now down, down, down the hill towards the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi where we meet with Marica, our guide who will take us through the history, artwork and symbolism of the Basilica. Let me tell you, she was worth every penny for anyone who wishes to know the background to this simply astounding creation.
The double Basilica and the adjacent friary were desired by Pope Gregorio IX who after canonizing St Francis (which incidentally wasn’t his real name but a nickname, his real name being Pietro on 16th July 1228 commissioned Brother Elias, Minister General and Head of the Order after the death of St Francis to design and build a special church would then be considered always the ‘Head and Mother Church’ of the Franciscan Order as expressed in the Papal Bull, on 22 April 1230.
The Lower Basilica which forms the foundation for the Upper Basilica with its mighty Romanesque lines was completed in on 25th May 1230, only two years after work began. The Upper Basilica with its elegant Gothic lines was completed between the years 1230-1239. The two Basilicas were consecrated by Pope Innocent IV in 1253.
In the Lower Basilica the great series of frescoes that embellish the walls and vaults tell in a magisterial synthesis the spiritual journey of Saint Francis as he renounced materialism and wealth to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
Interestingly the frescoes often depict the stigmata that St Francis received, the first recorded person to have ever received them, he was in fact not acknowledged of this fact until approximately 10 years after his death. The mortal remains of St Francis are presently in the unpretentious stone sarcophagus over the small alter in the Crypt Church directly below the main alter in the Lower Church.
In the Upper Basilica there are 28 amazing panels depicting the life of the Saint which are the work of Giotto and his School. The frescoes from their first appearance have stunned the world by their absolute originality of style and their extraordinary content … they appear to be ‘living 3D images’ rather than the flat painted images that had come before. The church has been called ‘the most beautiful house of prayer in the world’ and to be honest, it really is breath taking irrespective of what your religious take on life is. The artwork displayed is as they say extraordinary and clearly shows the life story of St Francis, even without the assistance of our wonderful guide.
After a wonderful guided tour through the Basilica Marica guided us back up to Piazza del Commune where we dined upstairs on the terrace overlooking the Piazza on wild boar stew, Tuscan bean soup, umbrian pici pasta and small onion tartlets with a beautiful fennel salad. A lovely way to relax and revitalise ourselves before a little more sightseeing before we once again headed home to Cortona.
So having had such a superb day we opted for a simpler dinner tonight and found ourselves in another favourite hidden gem of mine, Pozzo Antica with the fabulous Paoula just around the corner from our hotel.
Isn’t it funny how the simple things in life really are all that matter? We had excellent food, wine, company with lots of laughter… Another brilliant day living la dolce vita.