Friday, May 25, 2007

Assisi Pilgrimage: A City of Saints

Our last formal day of tours in Assisi focused on the deaths of the saints. We went to the Basilica of San Francesco. This is an enormous structure that anchors a side of the town. It looks down at the valley like a mighty fortress. In fact it houses Papal apartments and has the look of a fortress/castle/palace/cathedral. The road that a lead up to it continues to gates leaving the walled city.

In front of the Upper Churchyard is a large Tau and PAX made of red bushes. The Lower Churchyard is stone and has a large art exhibit. To one side our cliff hugging restaurants and very comfortable homes.

As we entered the Upper Church Father Andre gives us a lecture on the artwork. The upper church is the home of extensive and vibrant frescoes. It almost looks Middle Eastern. The church is huge and friars are busy keeping everybody quiet, this is a holy place and only whispers are allowed.

As we make our way to the lower church we pass the tomb of “Brother” Jacobi.

The lower church is different, more somber. As we get close to the room that holds the remains of the saint we pass wrought iron gates. The tomb is huge and looks more like a combination monument and safe. That is because it was meant to protect Francis from thieves. People take candles and slowly walk up to Francis, head bowed and then say their prayers. I arrive the next morning at 7:00 A.M. and it is a different picture. Early in the morning people crawl, two by two, on their knees, the length of the room to the saint. I cannot believe I am in the same room with him.

In the afternoon we walk over to the Basilica of Santa Chiara. The first sanctuary has a more modern version of the San Damiano Cross, it is of the passion and has more movement. I prefer the original. The sanctuary next door has the original cross that started Francis series of conversions. I repeatedly go back to this site throughout the week.

In the main alter, to the left hand the 12 tall Tavola of St. Clare. Sister Felicity first introduced me to this piece of art. I used the concept of tavolas in my Personality class. Now I am kneeling before it. I am awestruck.

The lower church holds relics of the saint, a copy of The Order and of course it has the tomb of Saint Clare. Our time here is quiet, reflective.

When we go back up to the main church the St. Clare Society of Nice France is celebrating Mass. The Society is composed of families with special needs members, the disabilities are visible, and so is the excitement. Afterwards they hand out paper blessings, they call me over and give me one, and I still have it.

That evening we have dinner with 50 students from St. Bonaventure University who are going to school in neighboring Perugia. We also sit and listen to Don Aldo talk about his experiences in Assisi during World War II. I will speak more on that later.

And so I go to bed tonight wondering what our current pilgrims have experienced today. I know every pilgrimage is different, I also know Assisi touches and changes people and I am anxious to hear their experiences.

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