assisi is of course best remembered for its medieval saint francis, and perhaps also his contemporary, saint clare. both lived at the beginning of the 13th century, and many of the visitors to assisi are still pilgrims there to visit the shrines of these saints. like most umbrian towns, assisi had been a roman town, but because of devotion to francis and clare and the money that this devotion brought to the town, little remains of the town before the 13th century. still, it is very picturesque.
the town again is built onto the slope of the hill, and a hike up to the top provides a great panorama across the town.
the streets, as elsewhere in umbria, are picture perfect.
the largest church in town is, not surprisingly, the basilica of saint francis. it was started shortly after francis' death, and sparked quite a controversy at the time. many franciscans did not think it suitable to build such a grandiose building for a man who had espoused poverty (quite literally, since he often referred to himself as married to lady poverty). eventually, these franciscans, who considered themselves more "spiritual" than those who condoned the building of the church, split off from the others, called "conventuals." by the end of the century, the controversy had only intensified, since some franciscans claimed that all wealth was sinful, and that jesus had provided an example of absolute poverty. eventually, the pope declared it a heresy to believe that jesus did not own anything, and the spiritual franciscans were hunted down by the inquisition.
the interior of the basilica is an explosion of color: frescoes and stained glass cover every surface (well, almost every surface: during an earthquake in 1997 causes some of the plaster behind the frescoes to fall out, so there are now blank pieces in some spots, as above in the upper righthand corner). included among the frescoes are scenes from the life of saint francis.
Francis feeds the birds.
francis receives the stigmata, the signs of the
crucifixion on his own hands and feet (he was the
first saint to which this is said to have happened).
francis renounces all of his wealth by taking off
his clothes in front of the bishop and people of
assisi, and handing them back to his father.
francis drives the demons from assisi.
pope innocent III has a dream in which the
church is collapsing, and francis holds it up.
also included in the crypt of the basilica is
the robe said to have been worn by francis.
the basilica of saint clare, on the other side of town, celebrates the woman who was so inspired by francis' ideals that she, too, tried to live by them. her body, coated with wax, is on display in the crypt.
in the basilica of saint clare is the crucifix, once found in the church at san damiano, that is supposed to have spoken to francis.
the cathedral of assisi dates from the 12th century, and includes beautiful carved details above the doorways, like the virgin mary, nursing the baby jesus on the left.
at the top of the hill overlooking the town is the rocca maggiore, a castle built by the popes in the sixteenth century, as they took control of the region of umbria, to maintain their presence in these towns that had been more or less independent. throughout the lands that were part of the papal states there are these castles.
in addition to the cathedral and the two basilicas are several other large churches. the church of san pietro--saint peter's--shows again the typical flat facade of the italian gothic.
this was an interesting church, in the piazza at the center of town, converted from a roman temple to the goddess minerva, the facade of which was kept.
within these churches, medieval frescoes in varying stages of preservation line the walls. the top image, i believe, is st. john the baptist. the bottom image shows the virgin mary protecting christians in the center, an unknown bishop-saint on the left, and saint lucy--santa lucia--on the right, a virgin martyr whose eyes were plucked out (and who therefore carries them on a plate).
also in the churches of assisi are creches or manger scenes. it is said that St. Francis was the first to make one.
the houses of assisi are also quite picturesque.
a common sight in assisi: nuns.