I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place more beautiful or spiritual than Assisi. The small Umbrian town (population: just over 28,000 at the beginning of 2016) is nestled on a hilltop with some gorgeous views and is home to one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Catholic faith: the Basilica Papale di San Francesco d’Assisi.
On Saturday morning, I boarded a bus with around 40 other SUF students bound for Assisi. We drove through the Umbrian countryside, through the beautiful city of Perugia (known for its massive chocolate festival – stay tuned for that post later this semester!) until finally, we could see the Romanesque arches of the church perched on a hill in the distance.
We were given a few minutes to check out a little cafe for breakfast and coffee. (The bus left early in the morning, so most students slept on the way there.)
Then, it was time to head into the basilica. It was gorgeous. The paintings on the walls depict scenes from the life of Saint Francis (1181-1226), the co-patron saint of Italy, including his renunciation of a material way of life, founding and seeking papal approval for the Friars Minor, and receiving his stigmata. Saint Francis was canonized in 1228 just two years after his death, and the church that bears his name was consecrated in 1253. Photo-taking was not allowed inside the church, so I can’t show you the cavernous and beautifully-decorated interior, but trust me – it was worth the visit.
We left the main church and headed for the lower level, where lofty Gothic architecture gave way to a more sturdy Roman style. The ceilings were painted with more frescoes depicting scenes of both saints and Biblical stories, and the more we explored, the more chapels and all-but-hidden rooms we found. Our tour guide explained the meanings behind the most famous or important depictions (including a very large crucifixion scene) before giving us instructions for the rest of the day. We had the options to visit the tomb of Saint Francis himself, explore the city, and try some authentic Umbrian food.
Visiting the tomb was an incredible experience. The room was perfectly silent despite the rather large number of people in it. Visitors who had come on pilgrimages prayed by the tomb itself or in rows of pews facing it. It was rather dark, lit by a dim yellow-ish light and the candle offerings of visitors. My friends and I sat in the pews for a few minutes to take it all in. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen before.
We then wandered up toward the city’s central piazza and enjoyed warm panini for lunch. Nearby was an incredible Italian pastry shop, so of course, we just had to stop in for dessert. There were so many pastry options, it was impossible to pick just one! I had a tiramisu cannolo there and took a pistachio cream one home for later. We took the rest of the afternoon to walk Assisi’s cobblestoned streets, explore another church, and visit the childhood home of Saint Francis.
All in all – it was a wonderful day in Assisi. I’m incredibly thankful to have been able to go, and I recommend that anyone traveling Italy stop by, too. Great sights, great food, and a great experience.
Gelato Count: 17