The most prominent religion in Italy is Catholicism and the country is home to the pope as well as many saints and exquisite cathedrals. Across the Italy’s peninsula, there are beautiful cities that celebrate the lives and deaths of their patron saints, and San Francesco d’Assisi is one of the patron saints of his hometown of Assisi. Each year, thousands of Italians and tourists visit the Basilica Papale di San Francesco d’Assisi to be inspired or to gaze at the glory of the basilica.

History of San Francesco

San Francesco was born in either 1181 or 1182 as Giovanni di Bernardone. Today's current pope, Pope Francis, choose Francis as his papal name to honor San Francesco d’Assisi. San Francesco grew up in a rich family and enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle until 1204. After an apparition of Jesus Christ in the chapel of San Damiano told San Francesco to “Go and repair my house,” he chose to live in poverty. The apparition of Jesus Christ is believed to have been a sign for San Francesco to change his selfish ways, starting with the reconstruction of the San Damiano chapel. He founded the Franciscan Order, including the Order of Friars Minor, the Order of Poor Ladies, and the Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis. All around Italy, devout Catholics, including San Francesco, have helped to rebuild broken-down churches, feed the poor, and restore order to the lives of Catholics. San Francesco is believed to have lived a short life, but one that was full of meaning and loyalty to Catholicism. San Francesco fell ill and died on October 3, 1226, but he left a legacy for Catholics to admire.

Basilica Papale of San Francesco d’Assisi

On July 16, 1228, Pope Gregory IX choose to initiate San Francesco into the world of saints. Pope Gregory IX was San Francesco’s greatest admirer and it gave him great pleasure to sanctify the body of San Francesco. The day after the pope’s announcement, the foundations for the basilica were laid. In 2000, the Basilica Papale of San Francesco d’Assisi became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This basilica comprises a lower church, an upper church, and San Francesco’s tomb. The architecture of the basilica is of Gothic, Roman, and Italian styles, designed by Maestro Jacopo Tedesco. The stained-glass windows of the basilica depict wonderful imagery of scenes from the Bible and from San Francesco’s life. Artists like Giotto di Bondone, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Andrea de’ Bartoli assisted in creating the beautiful frescos throughout the basilica. In 1230, the body of San Francesco was buried and hidden by Brother Elias in the crypt of the lower church to ensure that no one would bring harm to the saint’s remains. His body was rediscovered in 1818 during an excavation of the basilica. The tomb of San Francesco is always illuminated, which many Catholics believe gives San Francesco eternal life and praise. San Francesco shares the title as Patron Saint of Italy and his feast day is celebrated on October 4th.

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The complete construction of the basilica was completed in 1253. Simone di Pucciarello donated some of his land in order to create a shrine to the late San Francesco. Although the basilica is ornate and beautiful, there is a humbleness to it that captures the character of San Francesco. Throughout the basilica there are chapels dedicated to friends and followers of San Francesco. On September 14, 1224, while deep in prayer, San Francesco received the stigmata, which was a gift from Jesus Christ through the work of an angel. One of the most famous frescos in the upper church is Crucifixion by Cimabue, which depicts the story of San Francesco receiving the stigmata. Scenes from the Old and New Testaments are depicted through paintings and frescos throughout the basilica. In many frescos, San Francesco is seen praying or preaching to the public. His devotion to the people and Catholicism is embraced and exemplified throughout the basilica. Unfortunately, the devastating 1997 earthquake in Umbria caused damage to the basilica and ruined some of the frescos in the upper church.

San Francesco and Saint Clare

Many historians and Catholics know that San Francesco was a devout religious man, but he was also the companion of Saint Clare of Assisi. Saint Clare was raised in a wealthy and noble family but she denounced them and helped start the Order of the Poor Ladies with San Francesco. San Francesco was very fond of Saint Clare’s enthusiasm for God and together they shared their love for each other and for God. In the lower church of the Basilica, there is a beautiful fresco of Saint Clare painted by Simone Martini. The Basilica of Saint Clare is located in Assisi, near the Basilica Papale of San Francesco.

2 Piazza San Francesco, Assisi, Perugia, Italy, Phone: 39-0-75-81-90-01

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