The Feast of St. Francis was just ending the day I arrive in Assisi. Candlelight processions and merrymaking brought many pilgrims from far and near to take part in the celebration of their most beloved saint. Francis’ basilica flowed with heavenly music as choirs and orchestras let lose their poetic melodies. Souvenir booths lined the streets selling mementos while costumed revelers stroll the piazza in medieval attire. The Feast of St. Francis commemorated the saint’s transition from this life to the afterlife. It is Assisi’s biggest day of the year.
The October weather was pleasant as I stepped off the train from Rome. The surrounding hills and valleys of Assisi basked in a golden autumn glow that looked surreal. Pilgrims who made the trek to the feast began to disperse as early morning fog dissipated from the valley floor. Slowly, Assisi became its normal self once again.
I hauled my pull-bag and nap sack up the brick alleyway to a tall medieval house. A small room awaited me in the home of a private residence, complete with a little cot, a dresser, and a desk. Enchanted with St. Francis since I was a small child, I was eager to discover more about him during the week of my stay.
Medieval Assisi’s brickwork architecture and clean wooden doorways made me feel as if I’d stepped through a portal into the early 13th century. Shops line the streets with local tradespeople at work making their pottery, shoes, breads, and oils. Wine shops, aromatic trattorias, clothing boutiques, well-stocked bookshops, gift shops and bakeries beckoned to those passing by. The aroma of espresso and fresh-baked croissants infuse the early morning air.
Assisi kept me fully engaged as I immersed myself in walking the path of St. Francis.
Birdsong fills the air as I hike down the trail from the medieval village to San Damiano, the church St. Francis which he restored in 1205. Olive groves accentuated the countryside and the air was fresh and sweet. It was early Sunday morning and the church service began inside the medieval chapel. Old and untouched, I nearly expected to see Francis and his brothers walk through the door and take part in the humble service.
” All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” St. Francis
My week in Assisi flew by all too quickly. On the eve of my departure, angelic music played beautifully inside St. Francis’ Basilica. An orchestra filled the entrance accompanied by candlelight which illuminated Giotto’s colorful frescoes. Women in black dresses and high heels accompanied men in suits. I’m found myself caught up in the sublimity of class and elegance on this warm enchanted evening. Little did I know that the following morning would temporarily quench the spell.
Rain hammered against my windowpane as flashes of lightning illuminated the tiny room. It was 4:30 am. Oh, fun…twenty minutes to be out the door and down the hill to catch my bus from medieval Assisi to the train station. I stumbled and shivered in the dark while gathering my things together into one small malfunctioning pull-bag.
It didn’t take me long to be on my way. St. Francis and his brothers come to mind as I turn the corner from the front door and drag my bag behind me down the wet cobblestone streets under a relentless downpour of rain. Their resolve to live in poverty caused me to wonder, in the midst of these miserable elements, how they did it. Dressed in only a habit and no shoes, they endured all kinds of weather, begging for their next meal. During my stay, I thoroughly enjoyed walking, in shoes and under the sunlight, where his twelfth-century bare feet had trod.
Only a few lamps from small windows lit up the darkness. As I braced myself against the pelting rain, I sought temporary shelter in a doorway. But I found the thresholds to be shallow and provided no shelter. By the time I reached the bus stop, I was drenched to the bone. My jeans and jacket clung to me like skin. Water ran off the ends of my hair.
The bus took me to the station where I boarded the train to Florence. By the time I stepped out into the renaissance city’s promising streaks of sunshine a few hours later, I was beginning to dry out and warm up. Cradling a warm cappuccino, I took a moment to ponder my week in Assisi. It was magical. St. Francis and his friends are where I left them ~ dwelling within their cobbled medieval hometown of Assisi, virtually untouched by time.