It's really quite amazing to literally walk in the footsteps of someone who lived 800 years ago. Father Andre pointed out two buildings that Francis saw numerous times; an old Roman temple from two millennia ago - the time of Emperor Augustus, and an adjacent building that began construction during the life of St. Francis to house the city leader (Podesta). Then we went to a church believed to have been built on the site of his family home and a nearby chapel that would have been the site of the family stable. The story goes that a beggar told Pica, Francis' mother, that she would never give birth unless she left the house. She went to the stable and Francis was born.
After that it was a walk down some steep hills, past hundreds of olive trees and to San Damiano. The church has been added to significantly since Francis rebuilt it.
An interesting note on that... In many books it makes it seem that Francis completed the work himself, but Father Andre referenced a decade old paper that says that with all the money Francis got from selling his horse and his father's fabrics it's much more likely that he actually served as more of a foreman than builder. The paper points to the fact that Francis was never thought to be handy and the stone work is quite labor intensive and complicated. The paper has not been refuted, Father Andre said.
Either way, Francis answering the call from god to rebuild the church was a transformative chapter and major force in his conversion from reckless youth to devout follower of Christ.
At San Damiano we also saw where St. Clare and the Sisters were able to listen to mass, the dormitory where they slept, ate and where St. Clare passed.
Sister Anne told us a lot about Clare, saying that many consider her a co-founder of the Order. She was a "formidable" woman, strong-willed and sure in her faith. At many turns, church leaders tried to point her in different directions but she always came back to her faith and her commitment to joining the Franciscans. On her death bed she became the first woman to have the Pope sign a rule (form) of life cementing her legacy and validating her decades of faith and perseverance. Sister Anne also told us of a few healing miracles St. Clare is credited with.
We held our first Eucharist service, something that Francis held most holy, at the chapel connected to San Damiano.
During our break we walked up to Rocca Maggiore - the castle at the top of the city. It was the home of the Bishop until it was wrecked (perhaps with Francis as one of the destroyers) then later rebuilt. You get to climb to the top of the towers and get these amazing 360 degree views of the entire valley.
The castle defenses are pretty cool - exactly what you expect if you're basing your assumptions on TV and fantasy depictions - with cut outs for arrows and other defenses like boiling oil. Of course John thinks that the use of boiling oil to defend an attack is, shall I say, inefficient. We asked a history professor with us who concurred.
More gelatto after dinner and numerous bottles of wine on the rooftop garden. The weather and views are so wonderful it would just be wrong to waste it.
Tomorrow we head to the Porziuncula.