Church(es) on Sunday: Basilicas of Saints Francis and Chiara in Assisi, Italy
Greetings from Assisi, Italy, where Churches are prominent every day. Assisi is a pilgrimage site for Catholics and the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis (Francesco in Italian) was the son of a wealthy fabric merchant. He rejected his prosperous birthright to devote his live to the church, advocating for poverty and equality. He founded the-wait for it-Franciscan religious order in 1208. Franciscan friars are often dressed in brown robes with a rope belt, a style that copied the clothing of the poorest Umbrians of the 13th Century.
Saint Francis is buried in the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, a massive structure that dominates the Western part of Assisi and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Oddly, the Basilica sits on a former site of public executions (known as the Colle d’ Inferno, or Hill of Hell). A sign of redemption for the executed, or just funky city planning? You decide. (Actually, the land was donated by its owner.)
There are three parts to the Basilica: the tomb of St. Francis, the upper church and the lower church. Did I mention it’s huge?
The lower church was built within two years, only two years after Saint Fracis’ death in 1228. It houses the remains of Saint Francis and has a smaller, more intimate feel than the upper church, which was completed in 1253. Both churches feature large, colorful frescoes. Taking photos was forbidden inside, but here are some online images taken by church officials, rebels, or possibly both:
Saint Francis led an exemplary life for the church, and for the town of Assisi. His work influenced a young woman from Assisi named Chiara, whose religious deeds are reflected in Assisi’s Basilica of Saint Chiara.
Legend states that St. Chiara, inspired by the work of St. Francis, rejected the prospect of a wealthy marriage to join the Franciscan order. Saint Francis himself chopped off her long hair and helped cloister her. She later founded the Order for Poor Ladies, now also known as the Poor Clares. She also became an abbess, a position that allowed her to lead an order. Talk about sisters doing it for themselves.
After fighting to retain the Order’s commitment to poverty, Chiara died in 1253. The Basilica was completed seven years later. Again, there were no interior photos allowed, but the Basilica seems awfully bare-the 1997 earthquake damaged the church considerably. The walls are mostly white, but the crypt is colorful and holds relics like Chiara’s hair and items of clothing belonging to both St. Chaira and St. Francis.
The bare walls and subtle incense in the church air were rather fitting for a life of simplicity and poverty. St. Francis’ Basilica inspires awe; St. Chiara’s inspires peace. Together, they’re an excellent example of the Franciscan greeting Pax in Bonum: peace and all good.