Praiano to Assisi 449 km (bus and train)
& 4 days lay over
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
– Saint Francis of Assisi, from The Canticle of the Sun.
From the train station on the Tiber River valley floor we got a good view of the historic hill town of Assisi with the Rocco Maggiore and Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi dominating the landscape. Indeed, Assisi’s Saint Francis, appears to be the biggest draw to this exquisitely beautiful medieval city, itself a UNESCO heritage site. Even in late October there were a large number of tours, seemingly of pilgrims, visiting the town. Some were led by priests and monks and individual devotions were very evident at the tomb of St Francis.
One of Italy’s patron saints and the founder of the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans, Saint Francis continues to inspire with his message of compassion and peace. Born into a family of privilege in late 12th C Assisi, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, informally named Francesco, rejected that life as a young man, choosing instead to follow the example of Christ by preaching the gospel and living a life of extreme poverty, chastity, love and obedience. Francis’ efforts to end the Crusader wars and achieve a rapprochement with the Muslim world had far-reaching consequences, long past his own death, since after the fall of the Crusader Kingdom, it would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and be recognized as “Custodians of the Holy Land” on behalf of the Catholic Church.
Our stay in Assisi was longer than anticipated, as Lois came down with a fever and a cough, keeping her confined to the hotel room for a few days. By the time we got to visit the Basilica, we had had time to learn a bit more about its construction and the life of Assisi’s most beloved son. (We watched the somewhat simplistic but engaging depiction of the life of Saint Francis in Zeffirelli’s 1972 film, Brother Son, Sister Moon.)
The Basilica di San Francesco is built on two levels, with the lower one originally constructed for the sarcophagus of Saint Francis. This is now in a crypt below along with the tombs of some of his original followers. The wonderful elaborate frescoes covering the walls and ceilings of both churches, many by the innovative Giotto, and the light-coloured stone, give the church a friendly, welcoming feel, appropriate for the resting place of Saint Francis.
The town is steeped in history but within the many hostaria, housed in ancient buildings, local cuisine is alive and well. Wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cheese, truffles and meat are all sourced from the region. Paul especially enjoyed the pecorino cheese. We both savored the local red wine of Sagrantino and Sangiovese grapes.