Thursday, June 16, 2011


There are a lot of saints in the Catholic Church. Not many of them have their own town, though. I was interested to visit Assisi to see-see what all the hype was about. I may not know a lot of saints but even I have heard of Saint Francis. I kind of expected a cave but that was not what we saw.

Assisi is the birthplace of Saint Francis. He is best known for starting the order of Franciscan monks. There are numerous monasteries throughout Europe with Franciscan monks still around. Francesco Bernardone was a guy I can admire. A lot of the saints back in the day seemed to gain sainthood by committing suicide in a variety of painful and gruesome ways. Some were granted sainthood because their relatives were so distraught they paid the church to canonize their lost child. While I can sympathize with the pain, I have difficulty with the whole “buy your way into heaven” stuff. Francesco actually lived a pretty worthy life.

Until he was about 16 he was your regular, popular, wealthy boy-about-town. This was back in the early 1200’s and there was a lot of warring between neighbouring cities/villages. Everyone was trying to gain a better foothold and felt the best way to do it was to slaughter thy neighbour. Francesco went dutifully out to fight his neighbour and was captured and imprisoned for the next year. This had a profound impact on him as you can well imagine. He was a changed man on his return, spent some time contemplating on the whole structure of society/church/man relationship and eventually had a vision; what we might call an “epiphany”. He stripped naked in front of the townspeople and denounced his wealth, family and all material goods, proclaiming himself a devotee of God alone.

Now you have to admire a guy who can strip naked in front of a whole group without any background music at all…I think we can assume he had none. This whole naked thing was not something that was very common at the time since the church had denounced the human form as little better than worm-like. Ever since the whole Garden of Eden debacle, people were to have felt shame at their knowledge of the body. At no time was this felt more severely than during the Middle Ages. So, Francesco was a pretty wild guy. After his grand announcement, he grabbed a robe and a rope and left to wander the countryside living off the kindness of others.

He was a genuinely nice guy, though and this newfound idealism caused many young disillusioned men to seek him out. Together, they embraced the lifestyle Christ had lived, using humour and creativity to spread the Word. The Word they spread was not about giving till it hurt, either. Francis believed that men and beasts should live in harmony, supporting each other and working together rather than tearing each other down. Everyone deserved an equal amount of respect in his view. His “troubadours” were credited with inventing the first Crèche scene in order to teach the poor people about the birth of Christ. Rick called the Franciscan Monks “God’s Jugglers” as they used various forms of entertainment to spread God’s word. Francis worked in a humble church near Assisi and refused material wealth all his days. His methods were extremely popular and enduring. Even today, the religious leaders of the world meet in Assisi for their summits.

I am pretty sure if Francis was alive today he would be appalled at the state of his hometown. It is a tourist mecca with Francis crosses, statues, crèches and so-on raising money for the townspeople. The humble church he worked in has been swallowed whole by a huge monstrosity of a cathedral dedicated to his name. In Assisi itself, the Basilica of St. Francis towers over the town. St Francis was buried on the “Hill of the Damned” with outcasts of society. Since then, it has been renamed the “Hill of Paradise”. Amazing what a simple word can do. The church was quick to capitalize on the popularity of Saint Francis and these huge monuments reflect the values of the Christian Church in the Middle Ages more than Saint Francis. However, the town is very beautiful.

We walked through the town when they were having a "most beautiful patio" competition and the flower displays were quite lovely. The town is also cute because it has used the old Roman ruins to its advantage. The arena is now a housing subdivision and the acquaduct still works! How cool is that? I also discovered that I had completely underrated the whole "nun in a convent" business when we came across the "Nun Spa Museum". Who knew?


m said...

Loved reading about Assisi...When I was in grade school, I remember reading a book about St. Franscis and how kind he was to animals. There is a Franciscan Monestary in Mission. Joy and her friend Kathy go their each year (sneaking in their g & t's). Love, Mom

Chris Udovich said...

Hey guys!
Your blog is great! Really cool pix! Our blog:
We had some of that gelato... Amazingly delicious!
If we don't see you at the bus stop again, have a wonderful rest of your trip in Europe!!!
Looking forward to reading more,
Chris and CeAnn Udovich