Monday, October 10, 2011


The view of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi as you approach
Because I'm pretty much an ignoramus, I didn't know that one of the reasons so many people visit Assisi is to see the frescoes painted by Giotto.  My only interest in visiting this town was to pay my respects to Saints Francis and Clare, so I found myself a bit befuddled by the guide who met us at the basilica of St. Francis to give us a tour.  He was probably the most condescending person I've ever met, yet at the same time, I understood his frustration with our group.  People simply don't know how to be quiet, nor do they listen long enough to follow directions.  I often tell people who like to chat a lot in church that if we're never quiet, we won't ever hear what God is trying to say to us.

After being issued about a hundred and one rules, and after breaking one hundred and two of them, we were finally lead into the crypt to the main altar, where we were quickly informed we'd  have to leave because the novena to St. Francis was getting ready to begin and we'd need to clear out of the sanctuary.  After taking someone's head off for snapping a photograph, our guide lead us outside to regroup.

The Basilica of St. Clare 
"Do you know who our patron saint is?" he asked one particularly chatty member of our entourage.  Without allowing her to guess, he said "St. John the Baptist, because he was the voice of one crying out in the wilderness."

After congratulating himself for telling a joke above most people's heads, he commented that he thought the joke was so subtle most of us missed it.  It was at that point that I turned off my headset and tuned him out.
When he finished with the tour of the upper basilica, he met us at the basilica of St. Clare, and instructed us to go down to the crypt where her body lay and where her habit, her hair and other belongings had been preserved.  He told us that for a donation, the Poor Clare nun standing at a desk would be happy to give us a holy card in English.  After visiting St. Clare and viewing  her habit and what looked like a dressing gown, I stopped by the desk to make a small donation and receive a holy card.  The Poor Clare sister did not look up, but she quietly handed me 3 holy cards, for which I quietly thanked her.  J was in line ahead of me, and he kept touching the nun and thanking her.  I don't think he meant any harm, but just the same, I tried gently to move him along, whispering to him that he should not touch the sisters.  I could tell he couldn't help himself, but he needed to try harder. It was bad enough he couldn't keep his hands off of me (though I want to be clear it was never in a lewd way) that I felt compelled to try to protect the sister from getting pawed.  She was obvious not comfortable but she said nothing.  She simply did not smile back at him.

We met outside, returned our useless headsets to our guide, and then we were set loose for the next 90 minutes to do as we pleased.  I immediately returned to the basilica of St. Clare and knelt down in the Holy Cross chapel, where I believe the original San Damiano crucifix hung.  Suddenly, I saw the Poor Clare who had been handing out the holy cards leading a priest to the grill, where another Poor Clare drew aside the curtain that kept the public from seeing in and allowed the priest entry.  The nuns were chanting Tantum Ergo and I could tell by the censor the priest was swinging that I got there just in time for Benediction.  I felt like I had died and gone to Heaven, not only to hear the beautiful singing voices of the nuns but also to be in the Real Presence.  It was over too quickly,  but nonetheless, I still had the Company of Jesus, so I took out my Rosary and started to pray.
The Chiesa Nuova, built over the site tradition holds was the birthplace of St. Francis and blissfully undiscovered by the rest of the entourage

When I finished, I went outside and walked to the Chiesa Nuova, the church built over what tradition holds was the birthplace of St. Francis.  It was quiet and beautiful and I noticed a sign that offered tours by the friars  for the asking.  I have to say it may be selfish but I so loved finding these quiet little places that no one else had discovered.  Lucky for me, most of the group was out shopping so I finally enjoyed some of the peace and serenity I came in search of to Italy.
Winding through the streets to the basilica

Rebecca had asked me to bring her something back from Assisi, so I found a t-shirt I thought she'd like.  I was thirsty so I went into a little shop to buy a bottle of water and was greeting by the gregarious shop owner, who spoke perfect English.  Before I knew it, he had laid out in front of me a feast of crostini with various samples of his extra-virgin olive oil as well as tartufata, a glorious mixture of summer truffles, mushrooms and olive oil.  No way I was going to be able leave this store without making a purchase, but it would be so worth it.  I had been wondering how I could bring a bottle of olive oil home without risking a catastrophe inside my suitcase should the glass break, but my friend Fabrizzio had the solution.

"You buy it in a can, senora, no problem."

And the price was right.  For a bag of delicious fruit-filled cookies, the tartufata and the olio I spent less than 20 Euros, not a bad price at all.  Getting this stuff past customs would be another story.  Fabrizzio gave me his card and made me promise I'd email him when I was ready to more olive oil shipped to the states.  "

"Tell everyone how reasonable I am."

I did just that when I encountered another couple in search of Italian goodies.

It was almost time to meet back at the fountain to catch the bus home.  As I sat on the ledge waiting for the rest of the group, I starting counting how many nuns and friars I saw walk by and when I got to 30, I had to quit.  It was like nun-Heaven, with orders and habits of every kind.

Tomorrow, we would be headed to Rocoporena, the birthplace of St. Rita and to Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict.  Unbelievably wonderful.

The olive trees that line the hills of Assisi

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