Day 4 (Thu, Sep 20): Basilica of St. Francis / Umbrian Traditions
Beneath the lower church, carved out of solid rock, is the crypt containing the remains of Francis and four of his early followers. The underground route to Francis's body, under the main altar of the Basilica, had been hidden out of fear the relic-hunters might obtain it (the Perugians tried to kidnap him even before he died -- there was big money in relics back then, even fake relics. Its location remained unknown for six centuries. In 1818 Pope Pius VII gave permission to excavate under the Basilica; there's a description of the whole discovery process, along with pictures, here.
Photographs weren't permitted in the upper church either. Unlike the somber lower church, this was intended for public celebrations of Francis by the laity. It has acres of bright frescoes and stained glass windows, new to Umbria at the time of their installation. Unlike the Romanesque lower church, the upper is in the Gothic style newly introduced to Italy through the Franciscans connections in France. Rick Steves' notes on the basilica are well worth a look.
Guide to the art in the Basilica -- note: many are either destroyed or not available on line, but their location is indicated in the following diagrams. Rolling your cursor over the empty spaces will reveal what was there.
Frescoes in the Upper Church -- roll your cursor over an image (or blank sapce) to get the name of the fresco which is/was there; click on an image to see the larger version (most are from Web Gallery of Art)
Frescoes in the Lower Church -- click on an image to see the larger version (most are from Web Gallery of Art), click green dots for details
We walked back up to the Comune, much of the way with Martha and Bill Beverly, very enjoyable, smart people from Michigan. Along the way we stopped at a set of arches with a recess behind them. We though it might be some kind of public baths, but a check with a guidebook later on revealed it as an old hospital next to a pilgrims hospice, the 15th century Oratorio dei Pellegrini. The arches were part of a 13th century Portico del Monte Frumentario. Stopped by the Zubboli shop again, where we bought English and Italian versions of the Canticle of the Creatures and some lovely notepaper with acorn motifs, then went home for lunch.
Basilica di Santa Chiara di Assisi
After lunch Karen and I visited the Basilica of Santa Chiara to see the Crucifix of San Damiano and frescoes from the old church of San Giorgio, which after significant additions, became Santa Chiara. We had seen the exterior often, e.g., every morning when I fed the pigeons there, but this was our first visit to the interior. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed, but there are online pictures.
Francis was buried here, after his death in the Porziuncola, and he was also canonised here. His remains lay here for four years before being moved to his Basilica. St. Clare is buried here in the crypt. The church was built in 1257 in Italian gothic style (also known as "Franciscan" style), and was consecrated in 1265. The extremely simple façade consists of horizontal layers of pink and white stone, and there are two lions at the sides of the portal.
This afternoon Marco delivered comments on Umbrian traditions. I have elsewhere presented one such tradition, associated with the Palio of Siena. There are several peculiar to Umbria, with comparable representation by neighborhoods which show their pride through flags and associated ceremonies. Here are two examples.
For its Calendimaggio (online images) Assisi is divided into Lower and Upper parts, and each of these is divided into three rioni (districts). Each rione has its own flag and shield. There's an interesting illustration of this setup here
The Calendimaggio celebrations in Assisi trace their roots back to very ancient customs of celebrating spring that were used by civilisations even outside the Italian peninsula. These traditions were later transformed into celebrations of the goddesses Maia and Flora by the Romans, and later still into the Kalende di Maggio celebrations during the Middle Ages. Groups of young gaudentes sing, dance and serenade their way through the city's streets and squares as a means of celebrating the return of spring. In Assisi the festivities are also linked to the centuries-old rivalry between the "Parte de Sotto" and the "Parte de Sopra" areas of the city. In 1300 the two factions, led respectively by the Fiumi and the Nepis families, engaged in a long and bloody struggle for supremacy that lasted for over two centuries. On the last evening of the festivities the "Palio" is awarded in the neautral ground of Piazza del Comune by a jury made up of historians, directors and musicologists. The jury decides which of the two "Parti" has best interpreted the celebrations of the return of spring. sourceThere are some videos of the ceremonies here and here
Gubbio has its Festival of the Ceri (candles), May 15. This takes place every year on the eve of the feast of the patron Saint, Ubaldo. The “Ceri” are three tall, heavy wooden structures on top of which are placed the statues, respectively, of Sant’ Ubaldo (St. Ubald, protector of masons), San Giorgio (St. George, protector of merchants) and Sant’Antonio Abate (Abbot St. Antony, protector of muleteers and peasants). These structures are fixed on to frames (“barelle”), which the Ceri bearers (“ceraioli”) carry on their shoulders while running through the streets of the town and up to the Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, near the top of Monte Ingino. An evocative ritual takes place before the race. At midday on Piazza Grande one can witness the spectacular raising (“alzata”) of the Ceri; immediately afterwards the Ceri complete three laps of the square at high speed, and then parade separately round the streets of the city. Then all three of them pause in Via Savelli, where they remain until the race starts. In the afternoon a procession bearing the statue of Sant’Ubaldo comes out of the Cathedral, and goes to the top of Via Dante, where the Bishop blesses the Ceri; that is the signal for the beginning of the frantic race. After having run through the main streets of the town, they go back to Piazza Grande and do three more laps (“birate”), before reaching the Porta dell’Angelo (known also as Porta di Sant’Ubaldo), where they start climbing up Monte Ingino. The Ceri are placed inside the basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, whereas the small statues of the three Saints are brought back into town in torchlit procession, accompanied by chanting. It is possible that this festival has its roots in ancient pagan rites, but its Christian character and its celebration of Sant’Ubaldo are historically proven and documented. source
On our way back up the hill toward the Comune we were hailed by ladies selling lottery tickets for the Italian Red Cross. We bought one for 2 Euros and won a plaque of St. Francis and St. Clare. Several storefronts away I spotted the same plaque in a window. The price was ... 2 Euro!
After dinner we walked up to the Comune with Frank to watch some of the (pretty good) rock concert for which they had set up the platform yesterday in front of the Chiesa S. Maria Maggiore, aka Temple of Minerva. It's part of a week-long 12th annual U.N. International Peace Festival. There were reminders on all sidewalks of how much such movements are needed: chalkmarks indicating that the potential terrorist site had been checked and found safe for the Pope's recent "pastoral" visit to Assisi, the real purpose of which was to crush Franciscan autonomy. Had fun watching the young Italians do what young Italians do (drinking, dancing, love-making). After a while Karen and I needed to sit down. We walked back and had a very nice glass of wine at the MagnaVino, the little place next to the hotel, then went home.
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