This is a continuation of The Catholic Pilgrim in Europe four-part series, where I recount the most significant moments during my March Break Europe tour, with other travellers from Chaminade College School. Part 1 can be found here.
While I have heard of Assisi through the life of St. Francis of Assisi, I honestly never paid much attention to the geography of Assisi or even cared about the time in which St. Francis and St. Clare lived in. It was only when I stepped foot into Assisi that I really understood the lifestyle of the people of Assisi. The town of Assisi is a world heritage-protected site by UNESCO. It has kept much of its medieval style.
I loved walking (and running) through the streets of Assisi because it is a place that you would not see anywhere in Toronto. While it is a busy town today with merchants selling souvenirs, little Italian students touring the town, and even McDonalds vans parking in the town, I liked seeing clergy, mainly Franciscans dressed in brown walking the streets. That day in Assisi I think was the day I have seen the most Franciscans in my life.
Cameras were not allowed in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. I loved taking pictures, so that was off my list while in the Basilica. However, it was because cameras were forbidden that I actually went through the Basilica, looking carefully at the beautifully painted frescoes and furniture inside the Basilica and while doing so, I kept a prayerful mode. I also like the fact that pilgrims were also allowed to walk through the sanctuary space where the friars would recite the Liturgy of the Hours. The crypt church was just as beautiful as the main church. I even saw the chair which Pope Francis sat in during one of his apostolic visits to Assisi.
The precious treasures in the Basilica is what captivated me the most. The “relic room” which kept the belongings of St. Francis. As I venerated and looked at the relics, including his habit and the alb he used for Mass, I contemplated the simplicity of Deacon Francis.
However, Francis’ simplicity is most evident in the Chapel containing his tomb. Being at the tomb, and falling on my knees in prayer by his tomb was one of the most important moments on this trip to Europe. I recited the “Peace Prayer” attributed to him (though sources say it is not written by him, but still, a beautiful prayer) and the Collect used at the Mass of October 4th, his feast day. It was difficult to leave that prayerful chapel, but like St. Francis, I was eager to continue the mission of evangelization that every baptized person is tasked with.
My friends and I dropped by the large souvenir shop just by the Basilica courtyard. It was a large shop, much more than I imagines from religious art, books, medals, print media… However, I wanted to bring a piece of Assisi with me (literally) and it was suitable that I bought a holy card with a relic of a chip of stone from the tomb of St. Francis. I only trusted its authenticity because it came from the Basilica’s souvenir shop. Today, that relic is placed right beside a small statue of St. Francis on my bedroom altar.
After the brief but prayerful visit on the grounds of the Basilica of St. Francis, my friends and I went to find a place for lunch. I took advantage of the time to explore since I saved two croissants from breakfast. While some guys were at a pizza shop, there was a church close by, so I walked inside it. There were not many people in the church. However, a man came up to me and greeted me in Italian. All I could say was “Ciao”. He thought I understood Italian, so he started saying a whole bunch of things in Italian. All I understood was when he gave me a holy card of St. Francis of Assisi and held out his palm. I accepted the small gift. However, I explained to him, that I did not have money to spare. I could offer him were prayers. I used hand gestures in case he did not understand English. I smiled and thanked me, and I game him a “Grazie”. As I walked out of the church, I looked down to the ground and saw that the centre isle was covered in glass – literally a glass floor. I was curious but had no Wi-fi to research what church it was and why it has glass floor. I went home and learned that the church I stepped foot into was the Cathedral of Assisi. The glass floor allowed pilgrims to look at the very old foundation of the building.
When I got out of the Cathedral, I said to my friends to walk at their own pace as I was running ahead of them to find a shop that would sell some Franciscan “Tau” Crosses (crosses shaped in a ‘T’). I found a shop and bought some as gifts for people.
Our school group only spent a little more than two-hours in Assisi. However, I got a taste of the lifestyle of Assisi. The people there are very kind and hospitable. They seem to reflect the humble Franciscan. I hope one day, I will return to Assisi and spend a day visiting the other churches there, and perhaps, get to know some Franciscans.