Last week my mother was in town visiting with a friend of hers. I let them run around Rome on their own while I slaved away in the library. But on weekends the libraries here are closed so mom and I decided to take the train to the town of Assisi and spend the day.
Assisi is a hill town in the region of Umbria which is just to the east of Rome and about two hours on a train. It was settled by the Ancient Romans in about 295 BCE. It became famous because it was the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, known for his brown habit made of burlap tied with a rope (which Franciscans still sport today – some of you may recall the very handsome Franciscan priest that Samantha tried to seduce on Sex in the City), his renunciation of worldy goods, his humility, and ability to talk to the animals.
After Francis’ death, he was proclaimed a saint and there was a church built to house his tomb so pilgrims could come visit and pray before his remains. For those of you who are not Catholic or not familiar with Catholic practice, we find it very fulfilling to pray before the remains (of any size or shape–fingers, toes, or whatever) of a saint, which we call a relic. But, make no mistake, we are not praying TO the relics (we don’t think a finger of St. Anne for example can cure our life-threatening illness-PLEASE) we are simply using it to enliven our devotion. Plus its a way to get directly to the saint . . . who might work a miracle on our behalf. Which explains the throngs of people who were in the Church of Saint Francis on Saturday.
The Church of Saint Francis has itself become famous for a cycle of frescoes representing the life of the saint which is why my mother and I went to Assisi.
However, another appeal of Assisi for me is that it is a relatively large Italian medieval hill town with a wall around it, gates at all the entrances, crenelated towers, and narrow winding streets. I took some pictures which I hope will give people some idea of how picturesque the town is. However, we were there before the tourist and pilgrimage season really heats up. Apparently it starts at Easter, when I’m certain it becomes a little less tranquil and pleasant.