Saturday is October 3; Sunday is October 4. News flash, right? But on the evening of the 3rd (which is liturgically the beginning of the 4th), in 1226, at the Porziuncola at Santa Maria degli Angeli, Francis of Assisi died.
It is no great secret that I have had a tremendous affection for and devotion to St Francis for a long number of years—beginning, actually, in college, but solidified with my first visit to Assisi in 1985 (I’ve been there almost 70 times since then!). His legacy of humility and peace intimately pervades his native town. It is a joy to be there.
Here is a mini-travel log of “sites to see” (EVERY ONE a place of and for prayer):
- The massive multi-level basilica where, in the crypt, the saint is now entombed. He is surrounded by the remains of some of his closest companions (including “Brother” Jacoba in the area just before entering the crypt). The upper basilica, as it is called, has the famous fresco series of his life, painted by Giotto. The “lower basilica,” the original church, is decorated by all the leading artists of the 13th/14th centuries.
- The old cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, still the residence of the bishop, where Francis famously “despoiled” himself of his parents’ inheritance, including taking off and returning his clothes.
- Santa Chiara, where Francis was first buried (then called San Giorgio), and where St Clare is also entombed. In a side chapel is the famous “San Damiano crucifix,” when Francis, in prayer, heard the challenge “Go, rebuild my Church.”
- San Ruffino, the current cathedral, where Francis (and Clare) were baptized.)
- San Damiano, the first church Francis rebuilt, now significantly expanded, the home of a Franciscan novitiate, and THE best place to be for Evening Prayer and Adoration.
- The Eremo dei Carceri, on the slopes of Mt Subasio (only for the hearty of heart and foot!)—now a friary, but then a series of caves owned by the Benedictines, where Francis often went to pray.
His writings and recorded prayers are minimal but powerful. My personal favorite prayer is his before the San Damiano Crucifix: “Most high and glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, certain, hope, and perfect charity. Lord, grant me insight and wisdom so I may always discern your holy and true will.” What were his concerns, as he expressed them in his writings? He wanted humility, obedience to and thinking with the Church, reverence for the Eucharist, poverty (= detachment and submissiveness), and active charity. Does this sound like Mother Teresa? It should…
Il Poverello—a descriptive of Francis that is difficult to translate—traditionally, “Little Poor Man,” though “Poor Little Man” might be better, if it weren’t misleading in English colloquialism. Let’s just give him one name: Francis.