Monday, June 27, 2011

Gems of Assisi

When I travel, I notice certain things and take photographs but when I arrive back home, these are not necessarily the things that stay with me. Memory is strange that way. It surprises us with what it clings to and what it discards. Today, I will share a small morsel of what clings to my mind about our time in Assisi. We began our day by visiting the Basilica named Santa Maria degli Angeli. An impressive church, but the real gem is the tiny little church-within-the-church, named the Porziuncola, dating back to 1200 and connected to St. Francis. I entered the tiny church, seating capacity of perhaps 40 people, and just as I sat, a young monk entered, knelt before the alter and began chanting. As he sang, the bells (so many bells) rang and it was then that it dawned on me he was singing the Angelus. When we were very little children, the church bells rang at noon and my mother would have us stop to say the Angelus, so it was a sweet moment for me, that I just happened to be there at that moment.

From our hotel, it was about a 4 kilometre climb to Assisi, and a steep uphill incline every step of the way. By the time we arrived, I really did feel like a pilgrim. Assisi feels like a city of peace, every though it is crawling with tourists. And I am sure there are troubles there, just as there are hidden troubles almost everywhere, but there is such a strong intentional force that speaks to peace; it is almost palpable. There are cloaked men and women everywhere (often chatting on their cell phones), but also just making their way through the winding, cobblestone streets. The Basilica of St Francis is massive and all I can say is that I am truly glad we had a guide to take us through it, to explain the frescos and to give us the story of St. Francis. I won't relay it here, but it is an inspiring story and one that I knew little of prior to my visit there.

In Assisi, I have, never in my life, seen so many shops with so many religious objects.... rosaries and triptychs and thimbles and lace and statues and baking and chocolates and paintings and the list really is endless. I visited some of the shops and in truth, I felt badly for the shopkeepers because even though there were hoards of people, very few were entering the shops. And this was confirmed when I spoke with a few of the local shopkeepers. They had such lovely items, many of them locally made. I purchased a few embroidered linen items that will make lovely gifts.

I will conclude by sharing another one of those stay-with-me moments. We had returned to Assisi the next day early in the morning. It was a very different town early in the day as it was still quiet. We visited the Basilica of Saint Clare, which was completed in the year 1265. I loved being there. I loved the quiet and the hush that seemed to encircle the space. Also, there was a bit of a museum with artifacts from her life. Saint Claire was a highly skilled textile artisan. On display was one of her woolen cloaks, a cream piece with simple and yet intricate design that Saint Claire had woven. I can't help but admire her attention to detail. On our way home, we were walking along a street and passed by an open doorway to a very unassuming building. There was nothing notable about this building, but for whatever reason, I felt drawn to enter it. When we stepped inside, we found ourselves inside a very tiny chapel. Paintings adored every wall and a few rows of kneelers were stationed in front of the alter. The entire chapel was smaller than my livingroom. Again, the place resonated with a marvelous and awe-inspiring energy. We sat quietly for ten minutes or more before we realized that very close to us, knelt a nun silently praying. It's as if she appeared as an apparition. Her stillness was so perfect that she was almost part of the chapel itself.

The hidden chapel door along a side street.

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