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Pilgrimage to Assisi

 

Walking in the saints’ footsteps

Many pilgrims make the journey to Assisi every year, but despite the crowds it is possible to have a real sense of the city which Francis and Clare knew, especially away from the main streets and squares.

Both Francis and Clare are buried in Assisi, Francis in the Basilica of San Francesco at one end of the city, and Clare in the Basilica of Santa Chiara at the other. In Santa Chiara it is also possible to pray in front of the crucifix which spoke to Francis in San Damiano.

Basilica of </p><br /><br />
<p> St Francis Basilica of Santa </p><br /><br />
<p> Chiara San Damiano </p><br /><br />
<p> Crucifix - Santa Chiara

The Basilica of San Francesco; The Basilica of Santa Chiara; The San Damiano Crucifix now in the Basilica of Santa Chiara

San Damiano itself is also a very evocative place. It is a short walk outside the city, through olive groves, and maintains the sense of a peaceful and prayerful place. Friars now live where Clare’s community lived, but you can still visit the dormitory where Clare slept, and see the tiny chapel where the sisters prayed. Many people come to join the friars in prayer, especially for Vespers, the evening service, which takes place in the original church which Francis restored.

The road to San Damiano
final path to San Damiano
Through the Olive trees to San Damaino
The final path to San Damiano

At San Francesco there are wonderful frescoes of the life of St Francis in both the upper and lower churches. Descending below both of these one comes to the tomb of Francis himself; four of his early brothers are buried near him. Elsewhere in the Basilica, as at Santa Chiara, can be seen various relics of the saints.

Below the city itself stands the baroque church of St Mary of the Angels. Within this church is still preserved the Portiuncula, one of the small churches which Francis repaired, and where he and his brothers lived in the early days of his community. The chapter meetings of the brothers took place here – although the community rapidly grew so large that huts of branches had to be built to house them all. The most famous Chapter was the Chapter of the Mats, in 1217 or 1219, to which about 5,000 friars came.

In contrast to these huge numbers are the hermitages of the Carceri, above Assisi, where Francis and his early brothers went to pray in solitude, living in caves or huts. With more time it is possible also to visit San Rufino, the cathedral of Assisi, where Clare certainly and Francis probably were baptised. Clare’s family home doesn’t survive, but there are two buildings associated with Francis’ family, the Chiesa Nuova, and San Francesco Piccolo. And further afield, there is La Verna, where Francis received the Stigmata, the Rieti Valley, with a number of places which feature in Francis’ story, including Greccio, where the first Christmas crib was made; and Fonte Colombo where Francis composed the Rule which the church approved for his community.

The Carceri
La Verna
La Verna
The Carceri
La Verna
La Verna

 

Links
http://www.stfrancispilgrimages.com/ – pictures and reflections on a number of places in Assisi itself and in Umbria and Tuscany.