Assisi is the quintessential Franciscan place, not only in Umbria and Italy, but all over the world. In fact, St. Francis was born in Assisi in 1182; in the place where his birthplace is believed to have been located, today stands the New Church. It is in Assisi that he was baptized, in the Cathedral of San Rufino; it is among its alleys that he spent his youth dreaming of a future as a valiant knight; it is here, where today stands the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, in Bishop’s Square, who strips himself by repudiating earthly possessions for the sake of God and his brothers and sisters. It was still in Assisi, in the Church of San Damiano, that praying before the crucifix, he received the task of renewing Christ’s Church, it was in the town squares that he began his preaching and his work of charity and peace, and it was finally here that he died in 1226. His remains are preserved in the Basilica of St. Francis, but the saint still lives on in every stone in Assisi. We can encounter it by walking through its charming alleys and visiting the Franciscan places, immersed in a timeless place, a place of peace and goodness.
Assisi is also a place of art and architecture. There are countless works of inestimable value that we can admire: the Basilica of St. Francis with frescoes by Giotto, the Church of St. Clare, the Church of San Damiano, the Rocca Maggiore, the Cathedral of San Rufino, the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore which houses the relic of the cloak of St. Francis, theHermitage of the Prisons, the Temple of Minerva, the Civic Art Gallery, the Roman Forum, just to name a few.
Inside the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a town at the foot of Assisi in the green Umbrian Valley, is the “Portiuncula,” a small church restored by St. Francis in which the saint founded the Order of Friars Minor in 1209, entrusting it to the protection of the Virgin Mary. The Portiuncula is the heart of Franciscanism, the place where Francis discussed the “Rule” of the order with his friars and sought new blood for preaching the Gospel in the world. In the Basilica complex, the rose courtyard is also kept. According to sources, one night Francis, gripped by doubt and temptation, rolled in the brambles of the Rose Garden to test himself and not give in to what might have separated him from God and his mission. Upon contact with the saint’s skin, the roses mutated into thornless roses, giving rise to the “Rosa Canina Assisiensis,” which has continued to bloom only at the Portiuncula ever since.
Assisi revives the festival of Calendimaggio, whose origins are lost in time, harkening back to pagan customs that celebrated the return of spring and thus the renewal of the cycle of life. Born out of the sentiment of the ancient Umbrian people, the Calendimaggio event is a hymn to love and the newfound joy of life after the harsh and cold days of winter, amid dancing, singing, games and festivities.
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