Monday, October 12, 2009

Basilicas of Francis and Clare

Our last day in Assisi, we're more than halfway home. So many gelato flavors to consume, so little time.
Today, we spent the morning learning about The Basilica of St. Francis. It's his second and final resting place. After passing away at the Porziuncola, he was brought past the sister at San Damiano and buried at San Giorgio, just off the main square in Assisi and the very same place where he first learned to read and write as a young man.

But Francis' wish was to be buried in the worst part of the city, the Hill of Hell, where wrongdoers in the city were put to death. Pope Gregory IX came to Assisi and ordered a church be built there to honor St. Francis and hold his remains, thereby renaming the hill, the Hill of Paradise. It took less than two years for what is now the lower Basilica to be built and for Francis' body to be moved there.
It was on this trip that Pope Gregory IX also signed Clare's Rule of Life. He couldn't deny her on her deathbed, making her the first woman to have a Rule of Life signed (but you knew that from an earlier post, right?).

Over the next thirty years, the upper Basilica was built, but it took much longer for the artwork to be completed, including a set of 28 giant frescos that tell the story of the life, death and cannonization of St. Francis.

During the early 1800's the current Pope wanted to find Francis' body to bring it out so worshipers could be closer to him. The Pope had a group of Brothers secretly dig for the body. They found the shaft that led to the burial site, but were still not deep enough. Napoleon's rise put a stop to the attempts to find the body and it wasn't until about 15 years later that it was discovered.

A new altar and chapel were dug out underneath the lower Basilica. We held a mass there and as many people from outside of our group took communion as those on the pilgrimage. I can imagine the surprise and happiness for those individuals to come to the Basilica and be able to take communion. To make a crass comparison, I guess it's like going on the tour of Yankee Stadium and finding out when you get there that Derek Jeter is leading the tour.

Speaking of the Yankees, many of our Minnesota and Wisconsin friends are upset the Yankees swept. They wanted the Twins to at least win one game but had little hope they'd capture the series.

But I digress, Father Andre had told me that Don Aldo Brunacci's grave was near the Basilica. Rather than give me specific directions though, Sister Anne told me she would take me. She hadn't been in a little while and wanted to see him.

Sister Anne had worked with him several times while with the Pilgrimage, during one stay, she cared for him for a length of time and has wonderful memories of him.

The grave is no different than many of the other modest sites except for a few things; there is a huge flowering bush at the foot, several people had recently brought fresh cut flowers and there is a plaque denoting how he saved many Jews during World War II and was recognized by the State of Israel. About a dozen small rocks and pebbles were on an adjacent grave - moved there by someone who didn't understand the Jewish tradition of leaving such stones at a grave side. I placed a stone on his grave and thanked him for doing something that many others would not have the courage to do.

As we walked back to Papa Casa Giovanni, a strong wind started to blow, raindrops started falling and we ran to get our clothes that were hanging on the laundry line. We made it but they weren't very dry. (See the last entry for more on the rain)

At lunch we had a feast. The cook made me this huge casserole of polenta, while everyone else got lasagna. She did a great job of preparing non-gluten meals for me everyday. The dish was enough for the whole table and I didn't want to be rude, so ate as much as I could. As I'm working on my second serving, out comes the salad, chicken, fries and sausages. I thought the first course was the whole meal. Yikes. The rest of the group had Tiramisu for desert.

Anyway, in the afternoon we went to the Basilica of Santa Chiara, the church where St. Clare, her sister and mother are now laid to rest.

That church was built on the site of San Giorgio and uses some of the original walls. It was constructed about thirty years after Francis was moved out to his Basilica. There were fears that thieves from Perugia would try to take Clare's body from San Damiano so they wanted to bring her inside the Assisi city walls.

The Poor Clares later all moved up from San Damiano, bringing with them the San Damiano cross to which Francis was praying when he was first told by god to rebuild his church.

An altar was subsequently dug out underneath the main nave so that people could see St. Clare. A number of other relics are also on display like one of her tunics as well as one of Francis' and her Rule of Law.

Tomorrow it's Christmas time in October. We go to Greccio, the land of the creche, then on to Rome.

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