I have to say that Assisi has become my favorite Italian town. The place is idyllic. Set into the side of the mountain; commanding spectacular views; anchored by the work of St. Francis on one end and the “Poor Clares” on the other; immaculately clean; overflowing with history, stories, piazzas, and cappuccino bars; full with interesting and authentic art and craftsmanship; warm and hospitable.
So we chugged in on the regional train, having survived a breathless twelve-minute transfer in Rome that involved making our way to the hub of the station, purchasing a new ticket, finding the obscure “Platform 1-ES” (think Harry Potter and Platform Nine-and-three-quarters), getting the ticket validated, and boarding with 30-seconds to spare.
Trains arrive at the “new” town of Assisi, down in the valley, so we found a local bus, made our way to the old city gate, and hiked to our hotel, just a short walk from the basilica.
Our food experience in Assisi was significantly more satisfying than Naples. That first night we found a small, intimate restaurant down one of the meandering side-streets, and enjoyed a long meal in the open air. Then, walking back to the hotel, late in the evening, winding our way though the maze of streets – each one going either steeply up, or down – Rebekah and I felt completely safe.
FAITH & FRANCIS: Day Two comprised walking, churches, walking, more churches, walking, great stories from history, walking, more churches, and taking in the magnificent vistas.
The story of St. Francis is compelling in many ways, most especially in the way he rejected the tendency of those in power – including the church – to take more for themselves at the expense of the poor. It’s a testimony both to the new Bishop of Rome and the historical saint who made Assisi famous that Pope Francis took the name of the humble 13th-Century Friar.
“On my last research visit,” Steves wrote, “I asked a local friend who runs a recommended hotel if my readers were missing anything. He said, ‘Faith’.”
MUSIC: Another signal experience was attending an evening outdoor concert, part of the summer “Assisi-Festival.” After dinner on the Piazza Comune, Rebekah and I walked up to the church of St Rufino, where both Frances and Care were baptized, and we enjoyed the vocal athletics of four great voices, along with a superb orchestra.
The concert played late into the night, the courtyard packed with an enthusiastic audience. Later – and well before the program was concluded – we walked slowly, hand in hand, back through the fair summer’s evening toward our hotel. And we could still hear the music in the night air. “Summertime,” the glamorous operatic soprano sang in her Italian-twinged rendition of the Gershwin classic, “and the living is easy….”
CHURCH: Sunday morning Rebekah and I made our way to the Anglican Church that meets in Assisi. We were a little early, and walked in on the last few minutes of a Catholic mass, celebrated by a local community that meets in the same sanctuary. The place was packed full with Italian teens, and we gratefully witnessed them take communion together, and we were touched when then they turned to include us in the “passing of the peace.”
Then, taking the bread and the wine with our Anglican friends, Rebekah and I found ourselves profoundly conscious of the fact that our church family in Wake Forest would also be sharing the Lord’s Supper that morning.
So we felt the unity of the Spirit – not only with the Catholic teens and our Anglican hosts, but also with the good people of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, more than four thousand miles away.
Then, as we returned to our seats, we sang “Lord make me an instrument of your peace;” it’s a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi, and singing it in that place, in the context, in that spirit, moved me deeply:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Peace – and I mean that in so many ways – DEREK
– more photos of Assisi: