Saturday of this past weekend my roommate Kristina and I caught the train to Assisi. We left the train station and walked to the Santa Maria degli Angeli to see the Porziuncula. I was really not expecting the church that they built over the Porziuncula to be so large. Walking into the church up the nave I was momentarily confuses about why there was a tiny little house in the middle of the church. The side chapels and ceiling of Santa Maria degli Angeli soared above it to a degree that was just absurd. Kristina and I both agreed that poor St. Francis was probably rolling in his grave. We went up into the Porziuncula, trying to not disturb the people praying-how did Francis fit his brothers in there once they reached any size at all? That church is barely larger than my pensione room! Sadly we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the church otherwise I’d show you what it looked like but here is a little mosaic of it in the piazza outside of the big church.
We walked down through a low catacomb like hallway that eventually led to the gift shop. Along the way though we saw a crèche scene with Francis with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, which led me to exclaim, “Francis was not there at the birth of Jesus!” We also saw where Francis apparently died though I was a bit confused, as it appeared to be in some kind of hole underneath a small chapel room in which they had set up an altar and some decorations. Did the ground sink or what?
After we left the Porziuncula we caught the bus up to the Basilica di San Francesco where we managed to get into the lower level but not into the upper level because Mass was being said. We went down to see the crypt where Francis was buried and circled it with the whole horde of tourists. Every place was packed with them and there was an announcer in the basilica that would boom “niente foto!” and hush people who were talking. It was interesting to see all of the frescoes of the life of Francis and the life of Jesus on all of the walls. It was extremely obvious that the artists are trying to make parallels between the two lives. I was here in Assisi two years ago and there was a huge statue of a pigeon with only one leg outside of the Basilica that I remember our guide telling us was meant to symbolize the difficulty in achieving and maintaining peace. I was surprised to see that it was gone. However this was made up for by the fact that there were little portable confession stands all over the area in front of the church where priests were giving confession through the screens. Very, very amusing. The people in Assisi definitely are big on religion and pushing their tie to Francis. There were nuns and monks everywhere and I saw that a lot of them were wearing Birkenstocks which made me smile.
At F & M café, we found incredible hot cocoa. It was like having a hot chocolate pudding. Absolutely fabulous!
We tried to catch the bus down from Assisi to the station but the bus was so crowded that they couldn’t even close the doors until people got off! Standing and waiting at the stop where a group of nuns with candles. I wonder if there was some kind of celebration going on?
We ended up walking down the hill to the station rather than wait for the bus and possibly not be able to get on. We walked through the darkened olive groves along a terracotta brick path, the Italian countryside around us. I turned around to look behind us and there was the Basilica, glowing on the hillside.